Review: VuPoint Solutions Photo Cube IP-P10-VP
Sold under at least three different names, VuPoint Solutions' first-of-a-kind iPhone/iPod-docking printer Photo Cube ($150, aka IP-P10-VP) is also known as the Bolle BP-10 and MiLi Photo Printer -- amazingly, it's even supported by three different free iOS apps. Regardless of its name or the app you choose, Photo Cube offers iPhone, iPod, and even iPad users the opportunity to print borderless 4" by 6" photos for around 55 cents each, relying upon special $20 combined ink, paper, and coating cartridges that print 36 sheets before requiring replacement. While wireless AirPrint photo printers are becoming more numerous, Photo Cube's comparative convenience and considerably smaller size will appeal to many people -- even if the images it prints aren't quite as impressive as what you'd expect from entry-level HP and Canon options.
Photo Cube’s two biggest selling points are its small size and simplified user experience. As compared with most printers, this one’s only 6.9” wide by 5.9” deep by 3.8” tall—that’s not exactly a cube, but it’s a smaller footprint than either iPad. An even bigger contrast with other printers: it only has one button, an illuminated power toggle on the top. Once Photo Cube is removed from its package, the only things you have to do to set it up are to peel off a few pieces of packing material and connect its included wall adapter to a power outlet. Press the power button, plug your iPod touch or iPhone into the adjacent top universal dock, and when you’re prompted to do so, pick any one of the aforementioned three free apps. Pick a photo within the app, hit the print button on the iOS device’s screen, and relax. You’ll see a piece of photo paper pop out of the printer’s front, make repeated passes to get yellow, red, blue, and coating layers, and then fall out of the trayless printer when it’s finished. Printing takes one minute from start to finish. That’s it.
The VuPoint, MiLi, and Bolle apps are the same at the core, but have slightly different interfaces and icons—they seem to be three different point releases of one app. As of press time, MiLi Photo and Bolle Photo are noticeably ahead of the Photo Cube app, as they add a full iPad user interface, as well as not particularly useful Twitter and Facebook sharing features that are missing from VuPoint’s version. Yet despite these differences, all three versions can be used to print directly from an iPad, assuming that you connect your own Dock Connector cable to the USB port found on Photo Cube’s right side, which like the top dock recharges your device while printing is taking place. The newer apps make clear during printing that an iPad’s connected rather than an iPod or iPhone, but the difference isn’t significant in any other way. Each device takes a few seconds to transfer the photo to the printer, and then the same one minute to print the picture.
Having printed a variety of different sample photographs using Photo Cube, there’s fairly good news to report. Images snapped by an iPhone 4 camera—or by a Canon 5D Mark II and synchronized to an iPhone or iPad—were certainly good enough to place in picture frames, thanks to 300dpi dye sublimation color printing that didn’t leave the images looking pixelated or grainy. While Photo Cube isn’t going to magically bring the horrifically low-resolution images snapped by iPad 2 or iPod touch 4G cameras back to life, it does a good enough job with most types of shots we tested to be a fun low-end printer, albeit with a lower output resolution than comparably-priced HP AirPlay options. The only inconvenience here is the need to physically connect your device and load the app. Once they’ve been set up on your home network, AirPlay wireless printers have Photo Cube beat in this regard.
While its printing resolution is more than adequate for 4” x 6” images, Photo Cube’s color rendition leaves a little something to be desired. While whites tended to be pretty white, blacks are less than deep, and pictures tended to have a slight yellow cast. Consequently, fleshtones and light greens leaned a little yellow, and oddly, medium greens skewed blue. We were really impressed by the overall look of a complex multi-colored test image we used, but there were parts that were clearly wrong, and other shots with subtle yellow and green gradations looked lower in contrast and a little blown out when printed. Additionally, although each of the iOS apps includes partition and copying features to let you divide one 4” x 6” sheet into multiple segments or print multiple copies, they offer no fine control or previewing for image cropping—it just happens automatically.
Like the printer itself, VuPoint’s approach to paper and ink will appeal more to casual users than professionals. When you do the math, it’s less expensive to buy supplies for HP’s lowest-end $100 AirPrint-ready photo printer than for Photo Cube: HP sells a $21 “value pack” with enough ink and 4” x 6” photo paper to print 50 photos, versus VuPoint’s $20 pack for 36 photos. On paper, there’s no doubt that you’ll be ahead of the curve with HP’s solution. But a little shopping around will help you find Photo Cube for under $100, and the paper for $16, making the investment easier to swallow. You’ll still pay less for the HP package over time, and the print quality will likely be at least a little better, but again, Photo Cube’s advantage is in simplicity: there’s no need to manage separate ink and paper supplies, and no dependence on a wireless network, for better or worse.
There’s one area in which AirPlay printers will likely have Photo Cube beat, and that’s long-term reliability. VuPoint mentions an underwhelming life expectancy of only 2,000 prints for its little printer, which suggests that you shouldn’t expect to go through more than 55 cartridges before Photo Cube stops working properly. Whether anyone will actually expect the printer to perform for that long is another question. But HP warrantees its low-end printer for up to 12,000 prints in a year. While the numbers will be strictly theoretical for many users, it’s another example of why serious photo printers will be better served with a bigger AirPrint option.
Overall, Photo Cube is a good option for iPod, iPhone, and iPad users seeking a dead simple photo printing option. Between the streamlined controls, device connection system, and paper/ink replacement process, VuPoint has left very little to confuse prospective customers, and done a lot to make the overall experience a good one. While app improvements and improved color performance could make Photo Cube even better, it’s hard to take issue with the overall experience beyond to say that more complex alternatives—and AirPlay ones—may yield better results for more sophisticated users. As an entry-level printer for iOS users looking for the occasional printed photo, Photo Cube is worthy of our general recommendation.