Polaroid PoGo Instant Digital Camera
At a Glance
Polaroid PoGo Instant Compact Camera
Digital camera is first with a built-in printer, but this innovation can't compensate for camera's boxy design and poor image quality.
The Polaroid PoGo Instant Digital Camera represents a logical evolution for Polaroid. The company may have stopped producing film for its famed instant cameras (the first came out over 60 years ago), but the name lives on, synonymous with photo prints. That the company would integrate its PoGo portable instant printer into a digital camera was almost inevitable.
That seemingly perfect match hasn't turned out to be so, however: In my hands-on with a shipping unit, I found the camera's design and image quality sorely lacking. Unfortunately, the reborn, digital Polaroid camera is reminiscent of the clunky, poor-quality devices of yesteryear that nonetheless made Polaroid a household name. That this camera falls short is a shame, too: In concept, at least, the device is innovative. But poor imaging and kludgy design not unlike that of 1.1-megapixel cameras of a dozen years ago make the PoGo Instant Digital Camera an unnecessary drain on your pocket.
In size, shape, and weight, the boxy Instant Digital Camera closely matches the PoGo instant printer, only with an optical element on one side and the necessary buttons and LCD screen on the other. While the PoGo works well enough as a pocket-size printer, that same design fails miserably as a camera. It's very heavy compared with other point-and-shoot cameras, and it has poor ergonomics (no grip to hold onto, no logic to the placement or organization of the keys).
The basic spec disappoints even more than the unit's physical design. This camera offers 5 megapixels, a count that's completely out of line with today's 10-megapixel norm for point-and-shoots. So from the start this digital camera is at a disadvantage, as it can't substitute for your regular one if you want to continue capturing high-quality images.
And the images I got from this camera underwhelmed, even when compared with 4-megapixel images from an old Canon point-and-shoot. Viewed on a computer, the Instant Digital Camera's photos lacked sufficient sharpness, color accuracy, and detail. The camera has a variety of scene modes--fireworks, snow, and portrait among them--but given its image quality, I can't see why anyone who would go to the trouble of selecting scene modes (presumably, to capture a good picture) would want to use this camera. Curiously, the menus offer shooting tips under the different scene modes (for night shots, the tip suggests that you hold the camera steady).
The printed output was a mixed bag. The built-in printer couldn't work miracles and do anything to improve the images taken by the camera itself; what I photographed as red ended up looking more like a washed-out pink, and a brilliant blue sky became a muddied and mottled gray.
This camera's one saving grace, however, is that potentially it can recognize images taken by other cameras stored on an SD Card, and print those images, too. (I say "potentially" because in my tests it recognized other cameras' JPEG photos inconsistently--the ability is not a given, so you shouldn't purchase the camera just for that function.) A print of a stored 10-megapixel image showed more detail and far better color reproduction than prints of the Instant Digital Camera's own images. That alone leads me to lay the blame for the Instant Digital Camera's mediocrity on its imager, not on its printer.
The printer here functions similarly to the earlier PoGo. You pop open the LCD back of the camera and slide in a ten-pack of special printer paper ($5 per pack). The printer uses Zink, the zero-ink technology Polaroid pioneered (Polaroid's parent company has since spun off Zink). The thermal printhead activates the 100 billion dye crystals embedded in Polaroid's proprietary, glossy photo paper (peel away the back, and your photo becomes a sticker). Sheets of the 2-by-3-inch media are thinner than old Polaroid print paper and contain three layers of primary colors suspended within.
Ultimately, if you covet the instant and fun prints that Zink technology enables, I'd recommend the Polaroid PoGo printer--which is now $100, a full $50 less than it was when it debuted last year--over the $199 Polaroid Instant Digital Camera.