droPrinter is a portable printer for smartphones that uses low-cost, thermal paper to print pictures without ink. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth, meaning you can snap photos and get a physical copy of them almost instantly. But droPrinter isn't just about printing photos. I had the opportunity to speak to droPrinter co-founder Fizo Jiang about the product and what sets it apart from competitors such as Polaroid's mobile printers.
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“Actually, our 'enemy' is not Polaroid. Photo is only a very small part of droPrinter,” said Jiang. “The Polaroid camera is an expert in photo printing. But the smartphone is not only a camera, the smartphone is whole new portable computing device.”
This is one of the key areas where droPrinter differs from similar products — it can be used to print notes, messages, emails, even entire webpages, easily and cost-effectively. “No matter what is displayed [on your phone], it can be printed,” says Jiang, noting that droPrinter “could even be used as a second screen for a phone.”
droPrinter is said to be able to print continuously for around seven hours. Compare that to a smartphone photo printer such as the Polaroid Zip, which can produce around 25 sheets per charge, and droPrinter seems to be a more efficient product, even if it doesn’t offer the same quality.
In addition, the ZINC paper used by Polaroid can cost between US$10 and 15 dollars for 20-30 sheets, droPrinter's prints cost around “one or two cents per photo” according to Jiang.
The droPrinter does have some limitations, however. It's small, and prints on paper at about 58 mm in black and white. This means returned images are about 5 cm wide. Jiang also said that that images printed when the device is below 20 percent charged would suffer, but when the battery level is above that, the images would be consistently high quality.
It seems like droPrinter’s ambitions as a second smartphone screen may usurp its appeal as a photo printer in the end. Given its small scale, it won’t be able to compete with the larger color printers on quality. But maybe it will offer something more interesting.
The droPrinter team is making its Android API available for other devs to get their hands on it and integrate it further with their own apps, which would open up the droPrinter’s possibilities further. Where this might lead is in their hands, but I can’t deny I’d appreciate an easier way to print flight tickets. As Jiang said: “Customers just use the printer [...] other developers can make it an amazing printer.”
droPrinter has already been successfully 'Kickstarted', and the product is expected to ship early next year for around US$99, though Jiang said the best time would be “before Christmas”. If that’s possible, an earlier release could happen.
We’ll hopefully be getting our hands on a droPrinter before the end of 2015. Check out its Kickstarter page if you’re interested in supporting the project; you can pre-order one at the discounted price of US$65 USD.
What are your thoughts on droPrinter? Let us know in the comments below.