Epson PictureMate 290

Epson's top-of-the-range portable inkjet printer features a DVD drive, Bluetooth transfer and large 3-inch screen. How will it fare on the Best4Reviews test slab?

Industry pundits feared that the coming of digital photography would kill off high street photo processing. While there was certainly a dip, the death knoll hasn’t definitively sounded – the market to an extent re-invigorated by those of us wanting quick prints from our camera phones.

About as welcome then to those in the photo processing business as a return of bubonic plague is Epson’s latest all-singing, all-dancing Swiss army knife of a photo printer – the PictureMate 290.

Those who want regular 6x4-inch postcard sized prints – whether Bluetooth-ed from a camera phone, downloaded via a memory card slot, transferred from camera to device via USB lead or – finally – input via CD/DVD drive – will never need to leave the house again. Yes, Epson’s flagship PM 290 portable printer offers all these facilities and more. Though it does operate as a standalone device – and features a convenient carry handle for added portability – you can even connect it to a PC.

The first thing that might prevent you, at this point, from clicking on the nearest Google link and buying one straightaway (though please feel free) is the price. At a suggested £199 the Epson PM 290 certainly isn’t cheap, but then its feature set is streets ahead of the competition.

The second aspect that may prevent unchecked rushes of joy is the printer’s styling – its grey boxyness recalling a dull day in East Berlin.

But this is where the bad news ends.

Beneath its uninspired exterior the PM 290 has at its heart a real four-colour inkjet printer, not the standard dye sublimation (dye sub) set up. Four colours of course means a wider, subtler range of tones, including here deep blacks. If you compare the results from the PM 290 alongside prints from any of the leading dye subs you immediately notice the difference – and it’s quite pronounced in favour of the Epson.

There’s also far more detail on show. Whereas dye subs offer a resolution typically in the region of 300dpi (dots per inch), which is generally considered to be of photo quality, Epson’s PM 290 offers a class leading 5760x1440 dpi.

Of course, a higher resolution – and thus sharper prints – normally means a slower output speed.

Well, we said there was no more bad news and there isn’t. Incredibly, Epson claims the PM 290 can deliver finished 6x4-inch prints dry to the touch in just 37 seconds. To put this in perspective, most competing devices typically claim print times of between 60 and 90s seconds – and this doesn’t include the time it takes for the machine to warm up after you’ve hit ‘print’. But hit the print button here and you’ll find this is one speed claim with no hidden extras. So, not only the most detailed, colour-rich prints in its class, but delivered in half the time too.

Epson also claims that if you buy one of its 100-sheet photo packs the cost per print comes out at a very reasonable 20p. Not as cheap as a bulk order in the high street perhaps, but for the occasional print or run, it actually works out cheaper than the 50p or so an individual snap would set you back.

And we haven’t even mentioned the large 3-inch screen on which to earmark and choose images – a boon if you’re printing direct from memory card rather than camera or PC. And there’s also that side-loading tray for the CD/DVD. Incidentally – images from a camera or camera card can be burnt directly to either of those formats via the PM 290.

It’s rare that we have hardly anything bad to say about a device – but the Epson PictureMate 290 is one of those instances. It’s simply a great product – and with a more competitive price (which you’ll doubtless find online) just perhaps deserving of a ‘Best Buy’ to go alongside the ‘Editor’s Choice’ we’ve awarded it here.