New Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 – reviewing mini photo printer

While most of the photos we take stay locked forever on our smartphones, it’s now getting easier to print them at home. In part one of a three part series here on the blog, we’ll take a look at some of the gadgets out there that will print photos for you. First up, the Fujifilm Instax Share printer.

Testing the Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 photo printer

Fujifilm has recently upgraded its pocket photo printer, the Instax Share, to make numerous improvements; the new model is known as the SP-2. It prints mini size photos only, that measure 62mm x 46mm. I had a chance to test this device for several weeks, and here’s what I found. I previously reviewed the Instax Share SP-1, and you can read that review too.

Set up wasn’t intuitive

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review
The Instax Share app interface

Setting up the Instax Share printer wasn’t very intuitive. With the printer charged, and the app downloaded, you might think you can just open the app and print. Not so. In the initial set up, you select which type of printer (sp-1 OR sp-2) you’d like to use. But after that it doesn’t tell you where to go or how to move forward with setup.

How to  set up and connect Fujifilm Instax Share

Fortunately for me, I’ve set up enough Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices to know that at this point, I needed to exit out of the Fujifilm app, and go to the phone’s ‘settings’ menu. Select ‘Wi-Fi’, then switch the printer on.

At this point you should see Fujifilm/Instax/Share or some combination of those words pop up as a Wi-Fi choice. Select it, then once it’s connected, you can close settings and return to the app. By now you should see the new printer in the app, if you don’t click ‘Connect and print’ and the app should connect.

Once the set up process is complete, printing is ultra easy. Simply select the photos icon in the app or take a new photo. Once you’ve chosen what you want, select “connect and print”. There are several other printing options, but we’ll get to those in a bit.

Constant re-connection

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review
The difference in prints from Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 (photos on the left) and Polaroid (photos at right).

Annoyingly, the printer will go to sleep after a few minutes, so it’s important to note if you left it unattended for a period of time, you may need to turn it back on and reestablish the Wi-Fi connection before you can connect again. This involves basically repeating part of the set up process each time you want to print. I find this a huge pain. You can’t just turn the printer on an pop out a few prints, and because the printer automatically goes to sleep after about 5 minutes it’s a constant on/off/reconnect process.

Fun new films – but who owns Polaroid film technology?

The photos printed on the Fujifil Instax Share SP-2 are on a retro-style ‘Polaroid’ frame. Fujifilm now has this technology, though Fujifilm rep Florence Pau tells me, “Fujifilm has a long history with instant film and Instax has no affiliation with Polaroid brand or technology. Essentially, the borders are there to seal the film.”
Polaroid was more blunt when I asked them why Polaroid cameras don’t use their original iconic film. Stephanie Agresti told me in an email, “Polaroid does not presently own the previous film technology. Polaroid products now integrate Zink Zero Ink technology to produce images instantly.”Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review

Since my last test run with an Fujifilm Instax Share printer there are a variety of new instant films that have been released; all of them are mini sized, similar to what you might get from a photo booth. Available in 10 packs, you can now get printed borders on the film, including stripes, a colourful checkerboard (called ‘stained glass’), film with XO XO on it, or in new monochrome black and white, among just a few. While I thought these were a bit gimmicky initially, once the photos were printed out, they had a really nice unique quality to them. I kind of got attached to the stained glass frame.

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC reviewCan you swap film or cartridges on the Instax Share?

The films come in plastic boxes that clip into the printer by opening a wide door in the printer’s body. You would think that makes it easy to swap cartridges back and forth, and that there’d be no worry about exposing the film too early. Turns out that’s not the case.
I swapped a few cartridges back and forth in the printer. Each time I’d make a swap, the printer would spit out a new blank photo, essentially wasting one of your precious photos. The ensuing print jobs came out with white streaks across the film, or otherwise appeared overexposed.

I checked with Fujifilm directly and they confirmed my findings; film cannot be switched back and forth. You must use an entire cartridge until it’s empty or risk ruined film and wasted money.

So the bottom line is, while you might think it’s possible to switch films and cartridges, you really can’t.

Fujifilm Film cost and print qualityFujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review

Film packs come with 10 prints per pack and cost anywhere from $13 to $24, so it pays to shop around. The prints use high resolution ( 800×600 dots at 320dpi ) files to print crisp, clear photos, even if they are quite small.

Mercifully, there are no ink cartridges to worry about in this printer, and that’s because the photos develop on the paper itself. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember original Polaroid instant prints that popped from the camera blank, then developed over a few minutes. These work exactly the same way.

Other options for photo printing

There are plenty of options in the Fuji Instax Share app for improving, changing or playing around with your printed photos.

There are filters you can add to the photo (black and white, sepia), or seasonal frames. You can also add text boxes over part of the photo or crop it square, or print two photos on one print. I found that kind of useless, as the images are so tiny, most detail is lost. There are also enhancements you can make to less than stellar snaps to improve their quality.

Check marks on the photo grid in the app helpfully lets you know which ones you’ve printed so there won’t be any accidental duplicates.

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC reviewPrint speed -Fujifilm Instax Share SP2

The Instax Share SP2 prints pretty quickly, once you’re connected. Fuji says, “when users send an image to the “Instax SHARE Smartphone Printer SP-2” via wireless LAN, they can get photos in just 10 seconds,” and that was about my experience with it too. Plenty fast enough for me.

Battery life

The Instax Share  SP2 has a rechargeable battery which uses a micro USB cable. Fuji says the battery life on the printer will last about 100 prints, which could be weeks depending on how often you’re using the device. During my two-plus weeks of testing, and printing about 30 photos, I certainly never needed to recharge it. A battery indicator also gives you a heads up on power status.

Overall review of Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 photo printer

Of all the mini photo printers I’ve tried, I like the prints from this device the most. I like the Polaroid style border, I think the new artsy borders are fun and I like that there are many print options, though I didn’t find I used them very much.

I think the setup interface could function better, as I believe this will be very frustrating for people with less tech savvy. I also found it quite annoying that the printer goes to sleep so quickly and then requires constant reconnection. That aside, the user interface is simple to navigate and easy to use. The various filters and add-ons are also easy enough to manipulate.

The printer operates absolutely silently, which is nice, and the battery lasts a long time.
The Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 is available in gold or silver, and sells for about $199 at the Source, Best Buy, and London Drugs.

Great gear for back to school – CTV Tech Talk

tech-talk-sept16This week on CTV Tech Talk I showed you three cool gadgets that can make back to school easier and more fun.

Moleskine Smart Writing Set

moleskine-smart-writing-set-erinlyycThis gadget has really surprised me in terms of how versatile it is, and how well it works. It would be great for students, artists or just compulsive note-takers who never want to lose their notes, or who need an easy way to share them with others.

We barely had time to scratch the surface of everything this device can do on Tech Talk, so be sure to click the link below and read the full review.

The Moleskine Smart Writing Set  consists of a thick notebook in traditional Moleskine style; a bound and wrapped cover with an elastic to keep it closed, plus a special pen (called Pen+) that has the ability to connect to your smartphone, and automatically and seamlessly transfer whatever you draw or write in the notebook, direct to digital format, using the free Moleskine app.

The pen is larger than a standard pen and has built-in technology.  You push a button on the end of the pen, and connect it to Moleskine’s M+ Notes app.  Then, it tracks where you write on the page, and transfers it in real time to the app, in your own handwriting, or converted to text. The uses for this really cool technology are almost endless.

Read more about exactly how the Smart Writing Set works, and my full review of it here.

Roku Insignia Smart 4K TV4k-UHD-Insignia-Roku-TV-Best-Buy-Canada-1024x536

4K TV is the newest innovation in TV technology, and it’s all about the pixels. A 4K TV has millions more than the next best TV which is 1080p.

If you think of a TV screen as a giant grid made up of minuscule squares, a 4K image has about 4,000 horizontal pixels (that’s where the name “4K” comes from). In total, it has about 8 million pixels on the screen, or about 4 times as many as the next best TV. To explain it in a visual way, manufacturers are jamming as many total pixels as there are in all of a 1080p set, into about a quarter of a 4K screen. That’s a lot of pixels.

While the screen resolution is amazing, the Roku Insignia TV is also smart. You can stream shows with it, using Netflix, and you don’t need a seperate streaming device.  You can also surf the web, watch YouTube or play digital content. A 4K Roku TV brings you the best available resolution plus all the smartest TV features.

Click here to read the full review I did of this TV, as well as more about 4K technology.

Epson Ecotank ET-2550 Printer

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve had a printer in my home.  I haven’t missed having one for many years, that is until I started testing some new ones.

It’s not that I haven’t needed to print anything, but you know, you find other ways around that; snapshot photos, email copies, and yes, printing stuff at the office.

I have to say, that since I’ve re-adopted having a printer in the house, I’ve found them quite handy; and so has my family. Particularly because they’re now easier to use, more versatile, and there’s less fussing with ink and cartridges.

No ink cartridges in this printer!

epson-ecotankOn Tech Talk I showed off the Epson Expression ET 2550 EcoTank Printer. It’s a wireless printer/copier/scanner/fax/ethernet, which has a unique feature: it doesn’t use printer cartridges.  Instead it contains “eco-tank” ink bottles that are equivalent to about 20 cartridge sets. The printer I have includes enough ink to print up to 4000 pages in black or 6500 pages in color. That’s a long, long time before I’ll need to worry about running out of juice; possibly a couple years.

I reviewed a different model of EcoTank printer, one that has a slightly higher print capacity; read that review of the Epson Workforce ET-4550 here.

Whether it’s watching documentaries in glorious 4K resolution, printing book reports without the fuss of cartridges, or taking and sharing notes instantly and digitally, these three gadgets can help make back to school season easier, more productive, and more fun.

Contest – Enter to Win!

Want to enter the contest we talked about on CTV? Click here to be re-directed to the contest page. (*not active until Tuesday Sept 13)

Ditch printer cartridges for good (almost!): Epson Workforce ET-4550 Review

IMG_8249It’s been more than a decade since I’ve had a printer in my home.  I haven’t missed having one for many years, that is until I started testing some new ones.

It’s not that I haven’t needed to print anything, but you know, you find other ways around that; snapshot photos, email copies, and yes, printing stuff at the office.

I have to say, that since I’ve re-adopted having a printer in the house, I’ve found them quite handy; and so has my family. Particularly because they’re now easier to use, more versatile, and there’s less fussing with ink and cartridges.

No ink cartridges in this printer!

I had the chance to review and test the Epson Workforce ET-4550 wireless printer/copier/scanner/fax/ethernet, which has a unique feature: it doesn’t use printer cartridges.  Instead it contains “eco-tank” ink bottles that are equivalent to about 20 cartridge sets. The printer I have includes enough ink to print up to 5000 pages in black or 8500 pages in color, and with a set of bonus ink bottles included in the box, it will print an additional 6000 pages. That’s a long, long time before I’ll need to worry about running out of juice; possibly a couple years.

Set up of the Epson Epson Workforce ET-4550

The box for this printer is massive, but that doesn’t really fit what’s inside. The printer itself is what I would call “average” size for home printers like this. And it’s definitely not heavy. It would certainly be easy for one person to move without problem. IMG_8015

As is customary with brand new printers these days, easy removal tape is used to hold everything in place during shipping and transport. There are also pieces of tape holding some internal parts in place as well, and you’ll need to open up the scanner bed to access them during the set up process.

Filling Epson’s ink tanks

Once everything is unpacked plugged in and ready to go it’s time to fill the ink tanks. Step one of the instructions notes that you should not start messing with the ink bottles until you’re absolutely ready to fill them, and that’s probably good advice.IMG_8022
Getting ready to fill the ink tanks was a little bit intimidating since there are warnings all over the packaging and inserts about taking care with handling of the ink. Epson recommends you use gloves and place something underneath the printer when you go to fill or refill the tanks, and while I did not have any rubber gloves handy, I did spread some paper underneath.

Turns out filling each ink tank is a simple matter of unpacking the bottles from their tight plastic wrap, removing the stopper from the ink tanks on the printer, and then emptying each bottle into the tank.

IMG_8018
While this was generally mess free, once the tank was full there was a good bit of ink around the lip of the printer’s ink tank, so it’s worth taking a bit of care here and wiping up the edges  of the tank before putting the stopper back in. The tip of the refill bottle was also covered in ink so I made sure to put that into a garbage bag and get rid of it right away, lest I inadvertently drag a sleeve across it.

Colour your hair at home? Filling ink tanks is similar

Despite being careful, the tips of the ink bottles do get messy and pulling off the silver foil seals from the bottles does transfer a bit of ink to the fingertips. The whole process reminds me of home haircoloring, where you’re using different bottles and pouring messy, staining liquids between them. It’s effective but can be messy if not done correctly.

With the black tank full and ready to go I was able to move onto the other tanks; Blue, red or “magenta”, and yellow. Cleverly, each refill bottle of ink fills the tank, to the “fill” line, so there’s no leftover ink to try to store safely.

IMG_8024
Ink levels on the tanks are easily visible.

Once the ink is ready the printer will ask you to set the date, time, and your region and then it will begin going through a series of cycles internally to “prime” the ink tanks and lines into the printer. That takes about 20 minutes, so I left it to its work and went on to something else in the meantime; downloading the Epson iPrint app, which you’ll need if you want to print from your phone or tablet.

Setting up the Wi-Fi was next; the step is a simple tweak the settings on the printer itself. The printer will locate available Wi-Fi networks in the area, you select which when you want and input the password. Trying to figure out how to navigate the keypad to use upper, lower, and numerical characters was a bit challenging but after a couple minutes staring at it I figured it out.

With the Wi-Fi connected I was able to print documents from my phone right away easily. Though it did seem like they were taking a long time.

Photo Printing

Next I tried to print photos with Epson’s premium photo paper. There’s no separate way to feed in photo paper, as there is with other printers, so in what turns out to be a minor annoyance, you must unload the tray of its letter-size paper, load photo paper, and then reinsert the tray. It was here I struggled a bit as maneuvering the tabs that keep the paper aligned in the bottom of the tray were a bit finicky and felt quite rickety.  I had a bit of difficulty trying to manouver the paper and the tabs and the tray, and it seemed to get jammed a couple times. To be frank, the tray itself feels light and cheap, like it may break at any moment, and I didn’t enjoy having to fuss with it.
In any event, with photo paper loaded, the printer seemed to recognize for itself that I was trying to print photos, and popped that up on the digital display.

To print photos, go to the app, it will load any photos from your smart phone tablet or device, and once you select them they print in less than a minute.
I printed a couple photos and then my husband wanted to try to print some documents. It was back to the printer to unload the photo paper and reload plain white letter paper.IMG_8248

Print speed testing – Epson ET-4550

Printing seemed to be taking quite a long time, so I timed it, and was stunned to learn the printing a single side half page email in color took a minute and 13 seconds! In my opinion that is way way way too long, particularly when many printers can do it in a 10th of that time.
I also noticed when I printed pages that were very color rich, the ink saturated to the page to the point where it left eight wrinkled look.

I tested out some printing of airline tickets and documents that amounted to 18 pages.  I hit print from my smartphone, and the process began.  In the time I was able to make dinner, sit down and eat, and then clean the kitchen, the documents were still not finished!  I decided to do some timed tests.

My initial tests used both my Macbook Pro laptop and my iPhone 6plus.
First I printed a six page document in black-and-white only, from a basic note file on my iPhone. It took six minutes and four seconds. It also stopped for about a minute and 15 seconds just before printing the last page. By contrast it takes only 90 seconds to print the same document on another printer in the same room.

I tested a colour document next, also from my iPhone.  It took seven minutes twenty seconds to print three single-sided colour pages of a six page test, and at eleven minutes and four seconds into my six page print job the printer suddenly spit out page 4 only half completed and canceled the entire print job.

Next test was an 8 page email that I opted to print in colour (though it was mostly black-and-white) from my Macbook Pro. It took over 10 minutes, and then more than 11 minutes into the job, it again paused printing on the last page, spit out only a half completed page and then shut down the print job.

Another annoying pattern seemed to be none of the documents will print double-sided, despite this feature being turned on. I turned the future on and off repeatedly to check if it was something with in the settings that was tripping a problem, but this did not help.

Seeking help for slow printing

I got in touch with my contact at Epson to find out if this kind of speed slowness was a problem with my unit, or another issue. A conference call with some experts was arranged.  After some troubleshooting, they were able to determine that my MacBook Pro was defaulting to Air Print. Epson tells me Apple’s Air Print drivers are much slower then the dedicated Epson drivers.  Their assessment is that’s why pages take so long to print from the MacBook Pro.

Follow instructions EXACTLY. Do not Deviate.

While step 5 in the Epson set up/start  guide tells you to install the Epson drivers and how to get them, (by going to Epson.com/support), that was a step I did not take initially, as my MacBook pro immediately found the printer on Wi-Fi, and handled the set up using the Air Print drivers. Despite this, the Epson experts told me that my skipping the software installation step is not “what most users do.” They say most users follow the instructions exactly and would have set up the drivers as instructed, and thus would not likely be experiencing slowness when printing from the computer.

Hallelujah! A page in 20 seconds!

The techsperts had me download the new Epson dedicated drivers, install them, and print a few test pages. The printer was now able to print both color and black-and-white in about 20 seconds. Yay! A twenty second print time is also much more workable, and in line with other home printers of this type.

You can fix laptop slowness, but not iPhone delays on the Epson Workforce

However there is not such an easy fix if you are experiencing slowness of printing from a smart phone or tablet such as the iPhone or iPad.  Since these particular devices use Air Print and only Air Print to send documents to the printer, you are going to have to deal with delays.

During my tests I had another printer at my disposal, so I asked why I was not experiencing the same problems of slowness with the other printer when printing directly from iPhone or iPad. Epson tells me that’s because “Epson uses its own unique printer language” and that instead of the printer doing the heavy lifting of data transfer and conversion, the computer does it for the printer via bitmap when using the installed the software drivers.

There’s a fix for Apple issues… Kinda

The Epson experts recommend when printing from smart devices like the iPhone or iPad to use the Epson iPrint app instead of printing from within other apps, or using Air Print.  Using the iPrint app does allow you to print downloaded documents, photos and web pages, but unfortunately the app doesn’t integrate with your emails, for example.

The bottom line is Epson’s folks tell me delays in printing are not uncommon when printing from Apple devices such as smart phones or tablets. Avoiding those delays is fixable by using your laptop or computer, so long as you download and install the proper Epson drivers.

While there could potentially be other variables at play keeping Air Print from being speedy, such as variables with the router, web traffic in the neighborhood or time of day, Epson says at this time it “can’t explain why I was having problems” with slow printing from my iPhone and doesn’t know what can be done. “There’s no evidence it’s an Epson issue.”

Overall impressions of Epson Workforce ET-4550

Once the proper print drivers were installed, the Epson Workforce ET-4550 is a great printer, and can match speed with other printers of the same size and type.  The printer itself is light, easy to move, and the flexibility of having ink tanks which can store years of ink shouldn’t be underestimated. I also like that you can see the ink levels in the tank at a glance.

While the ink tanks for me are a pro, I can see the clumsy or the fidgety person having an issue with refilling them, which could be a con for some.

As far as speed goes, the Epson Workforce is a good bet, and when printing from a laptop (even an Apple Macbook) it works perfectly. However for me, the lack of print speed when printing from my iPhone is a huge con. I’d say 80-90% of my documents and emails get printed via my phone, so having to wait forever for them, whether the issue is Epson’s Apple’s or something else, is frustrating and a needless delay to my workday.

I’d recommend this printer particularly for an office where the bulk of printing will be done from dedicated computers, and not other smart devices.  I would not recommend it for an Apple user who intends to do the bulk of their work from a handheld device.

For more info on the Epson Workforce ET-4550, click here. The printer is available at Best Buy in Canada for $599.

Epson provided a Workforce ET-4550 printer for testing. It did not ask for nor recieve permission to approve this review.