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Polaroid PoGo Portable Photo Printer

The camera world may have gone digital, but the name Polaroid remains synonymous with instant photo prints. So it's not surprising that Polaroid has introduced the $150 PoGo portable printer.

The concept underlying the PoGo doesn't differ much from that behind the original Polaroid instant camera--except that this time the printer is a separate peripheral from the camera itself, and you don't have to shake the output to make the image appear.

This printer is the first to use Zink, the zero-ink technology pioneered by Polaroid (Polaroid's parent company has since spun off Zink into a separate subsidiary). The PoGo's thermal print head activates the 100 billion dye crystals embedded in Polaroid's new 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 the old Polaroid print paper and contain three layers of primary colors suspended in the paper itself.

The small printer fits in your palm, though its power pack is almost the same size and weight, and the included rechargeable battery handles only about 15 to 20 prints on a single charge.

The unit holds 10 pieces of paper at a time, and the paper conveniently comes in packages of 10 sheets for $4 (or you can buy a bundle of three 10-sheet packages for $10). Loading paper was a simple matter of sliding open the unit, inserting the paper into its holder, and closing it up.

Printing was equally easy. Like more-traditional inkjet-based snapshot printers. the PoGo is designed to print snapshots from a digital camera or a camera phone. It connects to cell phones via Bluetooth, and Polaroid says that it works with 80 percent of the cell phone models on the market that are equipped with Bluetooth and a camera--though the Apple iPhone is not among them (Polaroid's Web site maintains a list of compatible phones). The PoGo also connects to PictBridge-enabled cameras via USB. You can connect it to your PC, but an application designed to optimize images for printing from your desktop won't be available until the fall.

I had no trouble pairing the PoGo with my phone, a Palm Treo 680. I entered the Bluetooth code, the phone found the printer, and I could begin sending images to the printer via Bluetooth.

The printer took less than a minute to print the 640-by-480-resolution image I had snapped with my Treo's camera, but It took several minutes to print images taken with an 8-megapixel digital camera and stored on my Treo's SD Card. Thanks to the Zink design, I could print while holding the printer at an angle, but when I did so, I had to pay attention to where and how the image came out of the printer to avoid crushing or bending the paper. I also found that the unit ran fairly hot; after the PoGo printed eight photos in quick succession, its surface was toasty.

The output came out dry to the touch, so I didn't have to worry about smearing. The printer's software automatically scaled my images to fit the paper's 2-by-3-inch area; as a result, the bottom or top of an image sometimes got chopped off--and there's no way to control which part of the image appears in the final print.

As was the case with the original Polaroid images, obtaining instant gratification in the form of PoGo prints necessitates some compromises--though fewer than you might expect. Output quality directly correlates to the quality of the captured image: My Treo's 640-by-480-resolution image was flat, with little contrast and dull colors; moreover, it wasn't sharp and I noticed banding in the landscape's blue sky.

A higher-resolution digital SLR image of a gymnast flipping through the air, however, printed surprisingly well, complete with skin gradations and detail in the muscles and flying ponytail.

In the end, the PoGo's appeal lies in its mobility and its near-instantaneous picture production. The $150 price is steep for what amounts to a one-trick gimmick printer. But that doesn't detract from the silly fun people can have by printing pictures on the go. Teens and tweens, in particular, will love this feature; and casual users and business folks (for example, real-estate agents who want to print pics of specific rooms for clients without delay) may appreciate PoGo's portability.