Like the popular i70 and i80 models before it, the Canon Pixma iP90 is a sleek, lightweight, go-anywhere portable inkjet printer that creates full-size documents and colour graphics, as well as 100x150mm (4x6-inch) colour photographs. Thanks to built-in PictBridge and infrared (IrDA) ports, you can print directly from your digital camera, handheld or mobile phone without a computer.
You can also add Bluetooth functionality, a battery or a power adaptor for your car. Even one add-on however, brings the cost of the iP90 up considerably -- if you're on a budget you'd be better off with the mobile HP DeskJet 450wbt, which already has Bluetooth capability. But if you're looking for a speedy printer that can work in cars, hotels and airports, the Canon iP90 beats the HP 450wbt on speed, plus it offers a PictBridge port so you can print a snapshot straight from a digital camera.
The Canon Pixma iP90, like its predecessors, looks like a laptop cut longitudinally in half. Made of eye-catching, aluminium-coloured plastic, the iP90 weighs a mere 1.8Kg and measures just 310 by 52 by 174mm -- comfortable for a roomy laptop bag or a jumbo handbag.
Turned off, the iP90 snaps shut into a tight, seamless capsule. When open, the front cover becomes an input tray for plain paper or glossy photo media, from legal to credit card size. You can fill the paper tray with either 30 plain pages, five envelopes or ten sheets of 100x150mm (4x6-inch) photo paper. If you're printing 203x254mm (8x10-inch) glossy photos, you'll have to feed them into the machine one at a time. Save your magnum opus for the office laser and make sure to leave empty space in front of the iP90 when it's in use, because it provides an outgoing slot, but there's no tray to hold a stack of pages.
The iP90 has a simple, semicircular control panel with buttons for power and to resume printing, plus an LED that glows green and flashes in green and orange to communicate everything from normal printing to a major meltdown. The USB 2.0 and power ports are conveniently located on the left side near the back of the printer, while the infrared (IrDA) and PictBridge ports line the machine's right edge.
We like the Canon Pixma iP90's small size, especially the way it folds up neatly for travelling. The PictBridge and the relatively unusual built-in infrared (IrDA) ports are handy for those who travel super-light and want to print from compatible handhelds, mobile phones and cameras. If you want more hardware features for your iP90, you'll have to buy them yourself as add-ons or look for another printer.
The Canon Pixma iP90 introduces two features: Save Black Ink, which is similar to the Draft mode on other printers in that it reduces that colour's use by the printer; and Use Composite, which you can find in the drivers' Maintenance section under Ink Usage Control. Use Composite instructs the printer to fashion black out of colour ink when the former runs dry.
We can't tell you how much ink we spared using Save Black Ink mode -- although Canon estimates you'll get 66 per cent more yield -- but we can report that text quality literally paled in our tests, appearing battleship grey rather than black. We also drained the black ink tank completely and gave Use Composite mode a whirl. The result? The hue of the text gave new meaning to the term 'purple prose'. Still, at a pinch, you'd probably prefer these violet-toned letters to either illegible prints or none at all.
You might enjoy these new tweaks if you print a lot with the iP90. The cartridges are so small that they're sold in twin packs -- two black tanks cost around £15 and two colour tanks cost in the region of £16. Canon estimates that a black cartridge will be good for 185 text pages, which works out to about 3.9 pence per page. The colour tank will last a mere 100 estimated pages, or 7.9p per page. These costs are definitely on the high side, but since the iP90 can go where few other printers can, most high-flying travellers will probably be willing to pay the price, especially if they remember to pop more ink refills in their carry-on luggage.
The Canon Pixma iP90 comes with a well laid-out and clearly illustrated setup poster. Once you've connected the power and the USB cable, it takes less than three minutes and less than 300MB of hard drive space to install the CD-ROM onto your computer. The iP90 comes with an on-screen manual, a setup utility, a printer driver and a slimmed-down suite that includes Easy-WebPrint, Photo Record and Easy-PhotoPrint. Missing from earlier versions of the suite are ZoomBrowserEX and PhotoStitch. Will anyone miss them? Maybe not ZoomBrowserEX, but PhotoStitch was fun for making panoramic shots and montages. The iP90's printer drivers are compatible with Mac OS X 10.2.1 to 10.3x and Windows 98 through XP, but Easy-PhotoPrint is the only Mac-compatible software.
Like the i80 before it, the Canon Pixma iP90 dangles several optional features to tempt you to enhance its mobility and plump up its price. A lithium-ion battery and charger costs £90 and attaches at the back of the printer. Or for £118 you can get the same battery with a desktop charging cradle. If you want to charge your new battery from the cigarette lighter in your rental car, you can tack on the £64 car adaptor. The battery is estimated to last 450 pages for every two hours of charging.
If you're into remote wireless printing, you can get a Bluetooth Adapter for around £50. But without buying anything extra, you can send cord-free print jobs to the iP90 from your IrDA 1.1-enabled mobile phone, handheld or laptop from up to 200mm away.
In our tests, the Canon iP90 beat the portable HP Deskjet 450wbt's lackadaisical 1.5 pages per minute (ppm). A 203x254mm photo on photo paper took the iP90 slightly more than a minute -- almost three times as fast as its predecessor's 2.81 minutes and nearly four times faster than the HP Deskjet 450wbt's 4.07 minutes to print one photo.
Like the HP 450wbt, the Canon Pixma iP90's text on inkjet paper was only fair -- legible, but fuzzy around the edges. The iP90 printed colour graphics better, reproducing our text document with a pale tone but nice details, smooth gradients and fair colour matching. This printer did a similarly good job with our test photo, rendering nearly accurate flesh tones and preserving much of the detail. But we also saw some worse-than-average colour shifts in what should have been neutral greys, and the overall low-contrast rendering resulted in washed-out, desaturated colours.
Additional editing by Kate Macefield