Mobile printers have proven that they can increase productivity, reduce operating costs, improve cash flow and revenues, and enhance customer retention in a competitive market. But not all mobile printing solutions succeed. Some fail to provide the expected gains in productivity because of excessive downtime related to difficult operation, cumbersome maintenance, or poor reliability. Creating a successful mobile printing solution involves more than putting portable printers in the hands of people. You have to select the best print technology, media, connectivity options, and features. Looking great helps too!

Mini-gadget manufacturer PlanOn claims the Printstik PS910 (£199) is world’s smallest Bluetooth-enabled printer. While we’re not absolutely sure that’s true, the Printstik PS910 is unquestionably portable. It’s also very well built, unlike the junk that most consumer printer manufacturers churn out these days. The Printstik PS910 is actually pitched as the world’s smallest full A4 page printer, enabling you to print e-mails, documents and images from a range of mobile devices including laptops, smartphones and PDAs while away from the office and on the move. Drivers for Blackberry and Windows PCs are available now, with support for Apple’s iPhone expected to be available towards the end of the year.

Obviously a niché product aimed at business users with a need for printing spreadsheets, invoices and other exciting materials, the Printstik PS910 could also be useful for students and others who have a demand for a small, lightweight and easy-to-use printer that can be used almost anywhere, at anytime. The first thing that strikes you about the Printstik PS910 is its build quality – it’s robust, heavy, and looks like it has come out of Denon’s R&D’s lab rather than an IT company. Similar in size to a roll of cling film, the Printstik PS910’s black-and-brushed aluminium finish looks great, and may even be cool enough to temp Mac users – should there ever be any Mac OS drivers released. Once you’ve gotten over its looks you’ll be able to enjoy monochrome printing capabilities on a self-contained 20-page roll of A4 paper. But obviously the main attraction is being able to print from Bluetooth-enabled wireless devices, or from a standard USB 2.0 connection.

Using the Printstik PS910 is a snap because it uses a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery (charger supplied), but it does make the printer a heavyweight at 700g. Thankfully you don’t need to worry about consumables because it uses thermal printing technology, printing up to 3ppm (pages per minute) on 7-year rated thermal paper. Of course, you will need to replace the paper cartridge after 20 prints at a cost of £9.99 per roll. And thanks to its ruggedised design, which boasts minimal moving parts, you don’t have to worry about ink leakages and paper jams. The only niggle we had was that cutting a printout from the continuous roll was awkward and getting a nice neat finish was almost impossible – much like cling film in fact.

Unlike a regular inkjet printer which shoots droplets of inks on the paper, the Printstik PS910 moves heat-sensitive paper directly underneath a stationary printhead. As the elements on the printhead heat up, a chemical reaction takes place on the paper, causing characters or images to appear up to a maximum resolution of 200×400dpi (dots per inch). What’s more, over time thermal will only need more paper – not replacing/refilling inkjet cartridges plus paper. Inkjet cartridges are expensive, often making refilling them the most cost effective option and resulting in a maintenance nightmare. In thermal printing the coloration is built into the paper removing the need to monitor any fill levels or stock up on inkjet cartridges.

Essentially the quality of the thermal image is good for the life of the printer – just load fax-style paper and print. The downside of thermal printing – Printstik PS910 included – is that image quality is well below that of an inkjet, especially when it comes to graphics and photos. But let’s not be too critical – PlanOn makes it quite clear that the Printstik PS910 is designed for printing text and business documents, which it does well. It prints characters and graphics relatively clearly with no smudging and no leaking ink, which is just want you want from a portable printer.

PlanOn’s Printstik PS910 is a well built printer that does what it says on the tin. It’s not colour, so won’t appeal to photo junkies, but business people needing to print spreadsheets, receipts or other such materials could find it a lifesaver. Print quality and print speed aren’t great, but if you’re not in a hurry you shouldn’t even notice. Text is a bit fuzzy and even at the highest quality setting images are very pixelated. Moreover, the pages curl up the way thermal-printed credit-card receipts do. Finally, running costs are considerably more expensive than most laser printers and inkjets, and you can’t use whatever paper you want (say goodbye to company letterheads, etc). Currently, the PrintStik works only with Windows computers and BlackBerry phones, further limiting the use of this relatively expensive peripheral.