Conclusions and ratings
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We know that you, the reader, will value certain aspects of a product more than some other individuals. This is why we instead of numbers or percentages, which can be interpreted very differently by different reviewers and readers, our rating system presents values on or above a median. It's a bit like ABC exam scores, where A or A+ is the best, C is the minimum pass and F is, well, failure.
With its carry handle and small desktop footprint, the Epson PictureMate is a neat and attractive design. The decision to separate the ink cartridge from the print head also simplifies cartridge replacement. I'd have liked to have seen the AC power adapter integrated into the main unit and I'm asking myself why there is no apparent provision for a colour preview monitor, but apart from that, there are few complaints.
A very specific function is offered by the Epson PictureMate. All it does is print 6x4 photos, but within that tight remit, it provides practically all the features you could possibly think of to enable easy and convenient operation. All mainstream digital camera memory cards are supported for direct printing, as is PictBridge and of course you have the option of printing via your computer if you wish. The adoption of fade-resistant pigment inks is a key feature, as is the innovative inclusion of red and blue inks alongside the more conventional black, cyan, magenta and yellow colours. While Epson lists a wireless Bluetooth module on the options list, conspicuous by its absence is a colour LCD preview screen.
There is nothing cheap or flimsy about the Epson Picturemate. It's a solid and well-finished product.
If you showed a typical PictureMate photo print to most people they would have no difficulty in appreciating its photo-realistic quality. But to be ultra-critical, our tests show that colour reproduction can stray from the ideal and there is some bronzing of the print surface. There is no doubt that Epson's excellent dye-based A4 photo printers produce better results, but the PictureMate's fade-resistance abilities balance things up. Overall, the PictureMate is adequate in terms of print quality but there is definite room for improvement.
On average it takes about two minutes to produce each PictureMate print. When you consider some Canon photo printers can complete an A4 photo print in less time, it's easy to be critical of the PictureMate print speed. But for practical purposes, two minutes per print isn't a great handicap.
If it wasn't for the fact that Epson's other printers are so competitively priced, we'd be more enthusiastic about the PictureMate's £149 price tag. But for the same money you can buy an Epson R300, which prints photos and text up to A4 and includes a colour preview screen. But we recognise that for some an R300 is more than they actually want or need. The 29p per print running cost of the PictureMate is definitely competitive for an ink-jet printer and while you can get better deals with online or high street photo printing services, that ignores the convenience factor of the PictureMate.
Ease of use
Fundamentally, the Epson Picturemate is a simple device and so it's quite easy to use. When printing from a PC there are very few printer driver options to confuse the user and the menu system is mainly clear and easy to understand when using the direct printing mode. But a product like this could really benefit from a colour preview screen.
Epson has focussed very sharply on the issue of print life. This is in response to a growing concern that photo prints produced by consumer ink-jet printers can't be relied upon to last. But the use of pigment inks in the Epson PictureMate deals with all these concerns head on and Epson also has the endorsement of print longevity guru, Henry Wilhelm. Epson's own figures suggest that prints, when stored sensibly, should last for over a hundred years without serious degradation.
Third party paper compatibility
Epson has rather cleverly tied its PictureMate customers to Epson consumables. These are supplied as a single pack of 100 sheets of paper including a matching ink cartridge. After a hundred prints you must replace the ink cartridge and as this comes with paper, there is no opportunity to use third party papers.
While never being excessively noisy, the Epson Picturemate isn't particularly quiet either. The progress of the print head back and forth is accompanied by a noticeable sound as if something was rubbing on something it shouldn't. The only time it gets unusually noisy is when running through print head cleaning routine, usually on power up, when motor whine is apparent. None of this would be noticeable in a busy office room, but in a quiet study it can be.
The bottom line
What we liked:
Competitive running costs
Reassuringly tough print fade resistance
Can be used with or without a computer attached
Space-saving form factor
Easy to use
Bluetooth wireless printing option
What we didn't like:
Colour reproduction not as good as other Epson photo printers
Poor quality index prints
Some surface bronzing
6x4 inch print dimensions mis-matched to typical digital camera image aspect ratio
Lack of colour preview screen, even as an option
It's easy to nitpick the Epson PictureMate – but this would mostly be to miss the point. The PictureMate has a very clear raison d'être – to print long lasting 6x4 photos as conveniently as possible and at an affordable price. It fulfils its purpose very well. If you don't need the added versatility, flexibility and ultimate print quality of a full-sized A4 photo printer, Epson's PictureMate Personal Photo Lab is an attractive proposition.
After considering test results, the type of solution the Epson PictureMate sets out to provide, plus features and value for money, dpnow.com designates the following review rating:
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