- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

COLUMN:

DENVER — I am here ahead of Sen. Barack Obama, but he doesn’t have to worry about a boarding pass to fly out of this place. I, however, do.

But there’s a good chance that I’ll be in better shape than I’d feared. Flying Southwest Airlines, passengers are encouraged to log in 24 hours before departure to get a boarding pass. The faster you log in, the higher your place in line.

That’s OK at home, but who carries a printer on the road? I’ve got one here and you might want it, too, since it’s rechargeable and weighs only 1.5 pounds. The $299 Printstik, available from online sellers Staples, Amazon and maker Planon, is compatible with BlackBerry hand-helds and PCs running Microsoft Windows. Compatibility for Apple Macintosh portables should come in the fall, a spokesman said.

The Printstik looks like a small stick or relay baton, and it utilizes an undefined “advanced printing technology” that seems to me very much like thermal printing.

That means you get crisp monochrome prints, but not color.

Paper is on a roll and feeds out through a front slot; you have to tear off each page. There is also a way to feed single sheets of the special paper used in the Printstik, though I did not test this method.

The “new” features of the Printstik are its size and weight. This is the smallest and lightest portable printer that prints full-sized pages that I’ve ever seen.

Its clearly designed for road warriors who need certain types of printing, such as boarding passes and receipts, and not others, such as letters, reports and presentations. For that, I’d recommend the larger, heavier and higher-cost Hewlett Packard OfficeJet H470, which will set you back about the same price (if you shop online). It’s a larger item, but the HP is meant to replicate the functions of an office-bound inkjet printer.

Having a portable whose uses are a bit restricted might seem like a contradiction, since you might want to have everything in that tiny package. But I can see a lot of arguments for the Printstik. It can fit in your briefcase along with your laptop; the HP would probably merit a separate case. Both portable printers have rechargeable batteries, but the HP’s wall adapter is larger.

Setting up the Printstik involves installing software on the host computer, and then “pairing” the computer and printer via Bluetooth. In my test, the experience went well, and I was printing quickly. Battery life seems reasonable, and the cost of “consumables,” such as the printer paper, is reasonable: $25 will buy you three rolls of thermal paper, meaning a 41-cents per page price; you can buy the paper for less “on the street,” the makers say. Single sheet paper works out to 11 cents a page, the spokesman said.

One thing I’ve learned in wandering the computing landscape is that not every product is meant for every user. A Mac user, for example, will not have any success with the Printstik until the software is available; those needing full color or high-quality paper will want the HP OfficeJet 470.

But for those of us hoping to catch a flight or needing to dash off a quick receipt, the Printstik could be a blessing in a 1.5 pound package.

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