capsule review

Portable Printers

PowerBooks and iBooks make great traveling companions, but what if you need to print on the road? Canon's BJC-55 and Hewlett-Packard's DeskJet 350CBi are two ink-jet printers that you can carry in a briefcase, and both have rechargeable batteries. Although the Canon is more expensive, it is our top choice because it's half the weight, provides better color output, and has more in the way of extra features.

Meet the Printers

The DeskJet is twice the size and weight of the Canon, but it's still only 4.3 pounds. It comes with a document feeder, which brings the weight to 5.4 pounds, but we recommend using it -- inserting each page manually and clicking on OK for each one is a big pain if you're printing more than a few pages. The BJC-55 does not come with a document feeder -- it costs an extra $59.

Turning either printer off locks the ink cartridges into place, so they won't get damaged in transit. The BJC-55 also has a special power lock switch that prevents it from getting turned on accidentally inside your luggage. The DeskJet has no power lock, but you have to press the power button for three full seconds before it will turn on. The BJC-55 power lock is a little safer, but you do have to remember to use it. Both printers also come with dual-voltage power supplies, so they can be used both here and abroad, and they also provide airtight holders for a spare ink cartridge.

Both printers use USB, but neither comes with the necessary cable: the DeskJet requires a $30 Mac USB Kit (a cable which converts the printer's parallel port to USB), while the BJC-55 needs a regular USB cable. Both printers have infrared ports for wireless printing at close range, but neither has Mac support for this function (although HP promises to support it in the near future). This isn't such a big loss, though, since USB is hot-pluggable and more reliable. Also, if you have a Palm handheld with the proper third-party software, you can beam documents to either printer.

Both printers were very easy to set up, but the DeskJet's color cartridge wouldn't return properly at first. The black cartridge worked fine, so we thought we had a faulty cartridge, but a second cartridge exhibited the same behavior. Eventually, I found that turning the printer off and on solves the problem.

Proof of the Pudding

The BJC-55 has a somewhat finer resolution than the DeskJet (760 by 320 dpi versus 600 by 300 dpi), and this showed in our full-page color photo tests -- images were smoother and less grainy. Also, the BJC-55 prints showed better color fidelity than those of the DeskJet. On the other hand, when printing text with the black ink cartridge, the DeskJet's output looked better -- blacker and more saturated.

Print speeds were very similar. Each took about six minutes to print our full-page color photo in best quality mode, while a page of black text popped out in a matter of seconds.

Extra, Extra!

The Canon allows you to add a scan cartridge ($100), which fits in place of the print cartridges. We didn't test it, but Canon provides a good selection of software for it -- a few applications and a TWAIN plug-in for image editors such as Adobe Photoshop. Overall, the Canon software is far more feature-rich than the relatively basic HP drivers. For example, you can use image filters and special effects when printing photos. Canon also offers special photo ink cartridges for best results on glossy photo paper, while HP only offers standard color ink-jet cartridges.

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