Polaroid Originals announced its first Polaroid printer today — the Polaroid Lab — allowing you to print photos taken on your phone.
The Lab, an update to Impossible Project’s Instant Lab from seven years ago, has a camera inside with three lenses that, essentially, take a photo of a photo that’s on a user’s phone. It then optimizes the image for film and prints it out. It’s supposed to work with the iPhone 6 and up and “most” Android devices. It charges over Micro USB, with Polaroid saying one charge should last a month. It’ll cost $100 when it’s eventually released later this year, and it accepts any film, except the SX-70.
The Lab requires users to have the Polaroid Originals app installed on their phone, from which they can tinker with settings, like exposure and color correction. In the beta app, those settings aren’t visually represented, so you’re just playing with a setting without knowing how it’ll affect the actual print. (It’s unclear if this will change when the Lab is released.) You can also break one image up into a collage spread across up to nine prints, however that collage isn’t seamless and the big white borders around each print take up a lot of image real estate.
Polaroid included other, more tech-oriented features that are already built into other photo printers, like the ability to assign a video to a photo. That feature lets you hold the Polaroid Originals app over the print to make a video show up. It’s gimmicky and requires whoever has the print to actually download the app.
I tested the new device with mixed results. I always struggled to find the perfect place for the phone to sit over the Lab, even with the app providing guidance. Once I did find the right spot, the print quality varied. My phone photos, even on my nearly four-year-old iPhone 6S, are detailed and colorful. When translated to film, some of the details disappear, and the colors feel totally off — and not in a charming way.
I printed the same photo of a lake with geese in it three times, and every one looks different and unappealing. I gave Verge video director Alix Diaconis a print of a photo of her, and she said, “That’s bad.”
Polaroid says you have to leave all prints either in the Lab’s roller or flipped over for at least 15 minutes to properly expose them. When I did this, the prints developed properly, but the results didn’t wow me.
The idea of printing my smartphone photos is neat, but the reality is that taking a photo of a photo on a screen likely isn’t the best way to go about it. The magic of Polaroid is the spontaneity of snapping a photo and not knowing how it’ll turn out. When you already have a clear, perfect photo, you don’t want to muck it up with unpredictable film.