While many of us have remained analogue when it comes to radios and watches, photography has resolutely entered the digital age. Only the hardcore or fiercely traditional photographers are still using old-school film-based cameras, because digital is much more versatile, easier and cheaper.
Having said that, you only save money if you're keeping your photos in the digital domain. If you decide to print your shots instead of emailing them, then it can actually work out quite expensive. This SPP-2020 from Samsung fills the middle ground -- if you only want to print your very best prints out to send to friends and family at Christmas, then this is the perfect solution. Samsung's printer offers truly excellent quality prints for a reasonable price. It's easy to use and very well designed.
Samsung's SPP-2020 takes up very little room on your desk, but its footprint is annoyingly doubled by the paper tray. This can easily be removed when you aren't using the printer, and the understated cool of the device is restored.
This printer looks like it could have come from Apple's factories. It might look ordinary in photographs, but it boasts the sleek lines, streamlined design and that same white body that has epitomised the Californian company for the past few years. On the main unit, the back panel folds down so that the paper tray can slide in, the front panel folds forward so that the prints can come out, and new ink cartridges slide into the side. The second side panel houses the connections for power, USB for camera and USB for computer. Simplicity is clearly key, and we doubt you'll have to consult the manual when setting up.
The USB connection for camera is compatible with PictBridge, an interface supported by many camera makers. The SPP-2020 lacks an LCD display, so you'll need to use your camera's display to choose the photos you want to print. The exact procedure varies from camera to camera. If you want an LCD screen to make things easier (as well as add in more functionality), you'll have to pay extra for the SPP-2040.
The SPP-2020 is a dye-sublimation printer that uses cartridges containing a roll of film. It prints each colour separately, so watching the printer do its thing is an enjoyable experience -- you can see it building up the picture layer by layer, which takes 40-60 seconds per print. Not too bad for the odd photo, but printing an entire album is a chore. The paper tray holds 20 individual sheets and you get 10 included when you buy the printer.
Paper and ink cartridge packs are available online in packs of 40 for under £20, meaning individual photos cost the equivalent of 40p per print. This is pretty average, so at least printing at home isn't costing you extra. You can also buy a Bluetooth adaptor from Samsung if you want to print photos from your mobile phone.
Formatting the prints in the included PhotoThru package is simple -- the software will automatically format your prints, but it's still easy to flip things around how you like. You can also compile your favourite images into an album, but if you've shot at a high resolution, having too many loaded at once can slow down the computer. And of course you can set the printer up in Windows and skip the PhotoThru software altogether. If you're using a Macintosh, you'll be glad to hear that PhotoThru is also included for use on OS X 10.3 and above.
The only issue we had with the software was that images from our test camera (the Pentax Optio S5z) didn't reach the edges until we'd tinkered around with the borderless printing options and then resized the image manually. Most compact digital cameras produce a 4:3 image that doesn't match the 3:2 shape of the 100x150mm paper used in the SPP-2020, so you'll need to do some work on your image to get a perfect print.
The main reason to buy the Samsung SPP-2020 is for its unbeatable print quality. It produced some of the most detailed, colourful and natural prints we've seen from a digital source. Those with a decent 5-megapixel camera or above are in for a real treat, whether your interest is in capturing images of the great outdoors or a Friday night down the pub. Skin tones in particular are reproduced very well.
According to Samsung, photos from the SPP-2020 also fade less over time. Measuring the lifespan of printed images is notoriously difficult, but they do seem to be very durable, and to the untrained eye, they're indistinguishable from a professionally printed, film-based photograph. It's still more economical to build up a complete album and head down to your local photo developer, but if you're impatient when showing off your latest award-winning shots, the Samsung offers a print quality that's comparable to the specialist.
Note: the score for this printer was revised on 13 September 2006 to bring it in line with other printers offering similar design, features and performance.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide