The Print Shop: Print Anything, Anywhere You Go
The digital realm is great; but some things just need to be put on paper to seem legitimate. With a lightweight portable printer, you can print contracts for clients or photos for family wherever there's an electrical socket. And for supreme portability, some mobile printers come with a rechargeable battery pack or offer one as an option.
There are also optional power adapters and wireless connections that make printing possible almost anywhere (except underwater). A car power adapter enables you to plug the printer in to an automobile's power outlet so you can print while on the highway--but please keep your eyes on the road. With a Bluetooth or infrared connection, you can print wirelessly from a compatible device like a camera phone or over a wireless network. However, look carefully before you buy; not all portable printers offer all these accessories.
Here's a little primer on buying a portable printer.
For starters, expect a standard portable inkjet printer to cost more than a desktop model. And rechargeable battery packs are usually more expensive than some low-cost desktop inkjets. Such is the price of convenience.
In our tests, mobile printers were a little slower than desktop models, but print quality from several compact, 4-pound models was impressive.
Hewlett-Packard's Deskjet 450wbt printed graphics as attractive as those printed by desktop models. At $349, the 450wbt isn't cheap. But, in addition to standard features like an infrared connection and a CompactFlash card slot, it adds Bluetooth and a lithium-ion battery. The $249 HP Deskjet 450ci base model includes infrared and a CompactFlash card slot, but no Bluetooth and no battery.
Canon's successor to its i80 Color Bubble Jet Printer, the $250 Pixma IP90, lacks memory card slots, but does have a PictBridge port for printing directly from digital cameras, something the Deskjet 450wbt lacks. The I90 printed quickly in our tests, and its print quality was impressive for a portable model. However, printing without having to plug in to a power outlet isn't cheap: Canon's optional battery and charging kit costs $100; the car power adapter is $90.
Snapshots in a Jiffy
If all you care to print while on the go is 4-by-6-inch snapshots, there's no need to carry around a full-size portable printer. Most of the small snapshot printers we've tested produce very attractive photos that almost match the quality of desktop photo printers.
The lightest among them is the $200 HP Photosmart 375, which weighs only 2.6 pounds. It's 4.5 inches tall--barely more than the width of its prints. Although you can get a battery for $80, you'd save money with the $250 Photosmart 375B, which includes the battery. A Bluetooth adapter for wireless printing costs $50. If you just have to print your shots while traveling on the open highway, you might spring for the $40 car power adapter, which costs less than half of what Canon's adapter does.
The $199 Epson PictureMate's car power adapter costs $50, a bit more than HP's. And like the HP Photosmart 375, the PictureMate works with a Bluetooth adapter (a $69 option). However, the PictureMate can't run on batteries like the HP Photosmart 375 can, which limits its portability.
Low-Cost Multifunction Printers: Lexmark just introduced two new MFPs: the $130 P4350 (pictured) and the $100 X3350. The P4350 comes with a 1.7-inch color LCD, memory card slots, a PictBridge port for printing directly from digital cameras, and the company's Imaging Studio editing software. The X3350 is bare-bones, though it does have a PictBridge port. Both models use six inks. Lexmark also announced new photo papers.