- Review Date: 10/09/2012
- Bottom line: Canon's latest thermal dye dedicated photo printer, the Selphy CP900, adds Wi-Fi as a connection option, but leaves out Wi-Fi Direct, which would make the Wi-Fi far more useful.
- Pros: Small and portable. Optional battery. Print pack holds both dye roll and paper for easy setup.
- Cons: Wi-Fi support lacks Wi-Fi Direct, which would make printing directly to the printer a lot easier.
Dedicated photo printers like the Canon Selphy CP900 ($99.99 direct) have become something of a niche product. HP doesn't offer any, and Epson, which hasn't offered a new model since late 2009, says it has no plans to announce any in the near future. Even Canon has stopped offering inkjet alternatives, limiting itself to thermal dye printers instead. If you need a portable, dedicated 4 by 6 photo printer, that makes the CP900 one of your few options. Fortunately, it's capable enough that it would probably be one of the better choices even if there were more competition.
In most ways, the CP900 is almost identical to the Canon Selphy CP800 Compact Photo Printer that it's in the process of replacing in Canon's line. Both are highly portable, both connect to computers by USB cable, and both also print directly from memory cards, USB memory keys, and PictBridge cameras. They also use the same supplies, with the dye roll and paper sold together, and the cost per print working out to 32 cents with the large economy size pack of ink and paper.
There's one big difference between the two, however, or two differences, depending on how you look at it. If you want to print wirelessly with the CP800, your only choice is to get an optional Bluetooth adaptor for it. The CP900 doesn't offer Bluetooth at all, but it has Wi-Fi built in.
A Word about Wi-Fi
The CP900's Wi-Fi is both a potentially useful feature and a missed opportunity, thanks to the lack of Wi-Fi Direct. Briefly, there are three ways to connect using Wi-Fi. Infrastructure mode lets you connect to an access point on a Wi-Fi network, and then print from any source that's also connected to the network. Ad hoc mode lets you connect directly between two devices, like the printer and a smartphone. But for ad hoc mode to work, both devices have to support it, and a lot of smartphones don't.
Wi-Fi Direct is similar to ad hoc mode in that you can connect directly between two devices, but only one of the two has to support Wi-Fi Direct to make the connection. It's also designed to make it much easier to connect than with ad hoc mode.
There aren't a lot of printers with Wi-Fi Direct yet, but it's beginning to show up in some models. Unfortunately, the CP900 isn't one of them. If it were, the Wi-Fi would be much more useful, since you'd be able to connect to the printer with any smartphone or camera with Wi-Fi. As it is, however, if you want to use Wi-Fi to print from a smartphone or camera that doesn't support ad hoc mode (or support Wi-Fi Direct by itself), you'll have to connect both the printer and the device to an access point first.
Interestingly the CP900 we tested was white, but the only choice on Canon's web site is black. Canon says that the site will eventually add the white version as a choice, however.
In any case (white or black, that is), setup is standard for a thermal dye photo printer. The CP900 itself measures 2.4 by 7.0 by 5.0 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.8 pounds. To set it up, you slide the dye roll in the side, load paper in the paper tray, and insert the tray in the front, which adds about 7 inches to the printer's depth. You can then plug in the power adaptor or connect the optional battery ($79.99 direct), and can rotate the 2.7-inch screen to make the display easier to read.
With the printer set up, you can print from a PictBridge camera or plug in a memory card or USB key and use the built-in menu to print. As is typical for dedicated photo printers, the menus are reasonably self-explanatory, and they offer some basic editing features, including the ability to crop the image for example.
If you want to print from a computer, you can install the printer driver from disc and connect by USB cable or Wi-Fi. To print from a smartphone or other mobile device, you'll need to download a free app, install it, and then establish a Wi-Fi connection. Canon says the current iOS version of the app will work with the CP900 now, with the Android version needing an upgrade that should be available before the end of the year.
Speed and Output Quality
For my tests, I printed from a microSD memory card, a USB memory key, a Canon PowerShot SX120 IS camera, and a computer running Windows Vista and connected by USB cable. The speed was nearly the same in all cases, with our standard test photos from the computer averaging 55 seconds each, at least one photo from each source printing at 54 or 55 seconds, and no individual photo taking longer than 62 seconds.
As a point of comparison, both the Epson PictureMate Show and the Editors' Choice Epson PictureMate Charm are a bit faster, averaging 41 seconds for printing from a computer. Unless you're printing a lot of photos at once, however, the speed difference isn't enough to be an issue.
Output quality is pretty much what you would expect from a thermal dye printer. Almost every photo was easily as good as, and in many cases better than, anything you'd get with typical drugstore prints. There is one exception, however. When printing from a computer—and only when printing from a computer—thin diagonal lines, like spokes of a bicycle wheel at some angles, come out jagged.
The good news is that the problem only shows up when printing from a computer, and only on a small percentage of images. If you don't expect to print from a computer, it's not an issue. Even if you plan to print from a computer, it's a minor issue at worst.
I'd be a lot more enthusiastic about this printer if it included Wi-Fi Direct. But given the price, it would be worth considering without any Wi-Fi at all. The Epson PictureMate Charm offers somewhat faster speed and a lower cost per photo, by about 7 cents each. But the speed difference isn't all that much, and you have to print more than 700 photos to make up the difference in initial price. All this makes the Canon Selphy CP900 a more than reasonable choice, particularly if you can make good use of its small size and easy portability.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.