Kodak’s line of pocket photo printers ranges from the Step Slim Instant Photo Printer to the Editors’ Choice award-winning Mini 3 Retro Portable Photo Printer. The Step Instant Mobile Photo Printer seen here is closely related to the $10-more-expensive Step Slim we reviewed a few months ago. Like the Step Slim and several other Zero Ink (Zink) smartphone photo printers, the Kodak Step prints well, with easy-to-use Bluetooth connectivity and competitive operating costs. After a recent price cut from $99.99 to $69.99, it’s also a good value. (Another PCMag favorite, 2018’s HP Sprocket Plus, lists for more than twice as much at $149.99.) Zink printers can’t match the image quality of dye-sublimation models, but this Kodak is a small-format pocket photo printer that’s easy to like—so much so that it earns its own Editors’ Choice award among Zink models.
Another Member of the Kodak Family
Kodak has been busy introducing pocket photo printers in the past year or so, with small-format devices using both Zink and dye-sub technology. The Step, like the above-mentioned Step Slim, is available in multiple enclosure colors, in this case white, black, pink, and blue.
Like the Step Slim, the Step measures about 1 by 3 by 5 inches (HWD) and weighs just under a pound, which is similar to other Zink devices that print photos of this size (about 2 by 3 inches). In addition to the Step Slim and the Sprocket Plus, competitors include the Canon Ivy Mini (and the soon-to-be-reviewed Ivy 2 Mini), as well as several dye-sublimation devices, notably the Kodak Mini 3 Retro and the Polaroid Hi-Print 2×3 Pocket Photo Printer.
Zink and dye-sub photo printers are very different animals. The former uses special media—Zero Ink paper embedded with color crystals that react to heat patterns generated by the printer. Dye-sublimation printers use cartridges that hold three dry-ink ribbons, plus a clear coat that brings out colors and protects the image from smearing and fading. While Zink printers render photos in one pass, dye-sub units move the paper over the printhead four times: once for each separate color, and then for the clear coat.
The Kodak Step holds up to 20 sheets of paper in a compartment inside. It’s exposed by removing a lid at the top of the device. Printed photos exit via a slot on the front edge, as shown below.
On the opposite edge, you’ll find charging and print-status LEDs, a reset button, and a micro USB port for connecting the charging cable. Connectivity options consist of Bluetooth and NFC wireless. Both are peer-to-peer networking protocols that allow Android (Bluetooth or NFC) and iOS (Bluetooth only) smartphones and tablets to connect to the printer without either it or them belonging to the same network.
The Kodak Step works only with iOS and Android phones and tablets; you can’t print images from your Windows or macOS laptop or desktop. The printer has a built-in battery for use when there’s no wall outlet nearby; Kodak says a fully charged battery is good for about 25 prints, which is roughly the same endurance estimate as for the company’s Step Slim, Mini 3 Retro, and Mini 2 Retro.
The Step App, and Kodak’s Printing Bundles
Most of today’s pocket photo printers, including this one, rely on some kind of downloadable photo editing, enhancing, and printing app to operate. In this case, it’s the Kodak Step App, a well-developed utility available in Android and iOS flavors. More than a mere printer driver, the app lets you make corrections such as image sharpening, contrast and color adjustments, and red-eye removal, as well as adding decorative text, borders, and other enhancements.
While reviewing the Kodak Step, I came across three different bundles on Amazon and a few other outlets. The basic $69.99 package consists of the printer, a charging cable, and a starter pack of 20 sheets of Zink photo paper. The next step up is an $89 bundle that adds another 20-sheet pack of 2-by-3-inch, adhesive-backed Zink paper (for a total of 40 prints) and a carrying case.
Finally, Kodak’s $119 Starter Bundle, like the Step Slim printer’s $129 package by the same name, comes with just about everything you need to turn your prints into arts and crafts projects: the additional 20-pack of paper, the carrying case, a small photo album, markers, thousands of stickers for a host of occasions, and even an improvised clothesline for drying your creations. (Notice the cord and eight clothespins at upper left of the image below.)
It’s important to note, too, that you can also find various Zink paper packs ranging from 20 sheets to 100 sheets or more, all with sticky backs for “hanging” your photos on the refrigerator, your laptop lid, or wherever you may like.
Testing the Kodak Step Instant: Just What You’d Zink
Kodak rates the Step’s output speed at 1 photo per minute (ppm). Using my Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone via a Bluetooth connection, most of my test photos actually took slightly under a minute to print. As I’ve noted in past reviews of printers like this one, that’s highly competitive for this type and size of printer. Anything under 60 seconds is more than reasonable, although some models such as the HP Sprocket Plus bump right up against that time (58 seconds), while others fluctuate significantly. (The Canon Ivy takes 38 to 52 seconds, averaging about 44.)
Print quality is about what I expected—good for Zink technology, but far from fantastic. Don’t get me wrong: This little printer, like most of its competitors, churns out decent-looking photo stickers. But most dye-sublimation and inkjet printers produce noticeably better-looking images. Compared to its Zink peers like its Step Slim sibling, however, the Kodak Step prints relatively well.
The bundles I mentioned earlier should save you a little on Zink paper. Kodak also offers paper packs in various quantities, although buying in bulk does not really reduce your cost per photo (CPP). The cheapest package of 20 adhesive-backed 2-by-3-inch sheets I found is about $9.99, for a 50-cent CPP. I also found packs of 30, 50, 100, and 120 sheets online, but all yielded running CPP figures of 50 to 55 cents.
While this CPP is the highest of the Kodak printers mentioned here, it’s about the same as the Canon Ivy’s and more or less average for the category. The HP Sprocket Plus and Polaroid Hi-Print will run you significantly more per print, around 70 to 80 cents.
Verdict: A Good-Value Smartphone Partner
The attraction of the Kodak Step Instant Mobile Photo Printer is that it prints as well as its competitors, but costs less (in a few cases, a lot less), with reasonable running costs. It doesn’t work with laptop or desktop PCs, but that’s hardly unusual among smartphone-oriented snapshot printers.
Unlike many rivals, the Step is also available in multiple bundles that include not only paper but extras like carrying cases, markers, and assorted arts-and-crafts supplies. That, plus its low price and operating costs, make the Kodak Step our latest favorite pocket photo printer.