HPRT MT800 Review
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HPRT MT800 Review

Jan 07, 2024

The HPRT MT800 ($289.99) is the first printer we've reviewed from HPRT, a Chinese company that was founded in 2012 and focuses on printers for mobile use, labels, receipts, point of sale, and other applications that rely on thermal printing technologies. The MT800 is a strictly monochrome portable printer, similar in size and weight to the monochrome Brother PocketJet 7 PJ763MFi-WK, but selling at this writing for only about a third as much. Other than the price, the key difference between the two is the technology each uses—the Brother model needs special-purpose paper but no ink or ribbon, while the MT800 needs a ribbon, but can print on plain paper. As a practical matter, that lets you choose whether you'd rather carry special paper with your portable printer, or extra ribbons instead.

Both the HPRT and Brother printers depend on heat for printing, but in different ways. The Brother printer uses the same thermal technology as in most receipt printers and fax machines. It requires specially treated thermal paper, which changes color from white to black when heated directly by the printhead. The MT800 uses a thermal transfer technique, heating a ribbon coated with wax to melt the wax and transfer it to the paper.

One potential issue with thermal transfer printing is that the type of paper can affect output quality. The wax won't adhere as well to the relatively rough surface of inexpensive copy paper, for example, as it will when using a more expensive paper with a smoother surface. The rougher the surface, the more likely it is to have breaks in lines in both 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 compared with the best the printer can do.

HPRT sells premium paper in packets of 50 sheets for $11.99 or 200 sheets for $20.99, but only in A4 size (8.27 by 11.69 inches). However, I found that 28-pound Hammermill Color Copy Paper delivered 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 when using 20-pound copy paper, the output quality was good enough for most purposes. (More on our quality test results later.)

One other potentially important issue for thermal transfer printing is that the ribbon retains an image of every page you print. For each page, the amount of ribbon you use matches the length of the page, even if the page has a single text character on it, and any wax that's transferred to the paper leaves just the transparent backing behind. 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 customer, you might not want to throw out the ribbon 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 consider whether it's an issue for yours. If it is, you'll need a different print technology.

The MT800 is available on Amazon at this writing in either white or black and a choice of bundles. The least expensive is $259.99 minus savings from a coupon that varies, but is $60 at this writing. The price includes the printer, the rechargeable battery, one ribbon, one 50-sheet pack of paper, and a USB Type-A-to-Type-C cable, for charging the battery as well as for connecting to a computer.

The most expensive bundle, which is the one reviewed here, is $289.99 before applying the $30 coupon that's currently showing. 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 bought separately, ribbons are $24.99 for a box of two, and the case is $25.99.

The printer measures 1.6 by 2.5 by 12.2 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.5 pounds. Setup and printing were both easy and mostly straightforward. HPRT offers drivers for iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, and Linux. I started by downloading the Android app to my phone, connecting via Bluetooth, and printing an email, all of which went smoothly from start to finish. I then connected to our standard PC testbed 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 printed in portrait mode instead, and some were resized to print at smaller sizes.

After poking around in the driver settings, I found that part of the problem is that the only paper size defined in the driver was A4, which is a little different from US letter-size paper. Much of the problem was solved by defining a custom 8.5-by-11-inch size and setting it as the 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 more important limitation is that the MT800 requires feeding paper manually, one page at a time. Printing on both sides is as easy as printing one side, turning the page over, and feeding it to print on the other side. However, you can't feed the next page in a multi-page print job until you remove the previous page to clear the output slot, which means you can't use fanfold paper to avoid manual feeding. This won't be a problem for printing short files, but it could quickly become annoying if you want to print many files longer than three or four pages.

Of course, it's unlikely you'll be printing many long documents with a portable printer to start with. HPRT rates the battery at 70 pages on a charge, and the ribbons as long enough to put out 48 pages. The cost per page for the ribbons works out to 26 cents. As a point of comparison, we calculated a cost per page for the Brother PJ763MFi-WK at roughly 10 to 26 cents per page, depending on which paper you use. Even if you plan to use the least-expensive choice for the Brother printer, however, keep in mind that it's the total cost of ownership that matters, meaning the initial cost plus the running cost. If you divide potential per-page savings for the Brother printer into the difference between the two in total initial cost, the result will tell you how many pages you'll have to print before the lower running cost for the Brother printer will make up for the extra cost of the printer itself.

The single-sheet manual feed made it impossible to run our standard performance tests, but I timed single pages of text at 22 to 24 seconds, plus however long it takes to manually feed them, which is fast enough for printing a page or two at a time. As a point of reference, the PJ763MFi-WK printed our 12-page Word file on fanfold paper at 11.5 seconds per page, not including the first page, making it about twice as fast as the MT800, even ignoring the manual feed time.

Print quality is best summed up as being good enough for text and some images, but not something you should count on for graphics or photos. The MT800 claims a 300dpi resolution, which matches the low-end resolution for laser printers, but that doesn't make it laser quality. All the fonts in our text tests that you'd consider using in a business document were generally easily readable at either 12 or 10 points on 20-pound copy paper, depending on the font. They were also readable at 8 or 6 points using HPRT's paper, and at 6 or 5 points using the 28-pound Hammermill Color Copy paper.

Graphics quality was good enough to make simple line graphics understandable. But in graphics that included adjacent objects with solid fills (as with bars in a bar graph, for example), the objects tended to melt into each other. And our line graph using a black background and color lines showed only two of five lines.

Photos were similarly hit-and-miss, with adjacent objects either standing out from each other or not, depending on the colors in the original. Ultimately, whether you'll be able to make any sense of a given graphic or photo depends on what's in that specific image.

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. Be sure to also 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 while on the go, you can't print until you get more.

You might also want to consider the Canon Pixma TR150, our current top pick for a color portable printer. Like all portable inkjets, it's bigger and heavier than the MT800, but it delivers better output quality for graphics and photos, along with color, and it also prints on plain paper. If you want maximum portability, however, along with a low initial price, and plan to print mostly text, the MT800 can do the job.

The HPRT MT800 portable printer can be a useful traveling companion, particularly for printing from mobile devices, but it's strictly manual feed—one page at a time—and its graphics and photo quality is uninspired.

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