The first things that strike you about the Epson PictureMate 210 is how compact it is, and how little like a printer it looks. Out of the box with handle up and lid down, it looks like a tiny white esky. Gone is the silver and black corporate-like casing of previous models. Open the lid to see a simple control panel surrounding a 2-inch colour LED screen.
The main functions are easily spotted on the buttons, anchored by a large green print button in the lower right hand corner. All controls are pretty simply laid out - photo reviewing, selecting and printing, not to mention basic image manipulation, print format options and even lesser used function like printer head cleaning, were all easily accessible.
SD and flash memory slots on the front of the printer will accommodate most digital cameras, though images can also be printed directly from Pictbridge-enabled digital cameras and Bluetooth-enabled cameras or phones. You will need a separate Bluetooth adaptor for this (AU$69).
With only the aid of a simple set up guide, the PictureMate 210 scored many brownie points by printing its first, crisp photograph from a memory card within five minutes of being taken out of its box.
Having lived up to its 'plug and play' description, the compact 4-colour photo printer then proceeded to churn out lab-quality prints non-stop for a couple of hours.
Very fine red lines started to appear after all that rigorous non-stop printing, but cleaning the heads (a surprisingly simple procedure explained well in the manual) fixed the issue and print quality returned to the original pro photo-lab standard again.
Downloading its drivers to a laptop is quick and the bundled software give a good range of photo manipulation options.
Printing from iPhoto on a Mac, we were expecting basic borders and borderless options, but happily found ID format for home passport photo printing, as well as a 'sample' mode that prints one 4x4-inch and two wallet-sized photos on the 4x6-inch photo sheet. Contact sheets can also be printed, as can photo stickers with the right stock. Our favourite printing option is'greeting card', although you must live with the constraint that your greeting cards will be limited to the maximum 4x6-inch print size.
Lots of printers produce great photographs, including desktop inkjets and SOHO combination printers, but often the inks and paper are too expensive for heavy use, so the icing on the cake is the consumables price for this printer. An Epson PicturePack costs AU$42.49 and comes with enough paper and ink for 150 6x4 prints. At roughly 28 cents per print, that's about what many commercial photo kiosks will charge, so the PictureMate 210 stands up pretty well on the value stakes.
While the PictureMate 210 was tested, the more expensive PictureMate 250 (AU$329) comes with a larger 2.5-inch flip-up colour LED screen and a joystick configuration of buttons, allowing more complex PC-free image manipulation such as red-eye and backlighting correction. It can also back up images by transfering them from the memory card slots in the front to a USB memory stick (or iPod) in the back of the printer. You can also purchase an optional battery pack for the PictureMate 250 for $AU99, which is a bit pricey, but allows you the option to print easily anywhere you like.