Little photo printers are becoming all the rage. Forget iPods, 3G mobile phones and paper light laptops because printers have never been so trendy. The run up to Christmas has seen them splattered all over your television screens, magazine pages and even onto the side of the odd bus or two. Yes, it seems we have finally hit the sweet spot where everyone can afford a digital camera and the race to offer Joe Blogs a cheap and convenient printing solution that Mrs Blogs (or vice versa of course) can wrap up and slip under the Christmas Tree, is on. Everyone from Canon to Sony is crying out for us to dip into our wallets, but the mass market specialists are obviously Epson and hp. A few months ago we tested and loved Epson’s PictureMate and found it to be a great solution for turning your digital photos into tangible prints, so the pressure is on hp to pull something equally good out of the hat.
In fact, the pressure is really on hp because Epson definitely came up with a better name for its home photo studio. Imagine going online, or into a computer store and asking for a PictureMate. It’s simple, iconic even – just like asking for an iPod – you don’t even have to know who made it: “I’ll have a PictureMate please”. Take hp on the other hand, Photosmart is also the name for its full size printers, as well as scanners, all-in-one printers and digital cameras. Imagine the same scene: “I’ll have a Photosmart please…” “Um, which product code would that be sir?” You get my point.
For the record, there a couple of variants of the hp range of 10 x 15cm photo printers, the high end 375 which comes with a 6.4cm colour LCD display for previewing and editing prints, as well as bundled Bluetooth support and the cheaper 325 which comes with a 3.8in colour LCD display, but no Bluetooth support (a Bluetooth adapter is optional though). So if you want Bluetooth in the box and a large display the 375 that I’m looking at right now is definitely the route to go down.
So, even though hp could have done a better job of branding its little photo printers, let’s see if what’s inside the box will make up for it. To be fair, things do improve here. The Photosmart 375 is superbly compact, its dimensions at 22 x 11.8 x 11.5cm (WxDxH) are significantly smaller than the PictureMate’s at 25.6 x 15.4 x 16.3cm (WxDxH) and at just 1.2kg it’s less than half the weight of Epson’s 2.7kg unit. This is a truly tiny printer. It does tend to look like a toaster, but then again the PictureMate looks like a bread maker.
For its size the Photosmart 375 does make a couple of compromises. It prints up to 4800 dpi, which is less than the PictureMate’s 5760 dpi and supports SD/MMC, MemoryStick, CompactFlash Type I and II, SmartMedia and xD. Importantly, it does have the same additional USB port as the PictureMate allowing you to connect a CD/DVD writer or memory key to back up your photos directly. However, because the Photosmart 375 comes with a Bluetooth adapter in the box, you’ll have this plugged into the USB port when you’re printing wirelessly – the PictureMate doesn’t come with a Bluetooth adapter, but you can get one as an optional extra. Unlike the PictureMate however, the entire Photosmart series has the benefit of a built in battery for truly mobile printing. So depending whether you are more interested in mobility or picture quality you will already be developing a favourite.
The other big difference between the Epson and hp offerings is the LCD. Epson only offers a monochrome LCD which allows printer settings to be changed and keeps the price down, but hp gives you a colour LCD which means that you can preview and edit each photo on screen before printing. This makes the Photosmart 375 almost £60 more expensive than the Epson PhotoMate, but your readiness to pay it will most likely depend on whether you tend to do the majority of your printing from the computer screen or on the move. If it’s the former there really is no need for the extra expense. Personally, I found the quality of the 375’s colour LCD to be good but I was still uncomfortable doing anything more than basic editing on a 2.5in screen.