Mobile Computing: Portable Printer Tips

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Feature: How to Buy a Portable Printer

Not long ago, I told you how to find the best-equipped hotel business centers, so you wouldn't have to take a portable printer on your business trips. Later, I reviewed two Internet-based remote printing services from PrintMe and FedEx Kinko's. Both enable you to get prints on the go, yet avoid hauling around a printer.

Despite those articles, some readers have still asked me, "What's the best portable printer?" (You wouldn't be a bit stubborn by some chance, would you?)

Personally, I wouldn't want to pack a printer. Some models weigh almost 5 pounds and take up a lot of suitcase space. But portable printers have their advantages, and the quality of their output can be extremely good.

Here's the lowdown.

The Perks

When you take a portable printer on a business trip, you can conveniently print such things as:

  • Photos of products or real-estate properties to give clients
  • Web pages to share with colleagues in meetings
  • PowerPoint presentations for backup purposes (this is particularly important if you revise your presentation on the road)
  • Driving directions from an online mapping site
  • Airplane boarding passes
  • Contracts

Among portable printers, there are differences to consider in functionality, price, size and weight, quality and speed, and accessories.

Functionality

Why do you need a portable printer?

If you want to print a variety of documents, your main choices are the all-purpose Hewlett-Packard Deskjet 450 models ($250 to $350) and the Canon Pixma IP90 ($249). Both print color graphics and text on standard 8.5-by-11-inch paper or images on photo paper.

If you just need to print snapshots, consider a portable photo printer such as HP's Photosmart models ($150 to $200). The Photosmart models are nicely compact, but they don't print anything but 4-by-6 snapshots.

Read "Print Anything, Anywhere You Go," for an overview of what's available.

Price

Usually, portability comes at a price, and printers are no exception.

Consider this: For $250, you get the portable Canon Pixma IP90, which is exclusively a printer. For the same money, you can buy the Pixma MP760, a desktop printer/scanner/copier.

Size and Weight

Of the portable printers I've seen, HP's Deskjet 450 models are the biggest, measuring 13.3 by 3.2 by 6.5 inches and weighing about 4.5 pounds (including its battery, which not every model has).

The Deskjet's direct competitor, Canon's Pixma IP90, is a bit smaller in most dimensions, at 12.2 by 2.0 by 6.9 inches. But it weighs about 4.5 pounds with the optional battery, or 4 pounds without.

By comparison, HP's Photosmart 375 snapshot-only printer is petite, measuring 8.7 by 4.6 by 4.5 inches. The printer weighs 3.8 pounds with the optional battery.

The bottom line: Regardless of which model you choose, a portable printer will be a bulky addition to your bag.

Quality and Speed

Portable printers can deliver print quality that's as good as, or nearly comparable to, desktop models. And they can be speedy, too. For example, in PC World tests, the Pixma IP90 printed text at 6.3 pages per minute, faster than many desktop printers.

As for portable photo printers, Epson's PictureMate ($199) and HP's Photosmart 375 both offer very good print quality. But their output speeds can be sluggish. The PictureMate took 2 minutes and 22 seconds to print one color picture--about 20 seconds longer than some top-rated desktop photo printers. The new PictureMate Deluxe Viewer Edition ($250), however, printed a test photo in 1 minute, 39 seconds--faster than desktop photo printers we've tested.

Accessories

Take a close look at what's included (or optional) with the portable printer you're considering. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Is a battery included? If not, how much does one cost? They usually run about $70 to $100. Also, note that a few models, such as Epson's low-end PictureMate, don't run on batteries.
  • Can you get an automobile power adapter? You might want to power the printer or recharge the battery using your car's power port. Optional car adapters go for about $80. For the same money, though, Belkin's AC Anywhere, which lets you simultaneously power two devices off your car's power port, might be a better choice.
  • Can you print wirelessly? Some models, such as HP's Deskjet 450wbt, include a Bluetooth adapter for wireless printing.

Your Advice

Do you travel with a portable printer? If so, what do you use it for? Which model do you use, and what are its pros and cons? Please send me your tips.

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