Brother – MP-21CDX review

portable colour inkjet printer
Photo of Brother – MP-21CDX
£235 + VAT (or £200 + VAT for MP-21C without sheet feeder, power pack and parallel cable)

According to Brother, this is the smallest portable colour inkjet printer in the world, and we’ve certainly seen nothing quite as compact as the MP-21CDX. It’s a small oblong object, with single sheets of paper being fed in by hand at the rear and emerging at the front face up. The printer uses a four-colour process (CMYK) and has a top resolution of 720 x 720dpi. The two ink cartridges are very easy to install and remove, while the printer makes very little noise in operation. Coupled with its size – 51 x 300 x 106mm and 1kg – this makes for a very discreet package.

What’s particularly clever about this printer is that it can be used on the move without the need for a separate power supply. It doesn’t use batteries to manage this feat; instead it draws around 2.5W of power from the PC Card (PCMCIA) slot that doubles as a data path, using the interface card provided. What you get with the standard MP-21C is just the mobile solution; the printer itself plus the Type II PC Card interface and an appropriate cable. The version we looked at, however, was the MP-21CDX, which has the additional 30-sheet document feeder, mains power adapter and parallel cable allowing you to use the printer with a desktop PC, or in fact any PC that doesn’t have a PC Card slot.

We tested the printer with both a conventional parallel port and with the PC Card connection, and in both cases had no problems. The printer was detected in each case by Windows 98 (drivers are also provided for Windows 3.1x users), and installed with no difficulty. Once installation was complete, a few tweaks of the driver allowed us to print on A4 paper in 720 x 720dpi. First we printed a full-page colour photograph. This took around 15 minutes, which is not unreasonable for an image of such complexity. The print quality was pretty good, although the colour matching wasn’t as good as with a comparable desktop printer. Printing text at the standard 360 x 360dpi resolution took around ninety seconds per page, and again the quality was good. You could get better in both cases from a desktop printer of the same price, but miniaturisation costs money. These results were obtained using the mains adapter and conventional parallel interface – the printer is slower when printing via the PC Card, but not painfully so.

Company: Brother

Contact: 0161 931 2354

The PC Card interface is a sensible idea for mobile users, since it reduces cable clutter and means that you could, for short periods, print using just your notebook's battery. Given the low power requirements of the MPC-21CDX, it surely can't be long before there's an even more flexible USB version. Combining excellent portability with acceptable performance, the MPC-21CDX isn't cheap, but the price is fair for what you get. And don't worry: the stickers on the case in the photo below are removable.