Brother takes color printing on the road

Now that notebook computers let you take computing power on the road, what about printing power? Brother Industries Ltd. has come up with a handy, easy-to-use solution in the form of the MP-21C color ink-jet mobile printer. This little device weighs a mere 2 pounds, 8 ounces and measures only 2 inches by 11.8 inches by 4.2 inches, leaving hardly a footprint.

Furthermore, you won't need to lug around an AC adapter with this printer because it runs off your notebook's power. Power consumption is minimal at 2.5 watts when printing, so it won't drain the notebook's battery.

The MP-21C connects to your notebook via an included PC Card. Installation of the printer and drivers is a breeze using Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98 installation wizard for new hardware. (The printer is also compatible with Windows 3.1x, Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0.) One issue to keep in mind, however, is that this wizard usually defaults to the LPT1 printer port on a notebook. Because the MP-21C uses the PC Card to connect, you may need to manually change the port to LPT2, listed as the "Brother Printer Card CI-100."

The printer is easy to operate, although paper feeding can be a bit tricky. It reminded us of loading a typewriter - when you had to make sure to feed the page in straight. The MP-21C requires you to feed each page manually and one at a time, although an optional 30-sheet paper feeder is available for $80 (estimated street price).

Another aspect of paper feeding to bear in mind is that the printer was designed to accept paper after the user sends a job to print. If you load a sheet of paper before sending a job, you may find the printer spitting out a blank sheet.

You can feed paper through either a straight paper-path slot (a small opening in the side of the printer) or a paper-feeding slot, which is a small tray that flips open and features paper guides. Both are easy to use. The MP-21C accepts several paper sizes, including letter, legal, A4 and executive as well as a host of envelope sizes. It can handle paper weights from 16 to 42 pounds.

Print quality is good overall, with three modes available: draft, normal and super fine. Plain black text printed in normal mode looked good, although we could see some banding (horizontal lines or stripes) in it. Banding also was visible in certain colors when we printed graphics and photographs, even on the super-fine quality setting.

This printer isn't a speed demon, but then again, that's not its purpose. It took us 1 minute and 49 seconds to print a black-only text page that contained 689 words and almost exactly the same amount of time to print a black-only text page that contained 477 words and a table that included some shading. A large, multicolored graph printed in normal mode took about three minutes to print. Keep in mind that super-fine mode slows down the process considerably.

Overall, we think this printer makes a great addition to your notebook. You may not get the fastest print speeds or the highest quality output on the market today, but the purpose here is mobility and convenience, and you certainly get those. Presumably, you already will have your fancy graphics presentations printed before you leave the office, so this printer is great for those last-minute handouts or emergency print jobs. You could print while waiting in an airport lounge or in the hotel room as you're eating breakfast.

The Brother MP-21C printer is available on the General Services Administration's schedule for $294. You also can purchase an optional parallel cable and AC adapter for $50 (estimated street price).

If you're interested in purchasing this printer with the bells and whistles included, consider the MP-21Cdx, which is the same printer but with the 30-sheet document feeder, parallel cable and AC adapter included. The MP-21Cdx is available on the GSA schedule for $342.

For more information, call (877) 284-3238 or go to www.brother.com.

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