With its convenient handle and lunchbox shape, the Epson PictureMate resembles a boombox without speakers, and it's almost as portable. You'll need to be near an electrical outlet to produce 101x152mm prints on the spot, but you can leave your computer at home. Plug in your flash media, your camera, or your external drive, then select, crop, enhance, and print your images using the device's reference prints and LCD. Economical ink and paper refills bring print costs down. Even better, the PictureMate's output is truly sparkling. However, the PictureMate is slow, and we wish it had a battery pack for truly mobile printing.
Touted by Epson as a 'personal photo lab', the solidly built, 2.5kg, portable PictureMate is certainly designed for travelling. Tuck back the handle, plug in the AC adaptor, fold down the rear 20-sheet feed tray and the front delivery tray, and you're ready to go. The roughly 254 by 152 by 152mm device has three multipurpose slots that accept CompactFlash I and II, Microdrive, SmartMedia, Sony Memory Stick, Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, and xD-Picture storage media. There are also USB and EXT/IF ports on the back for connecting external Zip, USB flash, or CD drives and printing from PictBridge or USB Direct Print digital cameras. The Epson PictureMate also has an optional Bluetooth adaptor that enables you to print from Bluetooth devices that support standard Bluetooth printing profiles such as PDAs or mobile phones.
The top-mounted controls include Print, Cancel, and Save Photo buttons and a 51mm (2-inch) monochrome LCD. This displays user-friendly menus for selecting, enhancing, cropping, and printing images using a four-way control pad. The paper path ensures no-nonsense, no-bend printing with the sturdy Epson 101x152mm photo stock.
The Epson PictureMate lacks only two things to make it the perfect portable picture machine: a battery-power option and a colour LCD for previewing and selecting pictures. The similarly priced HP Photosmart 245 has the latter, while printers with a self-contained power source, such as the Canon CP-330, are typically much more expensive than the Epson. Since the PictureMate lacks a colour LCD for previewing photos, you'll need to print out an index sheet and select from the numbered thumbnails when you're in standalone mode.
In order to crop a shot, you'll have to print a reference template (which can be reused because the cropping areas don't change) and select from 18 suggested settings. If your digital camera supports DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and has internal cropping and resizing features, it's probably a better idea to trim and select your pictures in the camera. Of course, when the PictureMate is connected to a computer, you can select and crop pictures there.
The printer comes with Epson's Film Factory, a versatile, album-style software package for Windows and Macintosh that lets you preview images, add text, and perform simple retouching, such as adjusting brightness and contrast, tweaking colour, and removing red-eye. When you are printing from a computer, a progress gauge pops up on your screen and displays useful information such as the amount of ink remaining in the cartridge.
The Epson PictureMate uses a single six-colour ink cartridge to produce borderless or bordered water-, fingerprint-, and smudge-resistant prints that Epson claims will resist fading for 100 to 200 years. Our test prints were rich and brilliant, with solid blacks, saturated colours, and smooth, seamless gradients. We needed a 10x magnifier to detect extremely faint horizontal banding caused by the movement of the printhead. Images were adequately sharp and free of jaggies. Black-and-white prints had a suitably wide dynamic range, with dense blacks and pure whites without colour casts.
It took 2.44 minutes to print a 101x152mm photo, which is quite sluggish compared to other portable printers we've tested. The Canon CP-330 took 1.6 minutes to do the same job, and the Olympus P-10 managed it in 1.1 minutes. While it's certainly not a speed demon, the Epson PictureMate runs quietly and is very easy to set up and use. We did notice one performance quirk: when you swap print cartridges, the PictureMate takes a few minutes to read the chip on the new cartridge before it starts printing.
CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo contributed to this section of the review.
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Service and support
You can find downloads, troubleshooting tips, and FAQs on Epson's Web site, or you can e-mail questions for a response within 24 hours.
Additional editing by Tom Espiner