Slow autofocus • Laggy touchscreen • Printed photos aren’t stickers • Display scratches really easily • Crummy video quality
The Polaroid Pop tries to bridge analog and digital, but the design is so mediocre you’ll end up throwing a fit before you get any fun shots.
If you’re itching for the good ol’ days of Polaroid cameras and instant film, you have a couple of options:
Buy an old Polaroid camera and get some Polaroid Originals Type-600 film for it.
Buy one of Polaroid Originals’ new instant cameras, like the very fun OneStep 2.
Heck, even though they’re not analog instant cameras, digital shooters with built-in printers like the Polaroid Snap are quirky enough if only because the ZINK Zero Ink paper they use is adhesive, so you can use them as stickers.
Whatever you do, don’t waste your money on the Polaroid Pop.
The $200 digital instant camera turned heads when it was announced at CES a year ago and finally launched last holiday season. But after shooting with it I can wholeheartedly say it’s an overpriced chunk of plastic you don’t need.
You’re better off getting any of the instant cameras I just mentioned above.
A tale of two Polaroids
Before I tell you about the camera, it’s important you understand that the company behind this Pop is not the old Polaroid camera you probably knew and loved. After the iconic Polaroid company went through bankruptcy 10 years ago, the brand was licensed out and slapped onto seemingly every kind junk gadget imaginable. As a result, most of these Polaroid-branded products (TVs, drones, VR headsets, etc.) were poorly made products with mediocre quality. Gizmodo put it best: It’s what happens when a brand dies.
The Polaroid Snap seemed to be one of the rare exceptions to all of the licensed Polaroid crap. Sure, it wasn’t the best digital instant camera, but what it lacked in features and performance it made up in charm. Specifically, the ZINK paper it printed photos on were stickers so you could slap them all over your stuff. Plus, it was only $100.
There are many similarities between the Snap and Pop. Both take digital photos. Both have memory card slots to save the photos. Both connect to mobile apps. And both print pictures on ZINK paper.
The Pop has even more in common with the upgraded Snap Touch, which has a touchscreen and lets you personalize your photos with borders, stickers, and doodles right on the camera.
But whereas the Snap’s shortcomings can be forgiven by the sticker prints, the same can’t be said for the Pop. Every feature reminds you it’s not a janky toy camera.
The Pop is essentially the Snap Touch’s bigger brother. The entire camera is larger with a bigger 3.97-inch touchscreen on the back.
It’s a relatively minimalist design — clearly very toy-like — and comes in six different colors. Well, technically, six different colored bottoms. The top of the camera is a glossy black on all models, but the bottoms are available in black, blue, green, pink, white, and yellow.
Cheap is the only way to describe the camera’s build quality. The glossy black panels collect fingerprints easily, and they got scratched almost as soon as I unboxed it. On my review unit, the two halves that make up the bulk of the camera started to split almost as soon as I started using it.
I get it: Plastic scratches, but that’s to be expected over days, weeks, or months of being tossed around in a bag — not within a few minutes of just touching it. Just look at the screen on my camera:
Next to the screen there’s a single big red shutter button. I’m usually all for this kind of simplicity, but the button is too low for my right thumb to comfortably press while balancing the camera so it doesn’t fall out my grip.
Rotating the Pop counterclockwise and shooting in landscape puts the button in a natural spot, but how often does anyone take horizontal Polaroids? That’s madness.
It’s a good thing there’s a nice thick rubbery lanyard to secure the camera to your wrist. But even that’s poorly designed. I spent more time figuring out how to thread the lanyard through the camera and then twist and lock it in place than was necessary. I’m confused as to why Polaroid didn’t just use a traditional lanyard loop design.
Remove the bottom of the Pop and you’ll get access to the paper tray (good for 10 sheets) and a microSD card slot for saving your digital photos (I added a 400GB memory card and it worked just fine), videos and GIFs. On the left side of the camera, there’s a single microUSB port (can we just kill this port once and for all and replace it with USB-C already?) for charging the camera up.
Shooting with Pop
There are three different kinds of content you can capture with the Pop: photos, videos, and GIFs. Obviously, you can only print out the photos.
Photos have 20 megapixels of resolution, but frankly, they’re kind of crummy. The image quality is not good and your smartphone (assuming it’s one from the last two years) probably takes crisper photos with better color and less image noise — even if it can’t match the megapixel spec.
The camera records 1080p resolution video, but again, don’t let the promise of “full HD” quality trick you. Video quality is awful, and your phone’s likely more capable.
Lastly, the Pop shoots GIFs. You get options to shoot at two or five frames per second, with GIFs captured in 480 x 480 resolution, which is pretty decent. But recording GIFs is a waiting game I didn’t have the patience for, taking between 10-15 seconds to process. If you really want to make a GIF, there’s an easier and faster way to do it: Use Google’s Gboard keyboard app for iOS or Android.
So if the digital media the Pop captures are unremarkable, how about the physical prints? They’re… also nothing to write home about.
It’s great to see larger ZINK prints, but the bigger size also makes the low-resolution print quality all the more apparent. It’d be a different story if the printed photos weren’t so grainy, or if everyone didn’t look drunk with a reddish cast on their skin (there’s a setting to switch between different white balance presets, but that sorta defeats the point of an instant camera, which you usually leave on auto mode), or if colors were accurate, or if the drawings and scribbles didn’t look like some crap made on MS Paint.
Not to mention, prints take forever to print out — just a little over a minute from start to finish after pressing the print button — and it’s next to impossible to see the dim screen outdoors.
I printed the photo above and then lost it almost immediately:
The wind wouldn’t have taken poor Brian’s photo if it was a sticker. It would have been safely stuck to his laptop. Womp womp.
Customizing frames, text, and drawings is also pretty frustrating on the laggy, low-res touchscreen. You can overlay stickers on top of your photos, but there’s only a couple different ones to pick from. If you make a drawing or hand-write text, there’s no way to undo a stroke; you can only discard all changes. Resizing stickers is challenging because the touchscreen isn’t good with pinching and zooming.
You get a bunch more stickers and personalization options if you connect the Pop to your phone using the Polaroid Pop app, but good luck getting it to work. The app’s got a 1.5-star rating in the iOS App Store, and it’s understandable why.
By the way, the app’s really buggy. For example, I tried selecting a photo to print from my iPhone’s camera roll, but when I went to add a frame, it displayed a completely different photo. And when my phone was definitely connected to the camera, it’d only print when it felt like it, usually successfully printing every third or fourth attempt.
Pop? More like poo.
I’d like to say I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to instant cameras. It’s rare that an instant camera can be so bad in so many ways.
But the Pop disappointed me on every level.
From its primitive user interface and laggy touchscreen to its slow printing to its poor app, the entire experience is bad. Maybe you can overlook these issues, but I can’t. Not for a instant camera that costs $200.
If printing out digital photos on instant film is something you really want, I recommend Fujifilm’s Share SP-2 pocket printer. It prints photos on real instant film and using it won’t make you wanna smash it into a million pieces.