If you need a portable grayscale printer to carry on a business trip, the Pentax PocketJet 3 may fit your bill. But with its $349 price tag, you're paying a premium for portability, especially given that the PocketJet 3 prints at a mere 200dpi (the 300dpi Plus version costs an extra $100). If you just need to print tiny black-and-white receipts on the road, check out the pocket-size Brother mPrint MW-140BT. And if you prefer a larger portable printer that manages photos as well as letter-size text documents, scope out the Canon Pixma iP90 or the HP Deskjet 450wbt. Still, the unique Pentax PocketJet 3 meets a niche need if you prize portability and have to print letter-size documents.
We find this petite PocketJet, about the size of an elongated stapler, easier to carry around than a portable but boxy inkjet printer. The PocketJet 3 measures 10 inches wide by 2.25 inches deep and 1.25 inches thick and weighs about a pound--a fraction of the size and the heft of a portable inkjet alternative such as the Canon Pixma iP90. This Pentax printer can operate on AC power, a battery, or DC power from a car cigarette lighter. You can hook up the printer to PCs, Macs, and several handhelds via USB or infrared connections. The PocketJet 3 comes with an AC adapter and a battery specified to print 100 pages on one charge and to last 400 discharge cycles. A spare lithium-ion battery costs $39, and a car cigarette-lighter adapter runs $19. Pentax provides a cushioned case for the printer with a pocket to hold the supplied USB cable but not the power adapter.
The PocketJet 3 is a thermal printer, which means no thirsty ink tanks to refill, but you'll have to spring for pricey heat-sensitive paper--the kind you may remember from fax machines of yesteryear. Pentax sells a box of 100 letter-size sheets for $11; at 11 cents a page, that's still less than what many inkjet prints run. A box of six 100-foot rolls goes for $42 and offers the equivalent of 660 pages, or 6.4 cents each; a roll with perforations goes for $48. It was tricky to distinguish the smoother printable side from the back side, so we frequently fed the roll backwards into the printer, wasting already expensive paper. Thermal paper emits a faint chemical smell and can darken over time, obscuring the printed image--especially if exposed to sunlight. Pentax guarantees your prints to last for 7 to 10 years under normal office filing conditions, but you'll have to wait a decade to verify that claim.
This thermal Pentax printer requires no pricey inks, and you won't have to worry about spilling ink in your briefcase. But as with mobile inkjets, the PocketJet 3 requires a lot of bits and pieces to run, and the case won't hold them all. For example, to use the paper rolls, you'll need to carry along a clunky steel caddy, which costs $50 for a desk version or $99 for a car. You may also need scissors to slice completed print jobs off the roll. To avoid this hassle, splurge on precut paper. Because this machine, like other mobile printers, lacks a built-in paper tray, you'll have to carry paper with you in a separate folder or box.
Pentax estimates that the PocketJet 3 prints three pages per minute, and we clocked it printing pages of text in 23 seconds at the default setting. The printing speed varied depending on the density setting we chose; the default was too pale for some fonts, but when we cranked up the density in the driver, the job slowed down to 26 or 27 seconds per page. Text looked more jagged than that of a crisp laser printer but was within the inkjet quality range. The shading and detail on Excel tables and charts was decent--good enough to hand out to a client. The PocketJet 3 can print photographic images, but their quality was crummy and lacked detail.
The Pentax PocketJet 3 comes with a a year of warranty coverage and a year of toll-free phone tech support, available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays MT. This is generous, though the lack of weekend support neglects professionals with nontraditional work hours. For warranty service, Pentax splits the shipping cost with you. The Pentax Web site provides e-mail access to technicians and a self-support area with downloadable manuals and drivers. The printed manual clearly explains how to set up and use the printer, and shows how to use a utility that prepares the PocketJet 3 to print jobs from Palm, Symbian, WinCE, and other handheld devices.