The announcement that Polaroid had signed up iconic pop star Lady Gaga as a "creative director" raised a few eyebrows here at CNET Australia. Would the new products be stunning works of art that take technology in a revolutionary new direction? We didn't have to wait that long to find out, with the "Grey Label by Haus Of Gaga" products demonstrated at CES. Pictures are fine from a distance, but we've been keen to get our hands on a unit to discover whether the Grey Label products are, indeed, a breath of fresh design air.
To put it kindly, perhaps the other Grey Label products will be revolutionary. The GL10 Instant Mobile Printer has a harsh industrial design that makes it look slightly like an external hard drive enclosure, but not much like anything you'd associate with one of the world's fashion icons.
In fact, it's not visually that much different from Polaroid's previous Zink photo printers, and it clearly shares a lot of design DNA with the previous models. Which means, logically speaking, it was in fact just born this way. OK, we promise that's the only Lady Gaga joke we'll put in this entire review.
Getting back to the point, while it feels a little cruel to pick on an ordinary portable printer for looking plain and frankly a little ugly, a key selling point for the whole Grey Label by Haus of Gaga line is that they're a mix of Polaroid technology and Lady Gaga style. The GL10, to our eyes, simply isn't very Gaga. Unless the GL10 is meant to be some kind of ironic statement about the ephemeral nature of beauty and judgement of products at first glance. Somehow, we just can't see it.
The GL10 is a Zink-based printer, which means that the printer itself does relatively little of the actual printing; like other mobile printing solutions the secret is in the paper, which in Zink's case is a special polymer that reacts when heated to form coloured patterns. Pictures, in other words.
The GL10 is described by Polaroid as a "next generation" Zink printer, which means that unlike the previous generation of Zink devices, the GL10 can manage prints up to 4x3 inches in size. You only get a sample pack of 10 sheets of Zink paper with the printer; a pack of 30 sheets of 4x3-inch Zink paper will set you back AU$29.95, making each photo only marginally cheaper than a dollar per print. It's one area where importing might make sense; the same Zink paper in the US sells for US$19.99.
Getting prints to the GL10 is a matter of either direct USB connection, with support for PCs, Macs and PictBridge devices, or via Bluetooth. Polaroid has a specific Android app, "Polaroid Grey Label", for printing to the GL10 available as a free download. iPhone users aren't currently directly supported for GL10 printing.
Setting up the GL10 is a relatively pain-free process. You load paper in blocks of 10 with a specific feeder sheet at the base that informs the GL10 there's a new batch of paper to print from, and charge it from the mains. From there, it's just a matter of choosing your print connection. There's no card reader facility built-in, which means that the one thing the GL10 omits are any real printing controls; you'll be selecting and editing pictures from your USB connection or over Bluetooth only.
We tested the GL10 with a Bluetooth-connected Samsung Galaxy S II and Polaroid's free Grey Label printing application. While the GL10 lacks pizazz, the Grey Label software is quite slick, especially for an Android application, where user interface design isn't often a high priority. Polaroid's claim for the GL10 is that you can print photos — with the classic Polaroid border or as full-bleed shots — in "under a minute", but that's really only an indication of the GL10's on-board printing time. Printing via Bluetooth introduces a data transmission delay; from the Galaxy S II we averaged a time of one minute 44 seconds across five shots, with around 50 seconds of that being data transmission. Given that the GL10's undoubtedly a party piece to show off when out and about, making Bluetooth printing the most logical choice, this means you may have to wait a little longer than it suggests on the box for your photos.
Photo quality was solid, with good reproduction of skin tones and realistic colours as well. We've seen some online reports that suggest some Zink prints curl over time, but we've yet to see that with our GL10 prints — but then it's early days for them.
The GL10 Instant Mobile printer certainly works, and it shows that Zink technology is moving forward at a reasonable pace. At the same time, like most portable photo printers, it's a fairly costly way to produce on the spot photos, but we could have predicted that anyway.
The connection with Lady Gaga is perhaps the most disappointing part of the GL10's construction. It's clearly the hype point for this particular printer (and indeed, the whole "Haus of Gaga" Polaroid line), but this is just a portable photo printer that doesn't look particularly special. We're not saying it needs to be coated in a thin layer of tasty bacon or anything, but we'd expect more for a product with that kind of supposed pedigree. As it stands, the Gaga connection looks more and more like a cynical marketing cash-in, and not as though she's had any particular creative input at all.