Printing on the Go
The Brother MP-21C Mobile Color Ink Jet Printer offers reasonably priced portability.
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I've often thought that having a few less portable computers to choose from-and a few more peripherals to plug into them-wouldn't be a bad thing.

Portable printer offerings are a particularly paltry segment of the mobile market. Happily, there's now another entry into this field-the Brother MP-21C Mobile Color Ink Jet Printer.

The 4.2- by 11.8- by 2.0-inch (HWD) MP-21C weighs 2.5 pounds and is capable of producing 720-dpi text and graphics. The MP-21C connects to the user's notebook through an included PC Card and cable so it doesn't require an AC adapter. Brother claims that the MP-21C consumes almost 90 percent less power than competitive models while printing. While I was unable to verify that statement, I did not notice a significant drain on the test notebooks' batteries while I was evaluating the printer.

Setup is simple. Once connected to a notebook, Windows recognizes the printer automatically. The MP-21C's dual ink cartridges (one for black and cyan, the other for magenta and yellow) snap in easily. Paper is inserted into the back of the machine, one sheet at a time, and comes out the front. Obviously, for anything more than a one-page-job, this single sheet feed can become cumbersome. Add-ons can help eliminate the frustration-you can buy a 30-page sheet feeder ($80 list) or choose the more full-featured model-the MP-21Cdx. At $350, the MP-21Cdx comes with a sheet feeder, an AC adapter and a parallel cable, and it is aimed at users who would like to use the printer with both portable and desktop units. The MP-21C can handle a wide variety of paper sizes including letter, legal, A4, A5 and B5, along with varied paper stocks including plain, coated and photographic, as well as transparencies and envelopes.

The MP-21C's biggest selling point is obviously portability, but it does produce sharp, good-looking black text pages when set to its highest quality print mode (720 dpi). Set it to the standard (360 dpi) mode, and you'll see a definite drop-off in clarity and in the richness of the black ink.

Color graphics in 720 dpi are nicely saturated and crisp, similar to what you'd expect from a mid-range desktop printer, although during my tests some photo images were a bit heavy on the red. Images printed at 360 dpi were slightly grainy with some mild banding, even when printed on photographic-quality glossy paper.

The one true fault with this machine is that printing isn't a speedy process. In my tests, one page of text at 720 dpi took 6 minutes and 47 seconds to print. A full-page photo print, also at 720 dpi, took 16 minutes and 54 seconds. That's slow, even for a mobile printer. At 360 dpi, a text page with one logo graphic (line art) took two minutes to print. Photos printed at 360 dpi took 7 to 10 minutes per page.

The two $32 ink cartridges will need to be changed more frequently than those in a desktop model, but that's to be expected since the cartridges are, by necessity, smaller. The black and cyan cartridge is good for 250 pages at 5 percent saturation; the magenta and yellow cartridge yields 150 pages at 5 percent saturation. That works out to 6.4 cents per page for black text printing and 27.6 cents per page for color-high, but quite typical for a portable printer.

Despite the machine's slowness, if portability is a number one priority for your printing peripheral, then the Brother MP-21C would be an excellent addition to a mobile fleet. The Brother MP-21C Mobile Color Ink Jet Printer is priced at $300. For more information, contact Brother International at www.brother.com or (877) 284-3238.

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