Epson PictureMate MPE
The PictureMate line from Epson was one of the first in the 4"x6" printer market. But it hasn't evolved much since, and now has to fight some stiff competition, particularly in the area of ergonomics.
Design And Ergonomics
With a weight of 5.9 lb (2.7 kg,) the PictureMate MPE is by far the heaviest 4"x6" printer on the market. That's due mostly to its six-ink system, which we'll look at in more detail in a minute. It's a particularly complete unit, including memory-card slots (with an adapter for the MiniSD and MemoryStick formats), a PictBridge connection, and even a Bluetooth extension allowing wireless printing from a PDA or photo phone. Note that the PictBridge also allows printing from an external USB storage unit.
Yet ergonomically, the printer is far from ideal. There is a display on top of the printer, but it can't be used to preview pictures; it's only there for navigating in the various menus. So when you want to print from a memory card, you have to either know the exact number of the file or files you want, or else print a thumbnail sheet to make your selection. Working from the computer is very pleasant, on the other hand, thanks to a very complete driver.
The PictureMate MPE is the only inkjet model we tested that uses not three but six inks - light cyan, light magenta, and black inks have been added to the three basic colors. The improvement in quality is undeniable, and the resulting prints are as good as those made by an A4 photo printer. The six inks are all in a single cartridge that looks a little like a cell-phone battery. Black-and-white prints were also very good, taking full advantage of the black ink to get the best possible contrast.
Speed is not a strong point of the PictureMate MPE though - far from it. It took nearly 2 minutes and 20 seconds to print a 4"x6" photo; more than 50 seconds longer than the Selphy DS700, for example. And you can't choose a lower-quality print mode, which might have improved speed at the expense of quality.
Cost Per Print
The ink+paper pack available from Epson lets you print 100 photos, and sells for $29. That works out to a cost of 29 cents per print, which is very competitive.
This printer is aimed mainly at users who are very demanding about quality. The absence of a preview display more or less implies that you'll have to use the computer for printing. This may be an issue for some people, though it does mean you can easily do photo retouching before output. The Epson PictureMate Deluxe includes a color LCD preview display.
It retails for $249.