By Cliff Edwards
The Good Bluetooth adapter makes file transfers a snap
The Bad A tad heavy for a portable, battery costs $100 extra
The Bottom Line Design and ease of use make this printer a winner
Who says a portable photo printer has to look like an ungainly box? Walking the aisles recently at a local Office Depot (ODP), I noticed most of the designs sacrifice style for function. Not so with Canon's (CAJ) Pixma iP90 ($220). The first thing you notice about the iP90 is its looks.
With its crafted, aluminum-colored plastic housing tailored in a rectangular package measuring 12.2 by 6.9 by 2 inches, it's just sleek enough to fit into a roomy briefcase or bag for true portability -- although its 4 pounds may make it a bit heavy for more than occasional use on the road.
PORTS APLENTY. Compatible with Windows (MSFT) and the Mac (APPL) -- OS X 10.2 and higher -- the iP90 not only looks good but also works well. The front cover doubles as the paper input tray for regular and photo-quality paper. It holds about 30 sheets of plain paper and 10 of 4x6 photo paper, although I found myself mostly putting in the exact number of sheets required for each job.
The printer includes many of the accoutrements you need to get things done fast. While it lacks a built-in multimedia card reader or an LCD screen to give users a view of shots directly from the printer, the iP90 comes equipped with a USB 2.0 port, an infrared port, and a PictBridge port to print directly from a camera equipped with the same technology.
For another $79, I'd recommend buying the Bluetooth attachment that lets you wirelessly transmit photos from a cell-phone camera, PDA, or other Bluetooth-equipped device. (You can use the infrared for the same function at about 8 feet, vs. Bluetooth's 30 feet.)
INK ECONOMY. Unlike other Canon printers, which use multiple ink cartridges to help save money on printing, compact iP90 can hold only two tanks, for black and colored inks. A two-pack of black ink costs about $12, while the color two-pack runs $23. Even for printing documents, that's relatively expensive. And you go through ink pretty quickly when churning out multiple photos. But, as with all portable printers, you're sacrificing savings for the convenience of the device.
Canon also tries to help out by adding other technology to the mix. The Save Black ink mode essentially produces draft copies of documents, turning the text more gray than black. And the Use Composite mode tries to save black altogether by blending colors into a purplish-blue hue. It might be a bit too Hello, Kitty for presenting documents to your boss -- but will do in a pinch.
The iP90 does only a fair job printing documents, but it really shines with photos. While the machine can print 8x10 shots in a zippy minute or so, I tested mostly 4x6 images. Here, it seemed like a speed demon compared to other photo printers on the market.
FLYING PAGES. In its effort to gain share over printer champion Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Canon has ensured that both indoor and outdoor shots offer excellent color reproduction. When I took a photo of my Nissan Murano (NSANY) using the camera from a Treo 650 (PLMO), the image on its screen looked a trifle grainy, but when I sent the picture to the iP90 using Bluetooth, it was stunningly clear.
Images of people looked neither over- nor undersaturated (which can make them appear unnatural). One quibble: To keep the machine's compact form factor even when printing, the manufacturer provides no tray to catch the shots as they come out. Make sure to leave some room so the prints don't fall on the floor.
Factoring in extras like the portable battery, stand, and spare ink cartridges, expect to pay upward of $375. At that money, you can get a very good printer that does more for your buck, but road warriors should feel more than happy to pay the price for the iP90. It's fast, relatively light, and works well. Once again, Canon has proved that good things can come in small packages.
Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Los Angeles bureau