The HPRT MT800 ($289.99) is the first printer we reviewed from HPRT, a Chinese company founded in 2012 that focuses on printers for mobile use, labels, receipts, point of sale and other applications based on thermal printing technologies. . The MT800 is a strictly monochrome portable printer, similar in size and weight to the Brother PocketJet 7 PJ763MFi-WK monochrome, but to date selling for only around a third. Apart from the price, the main difference between the two is the technology used by each: the Brother model needs special paper but no ink or ribbon, while the MT800 needs ribbon but can print on plain paper. In practice, this lets you choose whether you prefer to carry special paper with your portable printer or extra ribbons instead.
Thermal paper versus thermal transfer
HPRT and Brother printers depend on heat for printing, but in different ways. The Brother printer uses the same thermal technology as most receipt printers and fax machines. It requires specially treated thermal paper, which changes color from white to black when heated directly by the print head. The MT800 uses a thermal transfer technique, heating a wax-covered ribbon to melt the wax and transfer it to the paper.
A potential problem with thermal transfer printing is that the type of paper can affect output quality. The wax will not adhere as well to the relatively rough surface of cheap copy paper, for example, as it will when using more expensive paper with a smoother surface. The rougher the surface, the more likely there are line breaks in text characters and graphics. That doesn’t mean you can’t use cheaper paper, but it does mean that the quality will be noticeably degraded from the best the printer can do.
HPRT sells premium paper in packs of 50 sheets for $11.99 or 200 sheets for $20.99, but only in A4 (8.27 x 11.69 inches) size. However, I found Hammermill 28-pound color copy paper to provide equal or slightly better output quality for all but one of the pages in our test suite, and a much lower cost per page. Note that even using 20 lb copy paper, the output quality was good enough for most purposes. (More on our quality test results later.)
Another potentially significant issue for thermal transfer printing is that the ribbon retains an image of each page you print. For each page, the amount of tape you use matches the length of the page, even if the page contains a single character of text, and any wax transferred to the paper leaves only the clear backing. The result is what amounts to a negative image recorded on the ribbon for each printed page. So if you’re printing, say, quotes for a client, you might not want to throw the ribbon away where anyone who finds it can browse through it and see everything you’ve printed. This won’t matter for most applications, but be sure to determine if this is an issue for yours. If so, you will need a different printing technology.
Easy to transport, easy to install
The MT800 is available on Amazon at this writing in white or black and a choice of bundles. The cheapest is $259.99 minus savings from a coupon which varies, but is $60 as of today. The price includes the printer, the rechargeable battery, a ribbon, a 50-sheet paper pack and a USB Type-A to Type-C cable, to charge the battery as well as to connect to a computer.
The most expensive plan, which is the one reviewed here, is $289.99 before applying the $30 coupon currently displayed. It adds a second ribbon and a carrying case that’s about the right size for a piccolo, at 3.5 by 3.2 by 13.4 inches (HWD). If purchased separately, the ribbons are $24.99 for a box of two and the case is $25.99.
The printer measures 1.6 x 2.5 x 12.2 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.5 pounds. Installation and printing were both easy and above all simple. HPRT offers drivers for iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, and Linux. I started by downloading the Android app on my phone, connecting via bluetooth and printing an email, it all went well from start to finish. I then connected to our standard PC test rig with a USB cable, downloaded and installed the driver and printed from the PC, which also went smoothly in most cases . The exceptions were that some Excel pages in our test suite that were set for landscape were printed in portrait mode instead, and some were scaled to print at smaller sizes.
After digging around in the driver settings, I discovered that part of the problem was that the only paper size set in the driver was A4, which is a bit different from US letter size paper. Much of the problem was solved by setting a custom size of 8.5 x 11 inches and setting it as default. The driver still insisted on printing in portrait mode for some Excel files set for landscape mode, but I was able to print them correctly by changing the setting in the driver before printing them.
A bigger limitation is that the MT800 requires manual paper feeding, one page at a time. Duplex printing is as simple as printing one side, turning the page over and feeding it to print on the other side. However, you cannot feed the next page in a multi-page print job until you remove the previous page to clear the exit slot, which means you cannot use fanfold paper to avoid manual feeding. This won’t be a problem for printing short files, but it could quickly become troublesome if you want to print many files longer than three or four pages.
Of course, you’re unlikely to print many long documents with a portable printer to begin with. HPRT rates the battery at 70 pages on a charge and the ribbons long enough to print 48 pages. The cost per page for the ribbons is 26 cents. For comparison, we calculated a cost per page for the Brother PJ763MFi-WK at around 10 to 26 cents per page, depending on the paper you use. Even if you plan to use the cheapest choice for the Brother printer, keep in mind that it is the total cost of ownership that counts, i.e. the initial cost plus the running cost. . If you divide the potential savings per page for the Brother printer into the difference between the two into the total upfront cost, the result will tell you how many pages you will need to print before the lower running cost of the Brother printer offsets the extra cost. of the printer itself.
Quite fast, with decent text quality
Manually feeding a single sheet made it impossible to run our standard performance tests, but I clocked single pages of text at 22-24 seconds, plus the time it takes to manually feed them, which is fast enough to print a page or two at a time. For reference, the PJ763MFi-WK printed our 12-page Word file on fan-fold paper at 11.5 seconds per page, not counting the first page, making it about twice as fast as the MT800, even in ignoring manual feeding time.
Print quality is best summed up as good enough for text and some images, but not something you should rely on for graphics or photos. The MT800 claims a resolution of 300dpi, which is the low-end resolution of laser printers, but that doesn’t make it laser-grade. All of the fonts in our text tests that you would consider using in a business document were generally easily readable at 12 or 10 point on 20-pound copy paper, depending on the font. They were also readable at 8 or 6 dots using the HPRT paper, and at 6 or 5 dots using the 28-pound Hammermill Color Copy paper.
Graphics quality was good enough to make simple graphics understandable. But in charts that included adjacent objects with solid fills (as with the bars in a bar chart, for example), the objects tended to blend into each other. And our line graph using a black background and colored lines only showed two of the five lines.
The photos were also random, with adjacent objects standing out or not, depending on the colors of the original. Ultimately, whether you’ll be able to make sense of any given graphic or photo depends on what’s in that specific image.
Verdict: color this monochrome printer for text only
The strongest argument for the HPRT MT800 as a portable companion is its combination of price, size, weight and ability to print on plain paper. Also be sure to consider the Brother PJ763MFi-WK, which shares a similar size and weight and offers a potentially lower running cost. But the Brother printer itself costs almost three times as much, and if you run out of thermal paper on the go, you won’t be able to print until you have more.
You might also consider the Canon Pixma TR150, our current top pick for a portable color printer. Like all portable inkjets, it’s bigger and heavier than the MT800, but it offers better output quality for graphics and photos, as well as color, and it also prints on plain paper. However, if you want maximum portability, a low initial price, and plan to print mostly text, the MT800 may do the trick.
The HPRT MT800 portable printer can be a useful travel companion, especially for printing from mobile devices, but it’s strictly manual feeding – one page at a time – and its graphics and photo quality are uninspired.
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