Canon Pixma iP90 review: Canon Pixma iP90

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Canon Pixma iP90

(Part #: 9466A001) Released: Jan 5, 2005
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Good print quality for graphics and photos; portable; built-in infrared and PictBridge ports; battery and Bluetooth add-ons.

The Bad Low-volume ink cartridges; so-so text quality; pricey extras. For true cordless portability, you'll need a battery that costs $100.

The Bottom Line Ever printed on an airplane? What about from a cell phone? The go-anywhere Canon iP90 offers worlds of possibilities--for a price.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Service and support 7.0


Like the popular i70 and i80 models before it, the Canon Pixma iP90 is a sleek, lightweight, go-anywhere portable inkjet printer that creates full-size documents and color graphics, as well as 4x6-inch color photographs. Thanks to built-in PictBridge and infrared (IrDA) ports, you can print directly from your digital camera, PDA, or cell phone without a computer. You can also add Bluetooth functionality, a battery, or a power adapter for your car. However, even one add-on brings the iP90 up to the $350 price of the mobile HP DeskJet 450wbt, which already has Bluetooth capability. But if you're looking for a speedy printer that can work in cars, hotels, and airports, the Canon iP90 beats the HP 450wbt on speed, plus it offers a PictBridge port so that you can print a snapshot straight from a digital camera. The Canon Pixma iP90, like its predecessors, looks like a laptop computer cut longitudinally in half. Made of eye-catching, aluminum-colored plastic, the iP90 weighs a mere four pounds and measures just 12.2 by 6.9 by 2 inches (WDH)--comfortable for a roomy laptop bag or a jumbo purse.

Turned off, the iP90 snaps shut into a tight, seamless capsule. When open, the front cover becomes an input tray for plain paper or glossy photo media, from legal to credit card size. You can fill the paper tray with either 30 plain pages, five envelopes, or 10 sheets of 4x6-inch photo paper. If you're printing 8x10-inch glossy photos, you'll have to feed them into the machine one at a time. Save your magnum opus for the office laser and make sure to leave empty space in front of the iP90 when it's in use, because it provides an outgoing slot, yet there's no tray to hold a stack of pages.

The iP90 has a simple, semicircular control panel with buttons for power and to resume printing, plus an LED that glows green and flashes in green and orange to communicate everything from normal printing to a major meltdown. The USB 2.0 and power ports are conveniently located on the left side near the back of the printer, and the infrared (IrDA) and PictBridge ports line the machine's right edge.

We like the Canon Pixma iP90's small size, especially the way it folds up neatly for travelling. The PictBridge and the relatively unusual built-in infrared (IrDA) ports are handy for those who travel superlight and want to print from compatible PDAs, cell phones, and cameras. If you want more hardware features for your iP90, you'll have to buy them yourself as add-ons or look for another printer.

The Canon Pixma iP90 introduces two features: Save Black Ink, similar to the Draft mode on other printers, it reduces that color's use by the printer; and Use Composite, which you can find in the drivers' Maintenance section under Ink Usage Control. Save Black Ink reduces that color's use by the printer, and Use Composite instructs the device to fashion black out of color ink when the noir runs dry.

We can't tell you how much ink we spared using Save Black Ink mode--though Canon estimates you'll get 66 percent more yield--but we can report that text quality literally paled in our tests, appearing battleship gray rather than black. We also drained the black ink tank completely and gave Use Composite mode a whirl. The result? The hue of the text gave new meaning to the term "purple prose." Still, in a pinch, you'd probably prefer these violet-toned letters to either illegible prints or none at all.

You might enjoy these new tweaks if you print a lot with the iP90, which will likely sap the ink in a snap. The cartridges are so small that they're sold in twin packs; two black tanks cost $11.95 and two color tanks cost $22.95. Canon estimates that a black cartridge will be good for 185 text pages, which works out to about 3 cents per page. The color tank will last a mere 100 estimated pages, or 11 cents per page. These costs are definitely on the high side, but since the iP90 can go where few other printers can, most high-flying travelers will probably be willing to pay the price, especially if they remember to pop more ink refills in their carry-on luggage.

The Canon Pixma iP90 comes with a well laid out and clearly illustrated setup poster. Once you've connected the power and the USB cable, it takes less than three minutes and less than 300MB of hard drive space to install the CD-ROM onto your computer. The iP90 comes with an onscreen manual, a setup utility, a printer driver, and a slimmed-down suite that includes Easy-WebPrint, Photo Record, and Easy-PhotoPrint. Missing from earlier versions of the suite are ZoomBrowserEX and PhotoStitch. Will anyone miss them? Maybe not ZoomBrowserEX, but PhotoStitch was fun for making panoramic shots and montages. The iP90's printer drivers are compatible with Mac OS X 10.2.1 to 10.3x and Windows 98 through XP, but Easy-PhotoPrint is the only Mac-compatible software.

Like the i80 before it, the Canon Pixma iP90 dangles several optional features to tempt you to enhance its mobility and plump up its price. A Portable Kit, basically a lithium-ion battery, costs $100 and attaches at the back of the printer. Or for $140 you can get the same battery with a desktop charging cradle. If you want to charge your new battery from the cigarette lighter in your rental car, you can tack on the $90 Automobile Power Unit. The battery is estimated to last 450 pages for every two hours of charging.

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