- Review Price: £175.00
Epson has had quite a bit of success with its dedicated, small-format photo printers. Its new range of PictureMate devices builds on the successful design of earlier models, right down to the odd, clear plastic windows in their lids. The PictureMate PM290 is the top of the new range and includes Bluetooth connectivity and a CD/DVD combo drive as standard.
About the same size as a child’s lunchbox and coloured in silver and dark grey, the PictureMate PM290 has a serviceable, if slightly oversize design. Lift the lid and there’s a good-sized, 91mm LCD display, which folds up to any convenient angle and displays thumbnails, menus and a number of different animated instruction videos.
Around 25 standard 10 x 15cm photo blanks load in a slot behind the LCD display and feed out to the fold-down front cover of the machine, which reveals twin memory card slots when you open it. These slots cater for most of the common card types, though mini-SD and Memory Stick Duo need adaptors, which are not supplied.
The control panel consists of a four-way arrow square with an OK button in the middle and a set of eight membrane buttons, which give the printer a degree of protection against spillages. At the back are sockets for the external mains block power supply, a USB connection for a PC or Mac and a PictBridge socket, while at the base of the left-hand side is a laptop-style CD-RW/DVD combo drive. This can be used for archiving photos from memory cards and loading photos for printing, from CD or DVD.
Hardware setup is easier than most, particularly if you intend to use the printer as a standalone device. There’s a single photo cartridge which slots in at the back of the printer and provides all four ink colours, with a minimum of fiddling. It’s good for 50 or 150 photos, depending on the consumables you buy. Just above the battery slot is a second one, for an optional lithium ion battery, so you can use the printer away from the mains.
Epson’s standard suite of photo software is supplied with the PictureMate and the driver is geared to the particular needs of a small-format printer. For example, this machine can take 18 x 10cm panoramic photo blanks and stickers as well as the standard format photo paper.
The built-in Bluetooth wireless connection is easy enough to establish, using the menu system on the printer and typing in a pass code for each Bluetooth device you want to pair with it. This is a very easy way of producing hard copy from camera phones and suitably equipped cameras.
This printer is remarkably consistent, producing standard photo prints in around 45 seconds, whatever the source. It’s quickest when working from an SD memory card and slowest from its PictBridge socket, but even then, it’s not far off the 37 seconds claimed by Epson. This is noticeably quicker than, for example, the recently tested HP Photosmart A826, which took over a minute for nearly every print.
One of the main advantages of the Epson printer is its built-in CD-RW drive, which can be used very conveniently to archive photos from a memory card. We backed up 48, 4 megapixel photos from an SD card to a CD-R disc in just 1 minute 13 seconds, making it a very efficient way to offload images.
The prints that come out of this PictureMake are good quality, with smooth gradations of tone and plenty of detail in darker, as well as fully-illuminated, areas. Most dedicated photo printers use just three inks, combining all of them to produce black. Epson includes a dedicated black ink in its cartridge, which makes darker colours more solid and less susceptible to casts.
Prints are touch-dry when they arrive on the printer’s output tray and you can safely leave the machine printing a batch of photos, without worrying about any print-through on the backs of overlaying prints.
Epson claims running costs of 20p a print, when you’re using its PicturePack consumables. These are available in two capacities, each containing an ink cartridge and enough paper for either 50 or 150 prints. Using the 150 print pack, which gives better economy, we found it at a price which gives a cost per print of 14.7p, considerably less than claimed and a very reasonable cost, compared with the competition.
Epson’s PictureMate PM290 is a neat and effective small-format photo printer. With its built-in CD rewriter and Bluetooth capabilities, it can handle most needs of any enthusiastic photo taker. Improvements could be made, such as bundling in the battery which makes this machine fully portable and redesigning the printer so both paper and power supply are carried internally. Even so, it stands up well against its competition and running costs remain low.
Score in detail
Print Speed 9
Print Quality 9