If you find yourself out on the road a lot, there may be times when you need to print something but aren’t near a power socket. That's where portable printers come in. It may be a niche product group, but all the main manufacturers have at least one in their range. Epson's latest is the WorkForce WF-100, which includes a few welcome extras such as wireless connection, a colour LCD and a built-in Windows driver.
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To appreciate the size of this printer, think of a closed, medium-size laptop folded in half; twice as thick and half the depth. This makes it easy to pick up and carry, though not quite as petite as some of the early, mono-only portable printers. This one does a lot more, though.
The front and top of the case unwrap from the machine to make the paper feed tray at the back and pages feed out directly onto the desktop. It’s a neat solution to providing A4 paper support without flimsy antennae-style fold-ups.
The top surface of the printer is home to a colour LCD and Epson claims it is the only portable printer to do this; we certainly can’t think of another. Although small, at just 37mm it’s large enough to provide simple menus and ink level monitoring. Next to it is a square arrangement of arrow buttons, with an OK button in the middle.
A further cover flips up from the top of the open printer to give access to the twin ink cartridges – one black and the other tri-colour. Although the cartridges are tiny in comparison with those in conventional desktop printers, the machine can still manage 250 black pages or 200 in colour.
The printer also requires a maintenance kit, which needs to be replaced every 300 pages and this is mainly the so-called diaper, which catches surplus ink during the printer’s cleaning cycles. This is an extra expense and a bit more fiddly than in other printers, but Epson does supply two to get you started.
You can connect the printer via a mini USB lead, supplied, or via a wireless connection, again unusual in a portable printer, as is a built-in Windows driver, which can be downloaded and installed to connect printer to PC, without the need for a separate CD.
Epson claims two sets of speeds for the WorkForce WF-100. When connected to the mains, it’s 7ppm in mono and 4ppm in colour, and 4ppm and 2ppm respectively when running on batteries.
We saw a top speed of 5.9ppm in mono on our 20-page test, dropping to 5.2ppm on the more typical 5-page document. Our text and colour graphics test gave 2.3ppm, both speeds under mains power. On battery power, speeds dropped further to 3.2ppm and 1.4ppm. So, a slow printer, but speed is less of a factor when working with the convenience of portability.
The printer can produce photos just as easily as plain paper prints, and a 15 x 10cm photo printed in best quality from a PC took 4min 21s. A similar print, in normal quality, from a Samsung Galaxy S3 smart phone took just 1min 11s.
Print quality is good, with dense, if slightly fuzzy, text and bright, smooth graphics and fills. Reversed text is still easy to read and photos show Epson’s usual colour quality, though with slightly less definition than normal in darker areas.
Factoring in the two ink cartridges and the maintenance kit gives page costs of 9.0p for mono and 15.1p for colour, both including 0.7p for paper. Both these are high, with the black page cost over seven times that from some similarly priced desktop printers.
Looking at the overall value of this printer, you need to compare it with other, similar portable printers such as the HP OfficeJet 100 Mobile. This machine is roughly £20 cheaper to buy and we calculated page costs of 4.1p mono and 8.0p colour – around half this Epson’s running costs. The HP doesn’t have a display, though, and is over half a kilogram heavier.
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The Epson WorkForce WF-100 makes a valiant attempt to update the portable printer and provides the ease of use we’ve come to expect from modern desktop machines. However, its running costs are high and its printing speed is slower than that of its rivals.