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SiPix Pocket Printer A6 Review
By Ed Hardy
The Pocket Printer A6 is a miniature thermal printer that can be used with any IrDA compliant Palm.
The Pocket Printer comes with a carrying pouch, an AC adapter, batteries, RS-232 serial cable, software on CD, and a roll of the special thermal paper. The Pocket Printer uses four AA batteries, which last a good long time. I've been testing this printer for over a week making lots of print outs and I'm still on my first set. SiPix says it can print about 50 sheets per set of batteries. Of course, if you expect to be doing tons of printing, you can always plug in the AC adapter. The printer will shut itself off after a few minutes without use to save power.
The Pocket Printer doesn't use ink cartridges or anything like that. Instead, it prints on A6 thermal paper. This comes in either 8 foot rolls or individual sheets. A6 paper is 4.125 inches wide and the individual sheets are 5.75 inches. The printer comes with a single roll but no sheets. I found these on CompUSA's site for $10 per roll or pack of 100.
The printer can hold a roll of paper internally, which is quite convenient. Individual sheets have to be carried around separately and are fed into the printer through a slot in the top.
In case you skipped over it earlier, the paper this prints on is only 4.125 inches wide, which is about half the size of a regular sheet. If you think this is too small, SiPix suggests you put your print outs on a copy machine and double their size.
The only thing about this printer that I genuinely didn't like was how it handles switching from roll to individual sheets. If you are printing from a roll of paper and you want to run a single sheet through, there is a software change you need to make (more on this later) but you also have to open the back of the printer and physically remove the roll of paper from under the print head. When you want to go back to the roll, you need to open the back again and feed the paper back. Still, I can't complain too much; it is nice that the printer can use both rolls and sheets. The only other mini printer I know of can do only rolls.
Print quality is fine, though I'm not terribly fond of the font it uses. I prefer san serif but most people believe that serif fonts are easier to read. Also, the letters are a bit squeezed together but I understand SiPix's desire to get as much onto a page as possible. I scanned print outs from the Address Book and the Memo Pad but I almost didn't run them. The scans aren't nearly as good as the actual pages. Look at the scans to see what you think about the font and layout of the pages and rest assured that the actual printing is a lot sharper than what appears here. SiPix says it prints at 400 dots per inch.
The handheld communicates with the printer via infrared. This means no cables are necessary. Just point your IR port at the printer's and the two devices can communicate. I had a small problem with this but it might be related to my IIIx. The printer is so small, I was tempted to lay my IIIx next to printer in order to use it. This was especially true when I was printing lots of pages. But if I actually lay the IIIx next to the printer, they can't make an IR connection. I suspect this is because the IR port on the IIIx is too low. I'm not sure whether other Palms will experience this but to solve it I just used a pencil or something to prop up one end of the Palm.
That explanation might not be clear so I'll walk through an example. Say you have an Address Book entry to want to print. First, open the SiPix application and choose Address. This will open the Address Book app allowing you to look up the address you are interested in.This is the regular Address Book; you could add, edit, or delete any entry at this point. But instead you want to print one so you find it and open it. If you tap on the Menu silk screen button the Record drop-down box will appear. At the bottom of this drop-down box is a new entry: IrPrint. Tap on it. At this point, it is necessary to be pointing your palm's IR port at the Pocket Printer's. The Palm will spent a few seconds finding the printer then open a window of options.
Once you are in the printer driver, you can choose the number of copies, roll or sheet, and the style of the address. You can print the entire entry, a business card version, or even a mailing label. Choose OK and the entry will be beamed to the printer. This can take about 15 to 30 seconds per page.
Unfortunately, there is no way to print from any other applications besides the built-in ones. This means that DOC files or spreadsheets can't be printed. I tried to use PrintBoy with the Pocket Printer but it didn't work.
The IrPrint app comes on the CD with the printer. Windows users need only double click on this app and it will be added to your list of ones to be copied over on your next HotSync.
Mac users face a slightly more complicated process. SiPix claims no support for the Macintosh but it is possible to install the driver off the CD; I know because I did it. However, for some reason the necessary Palm application on the CD came up named, and I'm not making this up, \\§´´>=’ø?\mp. There is only one file on the root level of the CD; no matter what it is named it is the one you are looking for. Copy it onto your desktop, rename it IrPrint.prc, and double click on it to add to your list of files to added to your Palm on the next HotSync.
Incidentally, the Pocket Printer can be used to print from a Windows PC, too. That is mostly what the serial cable is for and drivers come on the CD. However, I decided this was outside of the scope of this review.
I'm not the only one who likes the Pocket Printer. Palm liked it so much they invested in the company.
p.s. If you are wondering why some of the pictures look a bit rough, I took them with my PalmPix camera. That's as good as the pictures get with the III series version. I have hopes that the m500 series version will be a lot better.
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