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Marlene Orr

Portable Printers: Are They Making a Comeback?

Feb 18, 2015 11:22:28 AM

As we all know, the traditional office is not what it used to be. As “going to the office” morphs into “office anywhere,” employers and workers alike must adapt to the changing ways of doing business. New trends in technology, such as BYOD, cloud computing and remote access, make it easier than ever for workers to redefine the workplace and reach new peaks in productivity. Smartphones and tablets get larger and more sophisticated, while laptops get smaller, faster and lighter, letting workers shift seamlessly from one environment (and device) to another without a loss of productivity or connectivity while away from their office PC.

Despite the smooth transition from desktop to mobile devices that is available for some workers, printing can be a challenge for many. While mobile printing has come a long way, with apps available from OEMs and third-party ISVs, wireless or compatible printers just aren’t available sometimes. This is where portable printers can come into play. We took a look back at the development of the technology and the latest introductions to see if this category is making a comeback.

Two Decades Worth of Technology: Slow and Steady

After mobile document printers emerged in the 1990s, introductions dropped off in the mid 2000s, while portable photo printers remain a strong category). Battery-powered and small enough to fit in a briefcase or laptop bag, these compact little printers boast multiple benefits to users. Looking back through our database over the past two decades, you can find models from the likes of Canon, Epson, HP, Brother and even Apple. These compact color printers have generally been priced from $250 to just over $400, are designed to fold for travel and offer optional battery packs and car adapters for printing on the road. Without the optional battery packs, the printers ranged from roughly two to five pounds. Early models in the 1990s output mind-numbingly slow speeds of 3 to 5 pages per minute in black or about a half page per minute in color. Most models offered a parallel interface, while a few offered a serial port. A huge advancement came in 2000, when models began including a USB port, which offers a much higher data transfer rate than parallel or serial connections.

While some manufacturers, like Apple, left the printer market entirely, portable document printers continue to introduced, with currently available models from HP (the Officejet 100) and Epson (the WorkForce WF-100) showing very little has changed: the price points and compact sizes remain about the same, though there has been a slight increase in speeds, as well as USB and wireless/Bluetooth connectivity replacing parallel/serial connections. But the key advantage of these devices then is still the advantage now: the ability for users to print when they need to, easily and securely, without an app or needing to access someone else’s network.

 HP Officejet 100 Mobile PrinterEpson WorkForce WF-100
Street Price$279.99$349.99
Domestic Intro DateApril 2011November 2014
Std InterfaceUSB 2.0, BluetoothUSB 2.0, 802.11b/g/n
Speed (Mono/Color)5 ppm/3.5 ppm6.7 ppm/3.8 ppm
Weight (Base Unit)5.1 lbs3.5 lbs
Information from BLI’s specification database; not confirmed by testing.
Portable MFPs Mean Greater Flexibility for Business

In 2012, HP introduced the first portable business inkjet all-in-one, letting users print, scan and copy on the go. Based on the same engine as the Officejet 100 (see test report from BLI here), the Officejet 150 mobile all-in-one added a single-sheet scanner for increased flexibility. Unfortunately, it also added weight to the device. Weighing in at 6.4 pounds (6.8 lbs with the battery), the Officejet 150 is hardly a lightweight.

Though priced higher, the new Primera Trio offers slower rated print speeds and similar scan speeds, compared to the HP. While both appear to be convenient options for mobile workers needing to print, scan or copy, the major advantage of the Trio is its small size and light weight, which would make it much easier to carry in a laptop case than the bulkier HP model. The HP model offers more scan formats and Bluetooth connectivity. The biggest advantage of the HP model, on paper at least, is the significantly lower cost per page (cpp). Per-page costs for business-class inkjets (non-portable models) are generally less than 10 cents. The color cpp based on rated yield for the HP model is more than 15 cents, while for the Trio it’s a whopping 48 cents! Primera does spec yields in draft mode, and costs drop to a more palatable 19.56 cents, but there is still room for improvement. Because BLI hasn’t tested either model, we can’t comment on image quality (though the HP print engine, the Officejet 100, produced good output in default mode). But for the Trio to be as affordable as HP, Primera’s draft mode output quality would have to be on par with the HP model’s normal mode output. Unless, of course, convenience outweighs cost, which it does for some users.

 HP Officejet 150 Mobile All-in-OnePrimera Trio
Street Price$299.99$399.95
Print Speed3.5 ppm color/5 ppm black1.7 ppm color/2.4 ppm black
Paper Capacity50 sheets10 sheets
Highest Resolution4800 x 1200 dpi4800 x 1200 dpi
Standard Connection Type(s)USB 2.0, BluetoothUSB 2.0/3.0
Scanner Type/SpeedCIS/1.7 ipm color, 0.9 ipm blackCIS/1.6 ipm color, 1.4 ipm black
Scan File Formats Supported:BMP, JPG, PDF, searchable PDF, PNG, RTF, TIFF, TXTBMP, GIF, JPEG, PDF, PNG, TIFF
Dimensions (HxWxD)3.52" x 13.98" x 6.95"1.8" x 11.4" x 6.5"
Weight6.4 lbs2.7 lbs
Rated Ink Yield480 pages black/560 pages color (high-yield cartridges)185 pages black/260 pages color (Draft mode: 185 pages black/260 pages color (high-yield cartridges)
Cost per page (based on rated yields)6.9 cents, black
15.47 cents, full color
27 cents, black (10.09 cents in draft mode)
48.13 cents, full color (19.56 cents in draft mode)
Information from BLI’s specification database; not confirmed by testing.
What’s The Bottom Line?

So, are portable printers poised to make a comeback? Though we can say for sure that the office is a continually evolving and sometimes amorphous concept that has benefited greatly from technology advancements, it’s too soon to definitively say that portable printing is on the rise. We can, however, say that portable printers have withstood the test of time and this latest advancement in small, light and convenient technology appears to be a step in the right direction. What remains to be seen is if the technology can become as cost-effective as it is convenient.