By David Em
People around the globe have embraced digital photography in a big way. But as much as they love taking pictures with their spiffy new cameras, a common complaint I hear is that digital photos are usually only seen for a few fleeting seconds on a computer screen.
People who feel this way yearn for is the good old days when stacks of 4 x 6-inch prints came with rolls of processed film (remember film?). There's a lot to recommend this format. 4 x 6-inch prints are inexpensive, durable, highly portable, and most important, easy and fun to share. 8 x 10-inch and larger prints have their place, but most people don't have the space to show or store very many of them. Most prints in existence are 4 x 6-inch in size: They are the lingua franca of photography.
Several companies, including HP, Olympus, Canon, and Sony have addressed this frustration on the part of consumers by developing printers that produce only 4 x 6-inch prints. Epson's entry in this field is the $199 PictureMate. It's billed as a personal photo lab, and that's exactly what it is.
In shape and size, the PictureMate resembles a lunch bucket, complete with carrying handle. Its construction is fairly solid and it's very portable. Installing the ink cartridge is a snap. You can load up to twenty pieces of paper at a time into a rear paper tray that uses a straight path, so the prints don't curl.
The PictureMate produces prints with or without a computer. It has front slots for all the common forms of digital media, including Compact Flash, Memory Stick, SmartMedia, Secure Digital, MMC, xD, and Microdrive. There's also a USB slot for thumb drives, CDs, Zips, or external hard drives. Pretty neat.
A surprising omission for a portable device is that the PictureMate doesn't run on batteries, although there's an optional $50 car adapter. Epson also offers a $69 Bluetooth adapter for wireless printing from a phone, PDA, or portable.
The PictureMate's computer-free printing process is very straightforward.