Showing off its prowess in both printer and computer technology, Canon Inc. has introduced a powerful 7.7-pound laptop with a built-in ink-jet printer. So small and unobtrusive is the printer that the Canon Note Jet 486 looks pretty much like a normal notebook computer.
Prices will start at $2,499 when the Note Jet 486 becomes widely available next month.
When it is equipped with an optional facsimile modem, which costs an additional $399 or $899, depending on speed, the Note Jet 486 can also serve as a plain-paper facsimile receiver and printer. No more will executives have to trek down to the hotel lobby to retrieve flimsy documents they have sent to themselves just to get a paper copy; no longer will they have to -- to an all-night copy shop to rent time on a laser printer.
The Note Jet is also a harbinger of future generations of mobile computers that offer many features that executives now enjoy in their offices. If a laser-quality printer can be tucked inside a notebook PC, it probably won't be long until we see built-in cellular telephones with answering machines, wireless pagers and beepers, send and receive facsimile capabilities with a built-in scanner, and even video cameras for remote teleconferencing.
But that's the future. For today, a miniature printer that adds only two pounds and perhaps an inch of bulk to a notebook PC is impressive enough.
"It's a pretty good deal, assuming you want to print on the road," said Charles LeCompte, editor and publisher of The Hard Copy Observer, a newsletter published in Newton Highlands, Mass., that analyzes the printing business.
Canon has made mobile printing as easy as slipping some office paper into a slot under the keyboard. The keyboard actually lifts off the unit when the time comes to print.
The documents, which can include transparencies for presentations as well as standard business reports, emerge from the back of the computer at a rate of about two pages a minute. The Note Jet can also be attached to other office printers, including faster laser printers, when they are available.
Until now, traveling executives who had an occasional need for printing relied on circuitous strategies like the hotel facsimile trick. The smaller number of executives and salespeople who routinely need printed documents -- for handing a client a life insurance proposal, for example, or for giving a customer the very latest price changes faxed from the home office -- the most common solution has been a portable printer, many of which are about the size of a carton of cigarettes.
But even the smallest portable printers have drawbacks beyond the obvious inconvenience of packing and carrying a second device. Many of them use special thermal paper that has a slick or greasy feel, hardly suitable for producing reports that one can hand to important clients.
The Note Jet eliminates both problems. First, there is no longer a need to carry an external printer, thus saving weight, bulk, cables and power adapters. Canon's bubble jet technology, which is an elegant variant of the ink-jet technology that forms images by spraying ink on a page, offers an impressive 360 dots per inch of resolution and uses standard paper.
Canon, or more specifically its Canon Computer Systems Inc. subsidiary ( 848-4123) in Costa Mesa, Calif., has done nothing less than eliminate the major barriers to peripatetic printing. But -- and this is a pretty big but -- it requires laying out a considerable sum of money.
"Another drawback is that both myself at my hotel, or I'd use otherpeople's printers when I visited their office, "he said. "But there havebeen times when I needed to make just one more foil for a presentationin the morning, and I had no easy way to make it at 2 a.m. At that pointI would have killed for this thing.
The computer itself is built around a microprocessor that Texas Instruments licenses from the Cyrix Corp. and calls the TI486SLC 25-megahertz chip. Purists note that the TI chip is based on a 386 foundation and is not a "true" 486 like those made by the Intel Corp. But the bottom line is that it runs all major DOS and Windows applications at close to 486 performance.
The Note Jet 486 comes with 4 megabytes of system memory, and can take up to 12MB. It has a built-in 3.5-inch diskette drive. The $2,499 base model comes with an 85MB hard disk drive. The Model 2, with a 135-MB drive, is $2,799. The Model 3, with a 180-MB drive, is $2,999.
DOS and Windows are installed on the hard disk along with a clever tutorial program that clearly demonstrates on screen how to change print cartridges, among other things. A mouse is also included.
(Peter Lewis works out of the New York Times' Austin, Texas bureau:  328-8258.)