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Despite what marketing hype might have you believe, it's rare that a new product not only improves on previous models but also introduces something a little different. This certainly applies to printers, so from time to time I'm going to use this column to spotlight some of the more unusual and interesting models that might turn up in your local computer store.
I'll kick off my product watch by taking a look at Lexmark's $200 P450, an inkjet printer for 4-by-6-inch photos that is the first to include an integrated CD burner. (Click on the thumbnail photo at above right.)
No PC Needed!
The P450 is designed to be used as a stand-alone device for printing, organizing, and storing your photos. As such, it can't connect to your PC at all, which is a bit of a shame. Still, the intention is that you can use the printer to store images onto CD-R discs or a USB key or thumb drive. Thankfully, the CD burner lets you write to the same CD-R disc multiple times until it's full.
The P450 supports only JPEG photos, but there are multiple means to queue them up for print. You can use a CD-ROM disc, a USB key, the direct-print (PictBridge) port compatible with most digital cameras, or the printer's built-in media card reader slots. These slots support Compact Flash, MultiMediaCard, SecureDigital (SD), Smart Media, Memory Stick, and XD Picture Card by default, plus Mini SD and Memory Stick Duo via optional adapters. Another option is a Bluetooth adapter to let you print photos directly from a Bluetooth-equipped (and likely camera-equipped) cell phone.
The P450 also has a composite-video TV-output connection and slide-show mode so that you can connect the printer to a TV (I used a media card and USB key) and view photos. Click on the thumbnail photo below to see this capability:
Out of the Box
The P450 uses a single three-color ink cartridge (one $22 standard-yield cartridge is bundled) to print borderless photos in sizes 4-by-6 inches, A6, Hagaki card, or L, all at up to 4800 dots per inch. Lexmark claims that if you use its $40 4 by 6 Photo Printing Kit (140 sheets of photo paper and a high-yield print cartridge), you can achieve up to 140 prints for $40; that's roughly 29 cents per photo.
I found that with no PC connection to make, no software to install, only a single ink cartridge to click into place, and an automatic alignment mode, setting up this printer was a breeze. And it was just as easy to operate with the help of a pared-down number of control buttons and a 2.4-inch, pop-up color LCD display offering logical menu navigation.
Given that you're not able to hook this printer up to a computer, I definitely appreciated the ability to perform simple touch-up tasks as you select each photo you wish to print. Basic editing options include rotating 90 degrees, cropping and zooming, red-eye removal, image enhancement, and color effects (gray scale, sepia, antique brown, and antique gray). All adjustments are previewed on the display.
You can also print photos in three quality modes: photo (maximum), normal, or draft.
The P450's performance appeared to be a little sluggish in my informal tests. Printing from a USB key took a little under 3 minutes for each photo, while prints from a CD-ROM or media card took about the same time, or just a bit longer.
Only a few photos had some uninvited edge cropping, and, overall, I'd say the photo quality and colors were in the fair-to-good range. The photos initially appeared slightly mottled and needed time to dry, and even then they were prone to smudging by sweaty fingers.
Put to the right task, I don't believe that the integrated CD burner is a gimmick, nor is the unit's composite-video TV-output connection and slide-show mode. For instance, the CD burner could be particularly useful for an event such as a wedding, as it would allow guests to leave with a CD of photos from the big day (although the P450 can't print CD labels).
Similarly, the TV output feature could let guests select their own favorite snaps. When I tried out this function for myself, it worked like a charm, and all--like everything else with this printer--without the need for a PC.
Have a printer question or a comment? E-mail Danny Allen.
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