The Mobile Office, Part 2: Brother PocketJet, Pico Projector

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Lots of things are shrinking these days, besides attention spans and 401(k) plans. Netbooks, also called mini-notebooks, aren't much bigger than some hardcover books and weigh about 2.5 pounds or less. Some portable printers are roughly the size of a stapler. There's even a portable projector that's as small and light as a cell phone. All told, you can put together a mobile office that weighs about 5 pounds or less and fits in a small bag.

Last week I reviewed the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 netbook. This week, I look at the other components for your mobile office: a portable printer, projector, and scanner. (I haven't included wireless phones, because most people already have one.)

PocketJet 3 Plus

The Brother PocketJet 3 Plus is an ultra-compact, lightweight (1.15 pounds) portable printer. It's not a whole lot wider or thicker than my Swingline stapler.

The printer connects to devices either through a USB cable or infrared and Bluetooth connections. Formerly called the Pentax PocketJet 3 Plus, the printer is still sold in many places under that name. Officially, however, it's now part of Brother's product lineup.

Instead of inkjet cartridges, the PocketJet 3 Plus uses thermal printing technology that prints blacks and grays on specially coated paper. Therein lies its main pro and con: You don't have to buy or pack spare inkjet cartridges (love that). But the thermal paper isn't as easily available as standard printer paper. And if you forget to pack the paper, the printer becomes useless weight in your travel bag (don't love that).

Other downsides: At $400 to $418 online, the printer is expensive. A less costly version, the PocketJet 3, goes for $300 to $320, but it prints at only 200 dots per inch compared to the PocketJet 3 Plus's 300 dpi.

The less-expensive printer also lacks Bluetooth--which is no loss, in my opinion. Pairing the Bluetooth-capable PocketJet 3 Plus with a Lenovo IdeaPad S10 netbook and my MacBook Air was a frustrating process, thanks to the printer's unintuitive installation software.

Print quality is fine for text documents, but so-so for graphics. Another disadvantage: You must feed each page into the printer by hand.

It's also worth asking: Do you really need a printer for travel? Many hotels now offer guests free or inexpensive printing services in their business centers. You could also send an e-fax of a document to your hotel's fax machine. (For tips on using hotel business centers, see my story, "Hotel Business Centers." Though it first appeared in 2005, the information is still relevant.)

There are times when having a portable printer would be convenient, however. It's late at night, you're in your hotel room, you need to print a few pages for the next day, and you just don't feel like schlepping down to the lobby to pick up a printout. Maybe you want to print your airline boarding pass and driving directions to the airport. Or you're working at a remote site without access to a printer, such as in a conference room. If any of those situations might apply frequently to you, a portable printer like the PocketJet 3 Plus may be worth considering.

FYI: The PocketJet 3 line isn't your only option for ultra-portable printers. Planon's PrintStik PS910, which also uses thermal printing technology, costs about $300 The PS950, at $350, is the same printer but adds a travel case, USB cable, auto power adapter, and other accessories.

Extreme Portable Projector

Optoma's new Pico projector has the tech blogosphere abuzz. Why? It's said to be "possibly the first and probably the smallest" palm-sized projector in the world, according to the company. It weighs just 4.2 ounces, and it measures 2 by 3 by 0.5 inches--about the size of an Apple iPhone. The Pico has its own battery, too.

The device is designed to project images and videos from portable media players, gaming devices, and digital cameras and camcorders. Pico should be available worldwide in late 2008 for about $430. We've given the Pico a rating of 82 (very good). Our reviewer says the Pico "has the makings of a great mobile companion."

Ultra-Portable Scanner

Visioneer's RoadWarrior has been out for over a year, so it's hardly generating buzz these days. Still, we gave the 1-pound portable scanner a rating of 80, which is very good. And it costs only about $180 now, so it's worth a look.

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Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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