Mobile printing gets on the stick

GCN Lab Review

Pros: Serious mobile printing for users on the go; inkless; conserves paper.

Cons: Not for printing jobs where image and text quality are concerns; flimsy on/off switch.

Mobility: A+

Text and image quality: B-

Features: A

Value: A-

Price: $299.99

Image: Planon Prinstik 910

Planon Systems Solutions
(905) 507-3926

As paper and ink slowly but surely become relics of the past, printers themselves seem to be evolving into tiny, vestigial appendages for laptop PCs and personal digital assistants.

At least that's the direction Planon Systems Solutions' Printstik 910 is taking. About the size of a compact folding umbrella, the Printstik weighs 1 1/2 pounds. That includes the thermal paper cartridge that can print 20 pages and comes preloaded with the Printstik. And because it uses thermal printing technology, there's no need to worry about messy, expensive ink.

In addition to size, the other compelling feature about the Printstik is that it has Bluetooth connectivity, so you don't need printer cables. It also has a standard USB 2.0 connection to plug into a laptop PC or PDA.

The Printstik's small size and light weight open the door to all kinds of mobile printing applications. It would be the perfect hotel room printer for a road warrior who needs to print the occasional e-mail or Web page.

It comes with a charger that you plug into a wall socket when needed. For the truly mobile user, the Printstik also comes with an adapter charger that plugs into a car cigarette lighter.

It takes about three hours to charge it via a wall socket and about four hours via a laptop PC's USB port.

We tested it on a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion zd7000 laptop PC with a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512M of RAM running Microsoft Windows XP.

The accompanying CD comes with required software and a 41-page user guide that shows you how to refill the paper cartridge and set everything up.

The Printstik has three indicator lights: one to show the data stream, one to show the printing status and one to show the battery life. Printstik's rechargeable lithium ion polymer battery can stay charged for up to 30 pages of printing, the company said.

Everything was fine until we tried to turn the Printstik on. The on/off button is a thin, flat piece of metal marked with an O symbol. When we turned it on, we couldn't turn it off. It got frozen in some sort of loop. The user guide said you could press down on the on/off symbol for three seconds and it would automatically turn off. No such luck. The Printstik stayed on like a zombie that wouldn't die.

We called tech support, and the representative agreed with our suggestion to let the battery run down and try it again. So we left it alone over the weekend to cry itself to sleep.

Monday morning, we recharged the battery and the Printstik worked perfectly.

One of the Printstik's green features is that it conserves paper. When we printed a page that said 'Test,' it printed only a thin ribbon of paper with the word on it. A standard laser printer would typically print a whole 8 '-by-11-inch sheet. The Printstik knows to print only the part of the job with text and images on it. We applaud the device for saving both ink and trees.

The print quality was legible but highly pixilated, like a 1970s-vintage fax, and not suitable for framing or doing much more than gleaning information. It is for quick jobs when you are on the road and just need an e-mail message or Web page in hard copy. Save your Mona Lisa downloads for a really sharp laser printer.

The Printstik made a ticking noise when it was printing. It sounded a little like a Geiger counter and unsettled some of our co-workers.

'It sounds like a bomb ticking,' one of them said.

The noise wouldn't matter much in a busy cyber caf', but it might disturb library patrons.

We put the Printstik to the test by printing some family photos. A 7-inch-by-7-inch black-and-white photo that was about 26M took four minutes and eight seconds to print.

A simple 112K PowerPoint slide with text and a photo took 49 seconds. But to reiterate, speed and print quality are not the goals of Printstik ' mobility is.

Once Planon has fixed the flaw with the on/off button, the Printstik could be the printer of the future, the one we use when we need to print something in our flying car.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.


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