Even though the NEC Mobilegear has some downsides, it’s still my favorite go-to mobile writing device mainly because of its compatibility with file formats and just how dully usable the Windows CE system is. Thus, I was delighted to spot online a cute portable printer that can be used with Windows CE 3.0 and wirelessly via infrared! I picked it up new-in-box to try a bit of mobile printing!
The Fujitsu XM-30T printer is an elegant and compact device. However, it’s obvious that it comes from this weird period when electronic devices suddenly became smaller, but the technologies were still quite old. No USB port here—we have a round DIN serial connection that allows the printer to be used wired, and instead of modern Bluetooth or WiFi, we get an IrDA infrared port for wireless connections on the go. The drivers are found on a supported floppy disk (still worked on my USB floppy drive I bought especially for such use) and are compatible with Windows CE 2.x, 3.x, and desktop versions of Windows 95 and up. Sadly, nothing about printing from DOS, which would allow me to use this from my HP 200lx, nor anything for Palm OS. Oh well…
(For all of you PalmOS users—the SiPix Pocket Printer seems to be a very similar device, but I haven’t seen them in Japan. Also, it might be possible to print on the Fujitsu using 3rd party software, like the PrintBoy app.)
This printer uses no ink cartridges or ink ribbon but prints on thermal paper. It’s the same technology that was used in fax machines, and word processors, and is still popular now in receipt printers. A roll of paper is held within the device, allowing for straightforward prints on the go, but small sheets (about A6 size) can be inserted from the top and used also.
The second compartment on the bottom of the device holds four AA-sized batteries for power.
The printer itself is a very simple thing (having no ink tanks and only a simple printing head), so as soon as I installed the drivers on my NEC Mobilegear palmtop and put in the batteries and paper, I was able just to start printing. The IrDA communication is also very straightforward—just point the palmtop at the printer, and press “print”—no Bluetooth pairing or WiFi passwords here.
Printing text straight from mobile Word, for example, is very easy because the driver simulates printing on A4 paper—it just makes everything smaller—so no additional fiddling with paper size settings is needed. The printer can handle all the Microsoft Word fonts, stylings, margins, tables, and even images from mobile Paint too!
The Printia Mini also worked like a charm when I connected it to my computer using a serial-to-USB cable and installed all the drivers on my Windows 95 virtual machine. Just hit print in Word, and off it goes, screechingly printing another page.
When the text is printed, the roll paper can be torn off, but if one uses the small sheets, a printed piece of paper looks more or less like a page of a smaller-size paperback book. I guess if someone wanted, they could print their next novel page by page while they write it at that fancy cafe. It could be interesting for scrapbooking, but because thermal prints don’t last very long usually, maybe it’s better suited for ephemeral experimental poetry. Nothing better than a quick haiku on the go.
There are other IrDA-capable mobile printers out there, similar to the Fujitsu PrintiaMini, but I like the format and the fact that it’s powered by just standard AA batteries—no pesky Nickle-Cadmium or Lithium rechargeables to worry about here. The small, peculiar format has one downside—the manufacturer no longer makes the paper rolls and sheets of this size, and sadly all the ready-made receipt rolls that I found online are just a tad do narrow. If I want to continue printing, my only choice is to buy bigger-sized fax rolls or A4 sheets of thermal paper and cut them to size. Luckily, this works just fine, and the future of printing paperback-sized pages on the go is saved! For now, anyway.
Watching the print come out of this small box, and with no visible connection to the palmtop somehow, is just so much fun! Even though I must say that I don’t have any practical use for this printer, I’m glad I have it to play around with.