Inkjet printing is a mature technology, which means advances in the technology are no longer giant leaps. Just about all inkjet (or bubble jet as Canon calls them) printers are capable of photo-quality output. Canon's latest offering is the Bubble Jet i990, which boasts high-quality output at lightning speeds, plus optional wireless printing.
Inkjet printers are often used in the home, so looks are more important than office laser-printers. The i990 has a brushed metal top - real metal, not just shiny plastic. This sits well on its own, or better still next to a G5. The PictBridge, the wireless print server, also comes in a matching metallic finish (though this time it's plastic).
The print quality is outstanding, with no hint of banding, grain, or any other artefacts: it could pass for a photographic print, even under close inspection. This is by far the best quality I have seen from a Canon inkjet, bringing it up to par with the top Epson and HP photo-printers. I'd like to say that it's better than the competition, but the top products in this area are so close in quality that it's difficult to say.
Once visual flaws are gone from a print and the colours are correct, there's little more to say. If you need a magnifying glass to spot flaws, then they aren't going to be seen anyway.
The print quality is largely due to the seventh ink - red. Seven colours means that the i990's colour gamut is extended. You may remember that the Epson R800 has eight ink tanks, but one of these holds a clear gloss finish, so it has the same number of colours as the Canon. While the quality is close, there's a major difference in the characteristics of the ink. Canon uses dye-based ink, while the Epson R800 uses pigment inks. This means that the Epson output will last much longer before fading.
One thing that does nudge the i990 ahead of the crowd, at least in one particular area, is the speed. The i990 has a high-density print head that covers a wide area with each pass. That means fewer passes, which adds up to fast printouts even when there's a lot of coverage on the page.
As ever, the speed relies to a certain extent on the processing power of the computer, but we managed to get a fully covered page to print in just over three minutes using a dual-processor G5. That's nothing short of amazing, even taking into account the G5's muscle.
The connection is USB 2.0, which will also work with the original USB 1.1 found in Macs older than the current G5s. There's a slight impact on the speed, but it's nothing to worry about. Even printing using the wireless option didn't do much to slow the printer.
The optional wireless print server, the WP-20, is a nifty addition, though you could get the same effect by plugging it into AirPort. If you want to match collars and cuffs, the WP-20 looks the part and costs £140.
The i990 is a fantastic printer - fast and excellent quality. The price is decent too: at £299, it's at the top end of the photo-printer range, but the quality and speed are worth it. My only concern is that the dye-based inks will fade quicker than the Epson R800, but Canon claims 25 years light-fastness on the right paper, so that should be enough for most people.
There are other thoughtful features, such as dual paper trays and a direct print port for printing from compatible cameras, which make this a great buy for any digital-photography enthusiast.