INSTAX Pal: Hands-On Review

INSTAX Pal: Hands-On Review

When FUJIFILM'S INSTAX announced its INSTAX Pal, I knew I wanted to try it. Maybe it's memories of my borderline millennial/gen-z childhood talking, but this gadget reminded me of Hit Clips, Tamagotchis, and various other keychain toys that defined growing up in the early 2000s. After taking it out for a spin, I feel like little me would've enjoyed the INSTAX Pal, but adult me isn't as sure. Let's get into why with a hands-on review.

The INSTAX Pal with the INSTAX MINI LINK 2 Smartphone Printer.
The INSTAX Pal with the INSTAX MINI LINK 2 Smartphone Printer.

INSTAX Pal: At a Glance

The INSTAX Pal is a compact digital camera with a 1/5-inch CMOS sensor. It fits in the palm of your hand and weighs just 1.4 oz, making it incredibly easy to take anywhere. With the companion app, users can adjust settings and review, edit, download, and print photos from compatible devices like the INSTAX MINI LINK 2, INSTAX SQUARE Link, INSTAX Link Wide, and INSTAX mini Evo. Users can also print directly to INSTAX Link printers through Link Mode. The INSTAX Pal comes with its own attachable viewfinder and features a prominent shutter button, a USB-C charging port, a mode switch, and a quirky power button that looks like a film slot.

The INSTAX Pal with viewfinder attachment.
The INSTAX Pal with viewfinder attachment.

INSTAX Pal: First Impressions

The INSTAX Pal is a fun blend of toy and tech, with a round, plastic body in a variety of trendy colors. It feels durable enough but doesn't come with any lens protection or weather sealing, so it should be handled with care.

The included ring attachment notably does not function as a clip or keychain, but it can be worn on your finger to prevent accidental drops. This ring is supposed to also serve as a viewfinder, but mine kept falling off my camera during my initial unboxing, so I'm not sure how functional it would be in the field.

The INSTAX Pal viewfinder can also be worn on your finger to prevent accidental drops.
The INSTAX Pal viewfinder can also be worn on your finger to prevent accidental drops.

Now, there are cases for the INSTAX Pal that weren't available at the time of my review. The cases appear to protect the lens and feature a carabiner attachment that would add a lot of functionality and charm to the INSTAX Pal. This accessory brings the INSTAX Pal much closer to the cute camera keychain that I thought it was going to be, and I wish the two could've been purchased as a bundle.

The INSTAX Pal silicone cases feature a lens cover and a carabiner attachment. They are sold separately from the INSTAX Pal.

Instead, the INSTAX Pal is bundled with a MINI LINK 2 Smartphone Printer and compatible film, which is honestly a brilliant way to get you hooked on INSTAX printers. Even though I'm reviewing the INSTAX Pal, I'll take a second here to cosign the MINI LINK 2 and other INSTAX printers like the SQUARE LINK and the Link Wide. These are 10/10 mobile printers that make great gifts. Well done, INSTAX.

The INSTAX Pal is bundled with a MINI LINK 2 Smartphone Printer. It produces 2.4 x 1.8" prints.
The INSTAX Pal is bundled with a MINI LINK 2 Smartphone Printer. It produces 2.4 x 1.8" prints.

Build quality and printer endorsements aside, the INSTAX Pal is definitely a departure from previous INSTAX cameras by foregoing what I thought made them appealing: instant printing. The INSTAX Pal also seems to rely heavily on the companion app for most of its functions, with only the shutter and power buttons housed on the camera itself. It's hard to understand the vision here, but let's get this little guy set up for a day of shooting.

INSTAX Pal: Setting Up

Anyone who has used INSTAX products can attest to their user friendliness, and the INSTAX Pal is no different. After downloading the companion app, new users are prompted to pair the camera and are taught its basic functions. The orientation is short and the app itself is easy to understand even if you've never used INSTAX products before.

Straightforward prompts guide new users through the INSTAX Pal’s functions and how to use it. This information is also accessible via the INSTAX website and YouTube channel.

I took some time to familiarize myself with the interface and toggle through some of the settings. I turned down the volume on the pre-shutter, power on, and power down functions, and disabled the flash. The INSTAX Pal allows users to record their own pre-shutter sounds, which can be fun if you're into that sort of thing. You can also name your device, so I named mine Lil' Homie.

INSTAX printers need their respective companion apps to function, so I downloaded the one for my MINI LINK 2 and got it set up. Needing two separate apps to accomplish one task feels a little clunky, but you can actually print photos directly from the INSTAX Pal app. So, while you need to download two apps, you can choose to only use the INSTAX Pal app.

INSTAX Pal: Performance

I decided to leave the MINI LINK 2 behind and head out for a stroll with Lil' Homie. The viewfinder attachment kept falling off the camera, which made it difficult to achieve consistency and accuracy while shooting. Instead, I fired off a few photos without it and uploaded those photos to the app. Uploading is important because it allows users to preview what they shot and frees up internal memory, which is limited to 50 images. 

To be honest, shooting blindly did not produce the results I was hoping for. The INSTAX Pal struggled with light and my framing was all over the place. I decided the best way forward was with the remote shooting function, which provides live feedback from your INSTAX Pal via the companion app and the option to take photos remotely. Essentially, you can use your smartphone as a viewfinder.

This function is a big step up from no viewfinder at all and allowed me to ensure my framing and lighting was sufficient. That said, the feed between my iPhone and Lil' Homie was laggy and it quickly drained my phone's battery. When I tried to take selfies with Lil' Homie, the delay was so severe that I was either blinking or moving. I ended up mostly shooting stationary objects and those images turned out a lot better than my selfies. I also took photos using my iPhone camera for comparison.

Photo on the left taken with INSTAX Pal. Photo on the right taken with iPhone.

I quickly realized that digital photo quality is not the INSTAX Pal's strong suit. I was surprised by how pixelated and rough my renders were when I first reviewed them in the app. To be honest, I would not recommend the INSTAX Pal for digital photos—they are not suited for posting and sharing like photos taken on a smartphone. They are meant to be printed, and I was pleasantly surprised by how nicely those prints turned out.

Photo print on the left taken with INSTAX Pal. Photo print on the right taken with iPhone.
Photo print on the left taken with INSTAX Pal. Photo print on the right taken with iPhone.

Whereas there were noticeable differences between my iPhone and INSTAX Pal digital photos, my prints were nearly identical. Comparing the digital and physical copies from both devices, you can see how forgiving the prints are. I would even say that the harsh contrast in my INSTAX Pal digital photo made for a better print.

So, I really didn't need a high-quality image to produce a solid print, and the INSTAX Pal delivered what it promised, but it didn't make it easy. While using the laggy remote feature on my phone to take photos with Lil' Homie, I kept wanting to just use my phone's camera instead. It has similar wide-angle capabilities and better editing features than the INSTAX Pal and its companion app. It also would've produced better digital photos.

INSTAX Pal: Verdict

The INSTAX Pal is not for me, nor do I think it's for the smartphone-owning tween/teen crowd. While you can get a good print out of it, it doesn't do anything that your typical smartphone can do better. So, who is the INSTAX Pal for?

I think the INSTAX Pal might be the most appealing to young children, particularly those who don't have their own smartphones yet. It's clearly meant to be played with, whether you're giving it a name or recording a silly pre-shutter sound. For kids who don't have smartphones, or aren't allowed to use them in school, I can see it being a great alternative way to connect with friends and capture memories. Sure, it's not a perfect camera, but it probably doesn't need to be if it's destined for recess fun.

So, I think the INSTAX Pal is a yes for young kids, although I would absolutely purchase one of the silicone cases and a memory card for the best experience. For tweens, teens, and adults, there are many other great INSTAX products to check out. I personally enjoyed using the bundled MINI LINK 2 and would recommend other INSTAX printers as well. I also think the INSTAX cameras are great for all age groups, and they're a hit at parties.

What do you think of the INSTAX Pal? If you have one, do you agree with my verdict? Share your thoughts in the Comments section, below.