Brother's PJ663 thermal printer reviewed by tame zombies

I LOOK at printers the same way most people look at horse-drawn carts - as though the obsolete, slow and smelly contraptions should have been outlawed years ago.

"I printed off the map - "

"Too late, that guy showed me on his phone."

In fact, when I was sent the Brother PJ663 portable printer to have a look at, I stared at it for a week wondering what on earth I would use it for.

What made me keen to try it out though was that the whole unit was smaller than my forearm.

I did a bit of digging around and found out that this kind of appliance is usually used by emergency services in their vehicles so they can print cash at speed traps.

This makes sense, and given the option of connecting the printer via Bluetooth or USB, it's not hard to imagine a tradie printing invoices from their truck in much the same way.

None of this made any sense for me though. I'm not a tradie and I'm only a police officer one Tuesday a year and on religious holidays.

I called our review lab and had them organise a room full of zombies for me to test the printer on. The results are as follows.

Zombie A, codename Efficient, was able to install the driver software on our lab PC in under two minutes. We'd recently upgraded from Windows 8 to Windows 7 so system stability was maintained after a restart.

Zombie B, codename Diatribe, was able to connect and turn on the PJ663 within seconds. Problems arose when trying to turn it off, however, as the usual 'hold down the power button till it dies' method didn't work. Apparently you need to double tap the button quickly to shut it off. It will also turn itself off automatically by default.

Zombie C, codename Spearmint, had trouble keeping the special thermal paper straight while printing. The problem came from having to hit print on the PC at the same time as holding the paper with both hands. A little practice was sufficient to solve this issue. She then basked in the 300dpi monochrome glory.

Zombie D, codename Codename, tested the PJ663 with normal A4 paper. Nothing printed, but the next run with normal thermal paper seemed unaffected by the transgression against the natural order.

All four zombies then returned to reading the Courier mail to maintain their undead level of outrage.

While the mainstream uses of a portable thermal printer are scarce and specific, the combination of the optional long-life Nickel-metal hydride battery and the Bluetooth data connection make this a damn solid solution for mobile printing. I haven't had the unit out long enough to properly wear down the battery.

The unit itself is solid but for a slight bit of looseness around the top section of the feeder. The (only) two buttons on the device are sturdy-feeling membrane buttons that respond well to even stubby fingers.

The main fault here is the price. At $679 it's something you'd want to key up for tax time. For sporadic use it's probably not worth it, but for tradies or mobile small businesses this is a worthwhile purchase.

What: Brother PJ663 portable thermal printer
Why: Portable printing
When: Available now
Where: Anywhere, though close to a power supply is ideal
How: Can be purchased through