Speed and value added features make the Epson PictureMate 290 stand out
But is its toughest competitor one of the family?
Epson PictureMate 290 6x4 inch ink jet photo printer. Typical pricing:
Amazon UK pricing
Pricegrabber UK pricing
PM290: UKŁ169, US$200, EU€249
For comparison - PM260: UKŁ89, US$99, EU€135
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Epson has been rapidly developing its ink jet mini photo printer line since the original PictureMate was launched three and a half years ago. The current design and look came out last year but the new PictureMate 290, replacing the 280 model, sports a considerably larger colour screen - 3.6 inches instead of 2.5, while print speed has been improved from an already nifty 42 seconds to just 37 seconds.
If you are familiar with the original PictureMate models, you will find the ink cartridge is more compact. Print speed is much faster, though print quality has not been sacrificed. The new design is more boxy than before and it looks bigger and bulkier. As before, an external power supply is needed..
A thin plastic lid, hinged at the back, with a small dark plastic window serves as a dust cover when the printer isn't in use and as a paper rest when it's in action. The control buttons are revealed under the lid, along with the big 3.6 inch colour display, which can be tilted through a generous angle for optimal viewing.
PM 290 or PM 260?
Underneath the main unit is a an extra section that incorporates a CD/DVD writer which can be used to archive photos from camera memory cards and for later viewing via the colour screen. There is also the option of a lithium ion battery for printing on the move. Bluetooth connectivity for wireless printing from suitably equipped mobile phones is standard. In all the key specifications, the PM 290 is identical to the much cheaper PM 260 model. The PM 260 is just as fast, has the same print quality, same 3.6 inch screen and is smaller and lighter. What you don't get with the PM 260 is Bluetooth or the CD/DVD writer. If you don't need those features, the PM 260 represents much better value.
In use, the PictureMate 290 proved to be very easy to operate. The menus and controls are well designed and we had no difficulty working out how to use the printer thanks to contextual help displayed on-screen. All the usual camera memory card formats are catered for via card slots at the front of the unit and a PictBridge port for printing via a USB cable direct from a camera can be found at the rear, along with a PC-USB port for printing from a computer.
Speed and running costs
Epson claim a print can be produced in 37 seconds; when printing a batch we timed an average of 38 seconds per print. What's a second between friends? The fact is that this is the fastest mini photo printer we have yet come across and if you have a lot of prints to make, the PictureMate 290 will process around 95 of them per hour.
Running costs are pretty good too, with 50 and 150 sheet PicturePacks on offer, each including both ink and paper. The 50 sheet pack costs around Ł13.49, which works out at 27p per print. The 150 sheet pack is priced Ł29.48 and the per sheet cost is just under 20p.
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Below is a thumbnail gallery that you can use to familiarise yourself with the detail features of the PM 290. Click on a thumbnail to see the full size image:
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As 6x4s go, the Epson PictureMate impresses
Below are side by side comparisons with Kodak Professional reference prints and versions printed on the PM 290. First off, a 2400ppi scan, reproduced at 100% (1 image pixel to 1 screen pixel):
The Epson Claria ink drops are sharply defined and although this magnified view appears coarse, the eveness of the dot distribution, without banding, results in smooth tonality and good detail when viewing the actual print.
Here is the silver halide lab print for reference.
The Eval Target shows a coolness to the grey tones which is characteristic of some Epson ink jet printers. Density is lighter than the reference print and colours are more saturated. Skin tone is less vibrant and there is more contrast.
The reference print. You can judge for yourself the border area that has been lost through borderless printing.
This image shows a lot of natural colour. Reds and blues are very faithfully reproduced, while the yellows and orange tones have an enhanced red element.
The reference print.
Finally, the coloured fabrics test image, which often finds printers wanting in the red towel when detail can be lost. The PM 290 passes this test well. The blue towels have some added yellow in them and there is an overall lightness compared to the reference print, but overall this is a comparatively good result.
The reference print.
Overall, although some hues are not particularly accurate and there is a certain lightness compared to the reference prints, in general we were very impressed with the punchy, sharp and grain-free results.
Below is a selection of Epson PictureMate menus and screen displays:
Good prints and fast too, but we preferred the original design
Epson have worked wonders with the internals of the latest PictureMate models. Print quality is attractive and there's no twiddling your thumbs while printing. The large screen is a plus point and ease of use is commendable. The design is good enough, though the rather flimsy lid doesn't seem to complement the rest of the hardware well. To be honest, we don't think the new angular and boxy design introduced last year was an improvement on the curvaceous and more compat styling of the original PictureMate.
However, build quality - apart from the lid - is up to Epson's usual excellent standards and the bigger form factor does accommodate that CD/DVD writer. If you don't have a PC, the utility of the drive for archiving your photos makes sense. If you do have a PC, the PM 260 is a much more cost-effective choice.
Things we liked:
- Very fast printing
- Punchy prints
- Competitive running costs
- CD/DVD writer utility if you don't have a PC
- Easy to use
Things that could be improved:
The Epson PictureMate 290 is a very capable 6x4 printer that produces very good quality prints quickly and cheaply. It's specifically aimed at customers who either prefer not to use a PC for picture archiving or who may not have a PC at all and if you fall in to that category we can heartily recommend the PM 290. However, the inclusion of the optical drive almost doubles the price, so if you don't need this facility, we encourage you to consider the PM 260 model instead.