The Kodak STEP Slim ($100, slated for up to $80 at time of publication) is a mini printer with one mission: to make 2-by-3-inch photo prints on the go.
Instead of transferring ink or toner onto paper, STEP Slim uses Zink technology (as in, zero ink). Thermal paper contains multiple layers containing dye crystals that respond to heat. There is a layer for each of the three colors (yellow, magenta, and cyan), with each layer responding to different temperatures and heat pulses.
The battery is rated to last 25 prints, or an hour and a half. Charging time is also an hour and a half. A mini USB cable is included for charging. Pictures are sent to the printer wirelessly via Bluetooth.
This STEP Slim makes one size of print: 2″ x 3″. However, the most common aspect ratio on mobile phones is 4:3, which means you’ll either leave white space on the paper to print the entire image, or you’ll have to crop the image to fill the paper.
STEP Slim comes with an app that can easily access your social media accounts. Clicking My Gallery in the Kodak STEP app opened options for printing from Facebook, Instagram, and Google Photos, as well as several (some automatically) generated lists: recents, Kodak Steptouch Edit, favorites, recently added, selfies, and Screenshots, Portrait, Motion, Unable to Load, and RAW.
In addition to printing photos from your social media accounts, the app also allows you to share to social media as well as to your text messaging app. STEP Slim operation is exclusive to mobile phones. You cannot operate this printer from a Windows or Mac computer.
Kodak STEP Slim Portable Photo Printer review: The design
Small enough to fit in a pocket, this mini printer measures approximately 4.6 x 3.2 x 0.75 inches. For comparison, it’s about an inch shorter and twice as thick as the iPhone 7 in a sturdy case. The STEP Slim is so light that it weighs less than 6 ounces without paper loaded. By comparison, the iPhone 7 weighs 4.9 ounces.
The body is attractively simple, with a flat cap, rounded corners, and a glossy white colour. At one end is the slit where the finished prints come out.
At the other end are the power button, micro USB port, and charge LED. Adding paper is simple: you slide out the cover and place the paper in the inner paper bin.
Kodak STEP Slim Portable Photo Printer review: Print speed and quality
In our tests, the STEP Slim printed an average of 47.4 seconds, and its speed was very consistent.
Print quality is good, but not great. On closer inspection, fine bands sometimes appear on the prints. On our test prints, however, they weren’t distractingly clear. In other cases, closer examination revealed that pixelation made some textures rather unattractive.
In general, the prints were attractive. Colors looked natural and well saturated. However, skin tones in photos don’t look as warm as they do on screen. In both flash photos and photos taken in natural light, faces tend to appear slightly overexposed, flattening the textures of the faces.
Close-ups of a few people looked pretty good. My print from a mini collection picked the waist up, filling the frame, printed with a flattering amount of detail. In other prints, however, some of the subtleties are lost. In particular, in shots containing more than a few people, where faces were printed, fine detail of facial features was noticeably missing when viewed close-up.
Kodak STEP Slim Portable Photo Printer review: The cost of paper
Unlike inkjet printers, Zink printers only require the purchase of paper (no cartridges needed).
A 100-sheet paper pack usually costs $59.99, or 60 cents per print. Reduced to $49.99, upon review, reduces the cost of prints to 50 cents each. You also get sticker paper (two pre-cut stickers per sheet), which comes in a 30-sheet pack for $19.99, which was reduced to $16.99 upon review.
Kodak offers a basic subscription plan: You choose to receive a pack of paper every month or every other month, in one of three sizes: 20, 50, or 100 sheets. Signing up for a subscription (which you can reportedly cancel at any time, without penalty), can save 10 percent. But the 10 percent savings is based on the full price of the sheet (note the discounted rates above).
For example, with a subscription, both a 20-pack of paper ($8.99) and a 50-pack ($22.49) come out to 45 cents per print. (The 100th package with the subscription was not available at the time of publication.)
How do these costs compare to other mini printers that make mini prints? One similar model that uses Zink technology is the HP Sprocket, whose paper size is 2.3 by 3.4 inches and is 60 cents per print, if you buy a 100-sheet pack of sticky-backed photo paper.
Another competing model is the Fujifilm Instax Mini Link 2, which makes 2.44-by-1.81-inch prints using Instax film instead of Zink paper. At full price, a pack of 50 sheets costs $59.95, or $1.20 per print. At press time, the discounted price of $41 still means you’ll pay 82 cents per print—nearly double the best price for the STEP Slim.
However, compared to a standard desktop inkjet printer, Kodak mini prints can be a bit pricey. For comparison, I picked the recently reviewed Canon Pixma TS702a ($130), a single-function inkjet printer. Using a 100-sheet 4-by-6-inch Canon Photo Paper Plus II pack at full price ($22), and ink cartridges purchased in value packs, the shots cost a total of 64.9 cents each. Using high-capacity XL ink cartridges lowers this cost by 8 cents. However, at the time of publication, Canon’s discount paper bundle ($13.19) has cut costs significantly. Of course, these costs are for 4″ x 6″ prints. Halving that cost to the equivalent of 2-by-3-inch STEP Slim prints, Canon prints cost 32.5 to 24 cents per 2-by-3-inch print area—or 28 percent to 47 percent less than a Kodak.
Kodak STEP Slim Portable Photo Printer Review: Setup and Software
Setting up the Kodak STEP Slim is very simple. I used the QR code printed in the little getting started guide to downloading the iOS app. A series of initial screens led me through the main features of the Kodak STEP app and the locations of the onscreen buttons.
From the app’s gallery page, swiping left clears the screen to take photos within the app. You can simply swipe right to go back to the gallery page.
The app offers an attractive set of filters, with a variety of artistic and classic treatments. There are 25 in all, from monochrome to retro and color. There are filters that undersaturate color, right down to extra vibrant, and a rock-solid black-and-white look.
There is a blur feature, which works very simply – just place the on-screen circle (adjustable size) on your subject, and the rest of the image will become slightly blurred. This is especially useful for basic phone cameras that can’t create that shallow depth of field with their lens. However, I found this feature a bit flawed: adjusting the size of the focus circle was a bummer.
Other features were welcome though a little basic. I found that adjusting the brightness tended to wash out the image. I prefer making separate adjustments for the highlights and shadows. Personally, I tend to adjust shadows to restore detail lost in harsh shadows, such as people’s faces in bright sunlight. Fun photo extras include borders, graphics, and text. You can also make labels by printing on pre-cut label paper.
I mentioned earlier that photos taken in a 4:3 aspect ratio must be cropped to fill the 3:2 print size of Kodak paper. When you move and zoom the image in the app, you can control the position of the image. You are not limited to placing the image in the middle of the paper.
The application offers other useful features beyond its editing capabilities. There are quick tips, support links, sharing settings, and paper refill requests.
However, if you have a favorite photo-editing app that you’d like to print from, you may be disappointed to find that you’ll have to save your photo and then print it from the Kodak app.
Kodak STEP Slim Portable Photo Printer review: The bottom line
The Kodak STEP Slim is fun, easy to use, and delivers good print quality. It’s a single trick game, but it offers a whole host of features across the well-designed app. Pocket size makes it convenient. And while print quality isn’t stellar, it’s certainly impressive enough for a small pocket printer that can produce a 2-by-3-inch printed image in less than a minute. Although the cost of printing is quite high, this device is useful for quickly printing photos on the go.