The Epson PictureMate Dash is the lower-end offering from Epson's 2007 refresh of the PictureMate snapshot printer line. At $100, it's $50 cheaper than the 2006 low-end offering, and it's faster to boot. (The 2007 line has only two models; the 2006 line had three.) As we played with the printer, we had really high hopes: It's jam-packed with great features, it's easy to use, and it blew away the $100 competition in CNET Labs' speed test. But (and it's a big but), the picture quality was very disappointing. If you're after the most features in a snapshot printer, this is the one you should get--just go into it knowing you won't get the best prints available. If you can afford to spend more (as in, double), we loved the HP Photosmart A826--just make sure you'll really use it before spending $200.
The Epson PictureMate Dash (PM260) looks a lot like its predecessors, the PictureMates Pal, Snap, and Flash. It stands 13.6 inches wide, 9.1 inches deep, and 8.7 inches tall, and weighs just 5.3 pounds. Although it has traded the all-silver look for a white-and-dark-gray exterior, it retains the high-tech picnic basket look with a pivoting handle and lid. The lid opens to reveal the control panel, and also serves as the input support for photo paper. A panel on the front opens to catch prints.
One big improvement over last year's PictureMate lineup is the huge 3.6-inch LCD that flips up. This is larger than the LCD on the Flash, which was last year's high-end model. The onboard control panel consists of a menu button; four direction keys and an OK button for navigating the menus; a zoom button; a thumbnail display key; and stop and start buttons. Two memory card slots are mounted on the front and accept most major types, though some will require an adapter (not included). The printer also offers a USB port for connecting PictBridge devices, storage drives, and an optional Bluetooth adapter, but it's located in the back. Because the printer is small, it's not difficult to turn it around to access the USB port, but it would be more convenient to have it on the front of the printer.
The PictureMate Dash comes with enough ink and paper to produce approximately 20 4x6 prints. It uses four-color printing, and the ink comes in a single large cartridge that pops into a slot in the back of the printer. Paper and ink are sold together in print packs, with the amount of ink calibrated for the amount of paper. Epson offers both glossy and matte paper. The glossy pack costs $38 and comes with 150 sheets of paper, while the matte pack costs $32.30 and comes with 100 sheets of paper. This works out to a per-print cost (for paper and ink) of 25.3 cents for glossy and 32.3 cents for matte. These costs are in line with those from Epson's competitors.
The Epson PictureMate Dash is primarily designed for standalone use without a PC, but you can connect it to a PC using the available USB connection. It comes with a power cable and converter, but if you want to use it on the road, Epson offers an optional lithium-ion battery for $50. (Epson also offers a carrying case so you can consolidate the printer and any accessories--including extra ink and paper--into a handy package.) If you'd like the option of wireless printing, you can buy the optional Bluetooth adapter that plugs into the host USB port in the rear.
You get a few handy options for how to display photos on the large LCD. The standard view shows a slightly cropped version (top and bottom) of each photo, with information such as how to select the photo, the total number of photos you've selected to print, and the number of the particular image overlaid. If you want to see the entire image without the crop, you can go to the full view. Other options include a half-size version with five thumbnails arrayed across the bottom (the image you're looking at and the two on either side) and a 16-image thumbnail view. Within each view, you can choose the picture you want printed and change the number of prints desired. If you want to enjoy your pictures without printing, you can turn on the slide show option, as well.
In the main menu, you can select all the photos or just those taken on a certain date or within a range of dates. You can even select by source, if you have both a memory card and a storage device plugged in. The USB drive can be used not only to connect PictBridge cameras, but also flash thumbdrives, USB hard drives, and even USB CD/DVD drives. Once an external device is connected, you can transfer images from your memory card to the storage device, or you can print photos from the storage device. This even works for CDs and DVDs: If you've connected a USB disc burner, you can burn the contents of your memory card to disc, and you can print images saved to a disc.
Once you've picked photos, you get plenty of layout and editing options. Layout choices include a proofsheet, wallet prints (various sizes), passport prints, four-image and 10-image portrait packages, and a CD index, among others. You can also choose between automatic and manual photo enhancements. Automatic choices include standard, people, landscape, and night scene. Manual options are brightness, sharpness, and saturation. You can rotate and crop photos, add color effects (black and white or sepia), remove red eye, or add decorations. The decorations are limited and random. They include thought bubbles, framed white space for adding handwritten text to a print (there's no way to add text using the printer), and a few odd icons such as hearts, bubbles, and tiaras. Like we said: random, and not particularly useful.
The feature set on the PictureMate Dash is solid. It offers a lot more than the competition, in terms of PC-free operation.
Compared to similarly priced snapshot printers, the Epson PictureMate Dash was fast, improving on the speeds of the previous generations of PictureMates. It produced 4x6 photos at a rate of 1.42 prints per minute. The 2006 low-end PictureMate, the Pal, scored 1.0 pages per minute, while the higher-end PictureMate Snap scored 1.24 pages per minute. Canon's $100 offering, the Selphy CP740 scored 0.92 page per minute, while the HP Photosmart A526 only managed 0.7 page per minute--half the speed of the Dash.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unfortunately, the PictureMate Dash's print quality is nowhere near as impressive as its print speed. Our 4x6 prints were grainy, to the point that some items in the picture looked fuzzy around the edges. Additionally, the grayscale showed severe compression in the dark end, and we noticed that lots of details were lost in the shadow area. The color was a bit bland overall and didn't pop. The quality is fine for casual snapshots for the refrigerator, but we would want better quality for framing or photo albums.
Service and support
Epson backs the PictureMate Dash with a standard one-year warranty. If you need tech support, you can call on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (PT). Unfortunately, it's a toll call. Alternatively, you can e-mail tech support using the online form at Epson's site. Other support options include manuals and documentation, FAQs, and drivers and downloads.