A digital camera isn’t a PC peripheral, so why should you have to connect to a computer to print photos? Thanks to Epson and other suppliers with portable printers, you don’t. These standalone printers come with memory card and USB slots. Plug in the camera or a card, and you’ve got your own mini photofinishing shop in any room with an AC outlet. Or, in the case of the Epson, buy an optional rechargeable battery, and you can print anywhere.
When PictureMate hit the market a couple of years ago, its cute lunch pail design sent the message that a printer could travel. The only thing missing was a photo viewer so that you could see the images you were selecting. Epson corrected the flaw in the latest version of PictureMate–the Deluxe Viewer Edition ($249)–which adds a 2.4-inch LCD to complete the package.
Design and Features
PictureMate measures 10 x 6 x 6.4″ folded up and opens out to 10 x 12 x 6.4″ when you pull down the paper trays for printing. Although its 5.5-pound load is easy to manage, the plastic parts used to achieve that weight feel fragile. One knock from a kid on a sugar rush could put this portable out of commission. On the plus side, the cables come with Velcro wraps–a good way to keep wires in check for traveling.
Features include the 2.4″ LCD, an impressive screen with terrific color that displays the photos you select for printing. Memory card slots on the front of the unit take a Switzerland approach to card support, accepting SmartMedia, Xd, Xd Type M, six Sony variations on Memory Stick, SD, miniSD, MMC, Microdrive and CompactFlash.
A USB slot on the back connects the printer to cameras or a computer, if you’re so inclined. PictBridge-enabled cameras can control printing directly from the camera’s menu. That feature worked fine–the camera and printer worked well together–but I find it much easier to just slip in an SD card, rather than finding a place for the camera and worrying about its battery life. PictureMate also supports P.I.M. and Exif Print, features built into many digital cameras that optimize print settings for compatible printers.
If you want to get tricky, you can choose black and white or sepia prints, and you can add Disney characters to frame the photo. Editing includes one crop function and adjustments for brightness, saturation and sharpness. Options include the battery ($69) and a Bluetooth adapter ($69) for printing from Bluetooth-equipped cell phones. The PictureMate Print Pack ($29) comes with a cartridge and 100 sheets of 4 x 6 glossy paper, which averages out to just under 30 cents a print.
Setup and Use
Other consumer electronics companies could take lessons from the idiot-proof setup and operation of Epson’s PictureMate. The device guides you through each step of the print process and confirms that you want to print, so you don’t make a 29-cent mistake. You’re not flooded with options but have just enough to give you a decent selection of choices without extensive menu hopping. For instance, layout options include Borderless, With Border, Proof Sheet, Half Page, Wallets and Mini Wallets, and you choose those using the navigation buttons and the big OK tab to confirm. You can’t get lost in a menu maze.
After setting up the printer–which was a snap–I didn’t have to open the manual until it came time to do some PictBridge printing from my Nikon camera. And that was only because I needed the Nikon manual to figure out how to use it to control the printer. The only time I consulted the Epson manual was to find out how to change orientation of the prints from landscape to portrait. As it turns out, the printer did that automatically and I didn’t need the manual at all.
A couple of prints came out a bit dark, which was a surprise since they looked bright on the display. I went back to the Option menu and selected Fix Photos–again, a no-nonsense operation–and brightened them up. The manual edits turned out better than the P.I.M./Exif option, which actually made the print darker than the already dark original.
PictureMate prints a pretty picture. Detail is sharp, color is true and the prints are as impressive as those from any photo printer I’ve seen. PictureMate won’t win a speed race but it’s fine for low-volume printing. Although Epson listed a time of 75 seconds for a 4 x 6″ print, the 1.7 MB image I printed clocked in at 1:36.
Epson boasts that the prints can withstand a dousing of water and indeed they did under my faucet test. That would be good for printing at a party, where suds can wind up on anything.
When PictureMate first came out, it was a refreshing downsized departure from the more business-like photo printers on the market. Its form factor now looks bulky compared with competitors’ portable printers. And its plastic parts don’t feel like they’re built to withstand long-term portable use.
The market will see at least one portable printer that adds 5 x 7″ printing capability later in the year and PictureMate will lag behind at 4 x 6″. For budget-minded consumers, the $249 price may seem steep when they can buy a standard size photo printer for $69 or less.
Still, it’s a terrific little printer. For those who want to print on demand without having to power up the PC, you can’t go wrong with the PictureMate Deluxe.
– Works independently from the PC
– Good quality pictures
– Supports a battery
– Simple operation
– Flimsy feeling construction
– Does not support 5″ x 7″ printing
– Steep price