Category: Printers and Scanners

Product Review–HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw colour laser multifunction printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw colour laser multifunction printer which is an entry-level colour laser multifunction printer that is enabled for HP’s ePrint and Apple’s AirPrint “driver-free” network printing technologies.

HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw colour laser multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser xerographic 1200 dpi Resolution   Super G3 with colour receive   Ethernet
802.11g WPA2 WPS Wi=Fi
  Automatic Document Feeder   HP ePrint   IPv6 ready

ePrint functionality is available with a firmware update available after December 13 2010.

Prices

All prices are quoted in Australian dollars as GST-inclusinve recommended retail price at time of publishing.

Printer

The machine’s standard price $599

Inks and Toners

  Standard  
  Price Pages
Black $94.34 2000
Cyan $89.57 1300
Magenta $89.57 1300
Yellow $89.57 1300

 

There are no fees or charges associated with the HP ePrint service.

The printer itself

User interface

HP LaserJet CM1415fnw touchscreen control panel

The touchscreen control panel is the only user interface for this printer

This printer has a user interface that breaks away from the typical multifunction printer that I have reviewed. Here, it uses a colour touchscreen user-interface as the main control panel. The only real hardware switch that exists on the printer is the power on-off switch on the side.

I would say that this has been brought on through the popularity of touchscreen smartphones amd tablet MIDs based on the Apple iOS, Android and  Windows Phone 7 platforms. The user interface also is augmented with quick-navigation touch-buttons that light up as required in a “pinball-machine” manner so you can get to the home screen, browse pages on some menus or cancel an operation.

This has allowed HP to apply design flexibility when it comes to integrating the ePrint print-apps functionality which I will be talking about later. As well, HP are able to use a smaller control panel area on a desktop laser multifunction printer while avoiding the problem of reducing the machine’s ergonomics and useability. 

Network connectivity

The printer can work with Ethernet or 802.11g WPA2 Wi-Fi networks. When you enrol the printer in to a Wi-Fi network and you need to enter a WPA-PSK passphrase, you have an alpbabetic keypad on the touchscreen to enter this detail. If the Wi-Fi router or access point supports WPS “quick-setup”, this printer does support the functionality.

It is also worth noting that if you connect the printer to a network via the Ethernet connection, this automatically overrides the Wi-Fi connection. This will mean that you don’t have to do any further configuration if you find that Wi-Fi is too unreliable and you decide to connect it to an Ethernet or HomePlug connection instead.

There could be an option for the user to set up the printer to become a Wi-Fi access point if the printer is connected to the network via an Ethernet connection. This can come in handy if the printer is used in an area where there is insufficient signal strength for the wireless network and it is connected to the network via an Ethernet or HomePlug link.

Walk-up functions

Copy

This unit is capable of working as a basic laser-based colour copier but as the ID copy function as its unique feature.

ID copy

One feature that is peculiar to this machine so far is an “ID copy function” where you can copy both sides of a small document like a business card, ID card, passport or endorsed cheque on to one side of an A4 sheet of paper. This feature has become more important as most business transactions are increasingly requiring one of the parties to present an identification document.

Here, you place one side of the document on the left side of the scanner glass then touch START. The machine will scan that one side, then you turn the document over and place it on the right side of the scanner glass and touch “Done”. Then the machine will turn out a 1:1 copy of both sides of that document.

At the moment, this function doesn’t support the ability to scan both sides of an ID document on to one file or send both sides of an ID document as a fax.

Book-friendly automatic-document-feeder lid

This printer has the typical automatic document feeder that is part of the lid, But it has been also designed so that the lid is able to lift up rather than be hinged in the conventional manner. This can come in handy when you copy, fax from or scan bound documents like books.

Fax

The fax subsystem uses flash memory rather than RAM to store faxes that are to be sent or received faxes. This effectively eliminates the vulnerability of received or pending faxes to a power failure which is a common issue with most fax equipment. It therefore supports a comprehensive “fax vault” function which allows the user to release received faxes upon entry of a password, thus avoiding the situation of confidential faxes falling in to the wrong hands.

There are a few limitations however such as the inability to send colour faxes and no support for T.37 or 7.38 Internet faxing. This latter function would allow the fax to work with IP-based telephony setups that are going to become the norm over the next few years.

USB port and walk-up printing / scanning

The USB port on the front of the machine allows one to print a document or photo held on a USB thumb drive or scan to a USB thumb drive. This function could be augmented with a card slot for memory cards or PictBridge “print-from-camera” functionality.

It doesn’t seem to allow the user to start a scan job which ends up at a nominated computer from the control panel. This is a feature which I consider a serious omission because all of the network-enabled multifunction printers that I have reviewed other than this machine do allow the user to specify which computer a scan job ends up at and what application is to benefit from the image.

Quick-forms and HP Print Apps

This unit has a “quick forms” functionality for printing out stationery like graph paper, ruled paper for handwriting, checklists and music manuscript paper. Like the other HP printers, the graph paper and music paper is relatively limited in what you can specify like 5mm or 1/8” for graph paper; or 10 staves in portrait or 8 staves in landscape for music paper.

The HP ePrint setup allows users to download “print apps” which allow a user to print out documents like newspapers, stationery, colouring pages and the like from the printer’s control panel. It also gives the printer a unique email address which works as an “email-to-print” service in a similar vein to the previously-reviewed HP Photosmart B110a. The “email-to-print” service could support a “fax vault” function to delay release of jobs unless a code is entered in to the machine.

I would like to see this printer become equipped with functionality which allows controlled or accounted ePrint job release so it can become a public printer for use with wireless hotspots and other public networks. Here, it could then be feasible for the organisation who runs the hotspot to charge for printouts to recover running costs, use a branded “drop-box” Web page for users to submit print jobs to print or even integration with hotel billing systems.

This issue, alongside the availabilty of many quality walk-up printing apps for this printer class, will be likely to appear as the ePrint platform matures over time.

Computer functions

Driver Installation and Performance

The printer comes with driver CDs for the main operating systems and supports Windows 7 and MacOS X Snow Leopard. It could use the same installation method that was used with the LaserJet M1210 Series multifunction printer where the driver software was kept on the flash memory rather than on CDs that come with the machine.

The drivers offer the basic functionality expected for a small-business printer and don’t offer a confidential-print mode where jobs can he released at the printer using a user-determined password.

Printer performance and image quality

The printer does work efficiently when a print job comes in while it is in standby mode. Here, it will take 12 seconds from when you start a document-based print job at your computer for it to start printing. Then it takes 5 seconds per page to print the job.

It will take a longer time to print highly-detailed photos or other bitmaps and ends up powering down the print engine between each page,  but is quick with text-based material.

When the printer turns out photographic material on plain paper, the images come out darker with colours that  are saturated stronger in comparison to the other colour laser printers that I have tested. The dark print output is a similar issue with laser printers when they print this material on plain paper.

Other issues of note here

The printer is likely to jam if the paper is restocked while it is printing, a common practice that most people do if the printer runs out of paper during the print job. Here, you have to wait until the pages stop coming out of the printer and the motor stops before adding paper during a print job or fax-receive even if the machine’s display shows the “paper-out” message.

Like a lot of printers that I have used and reviewed, this printer could benefit from more flash memory especially as the cost of this kind of memory comes down.

A problem I have noticed with this printer, along with other Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printers is that you can’t buy a “high-capacity” toner cartridge for these printers. This may be of limitation to users who either want to run high-capacity cartridges for reduced “per-page” printing costs or avoid the need to frequently buy and reload toner cartridges in their machines. It may also affect users who are used to inkjet printers that have high-capacity cartridges as an option or users who like to run standard cartridges but need to run high-capacity cartridges for intense print runs.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

This printer may come in handy as an organisation’s first colour-laser multifunction printer or as a low-duty “quality laser” secondary multifunction printer like a reception-desk unit. The unit’s “fax vault” function could appeal to organisations who handle confidential data but have contract staff coming through the premises “out of hours”.

It wouldn’t work well as a primary printer on a site where many jobs have to be turned out in succession.  The lack of an auto-duplex mechanism would impair its ability as a publishing printer and would reduce its “green” credentials a bit.

Therefore I would find that this colour laser printer can become a difficult option to consider for an entry-level colour laser multifunction printer for a small business especially as the high-end colour inkjet multifunctions that are pitched at thsi class of user are  approaching it for speed, quality and print economy.

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Product Review–Brother MFC-9840CDW colour laser multifunction printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-9840CDW colour laser multifunction printer which is pitched as a general high-throughput document “workhorse” for a small to medium business.

Brother MFC-9480CDW colour laser "document centre"

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour 1 x A4 USB
Laser Xerographic 2400dpi Super 3G fax Optional high-capacity A4 tray Ethernet
802.11g WPA2 WPS wireless
Auto-Duplex Double-side automatic document feeder POP3/SMTP email-based fax (T.37)

Prices

Printer

RRP: $1599

Optional Extras:

High-capacity secondary paper tray: $299

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black $112.95 2000 $171.95 5000
Cyan $131.95 1500 $258.95 4000
Magenta $131.95 1500 $258.95 4000
Yellow $131.95 1500 $258.95 4000
Servicing
Drum Kit $356.95 17000
Belt Kit $179.95 50000
Waste Toner Kit $29.95 20000

The printer itself

Network connectivity

This machine can connect to a network using Ethernet cable or 802.11g Wi-Fi wireless. When you enter the WPA-PSK network password, you can use the numeric keypad to enter it “SMS-style”. I have tested it on Wi-Fi wireless and it hasn’t “gone off the radar” on the network even if it goes in to energy-save mode. Still, I would prefer printers like this one to be connected to am Ethernet or HomePlug powerline network rather than using a wireless network.

User interface

The printer uses a bitmap monochrome display which is backlit using a white light and it can make the display easier to read. As well, the typefaces for the display are easy to read even for people with limited sight. The keyboard is also laid out in a logical manner and is easy to read.

Brother MFC-9840CDW Control panel

Control panel

Brother MFC-9840CDW control panel with LCD lit

Control panel with LCD display lit - easy to read

Fax functionality and IP-faxing

The unit has regular support for Super G3 colour faxing over the regular telephone line service to a standard of a business-class fax machine.  This unit can only accept fax documents from the scanner or a computer which uses the “print-to-fax” driver supplied by Brother.

It has inherent support for email-based (T.37) IP-fax operation as well as regular Super G3 colour faxing over phone lines. This is whether it works as a receiving / transmitting endpoint or as an “off-ramp” to regular fax machines. Users can enter their destination email addresses from the control panel by using the numeric keypad in a manner similar to entering text on a mobile phone. But, as I have mentioned before in the Brother interview and an article on IP-based faxing, this feature is very hard to provision and use. The owner needs to establish a separate email address for best results as well as know the SMTP and POP3 details for their email service. Also, at the moment, it doesn’t support any colour “fax-over-email” functionality because as far as I know, this standard doesn’t have any support for colour transmissions.

When you fax from the unit, there is twenty buttons for one-touch dialling but there is also a “shift” key to gain access to a further twenty fax numbers for one-touch dialling. This also works in addition to a large “speed-dial” registry for other regularly-used fax numbers. This registry can also handle email addresses for T.37-compliant IP-based faxing as an alternative to regular telephone numbers.

Printing colour photographs from a digital camera

The unit doesn’t have a colour LCD display nor does it have SD card slots for printing of images from digital-camera cards. But it uses an up-front USB port which allows you to print images from PictBridge-enabled digital cameras, camcorders and mobile phones. The same port can be used to print TIFF, PDF, JPEG and XPS files from USB memory keys but you would have to know your desired image’s or document’s file name and where it is on the USB memory key.

When you print photographs, the pictures come out rather dark and this may be a consequence when a colour laser printer is used to do this job on plain paper. It can be good enough when you need “there-and-then” hard copy of pictures on a digital camera. As well, like all other multifunction printers you aren’t able to send pictures by email or fax from the USB slot or PictBridge.

Scanner and automatic document feeder

The scanner uses a conventional fluorescent lamp to illuminate the document rather than the LED “bar” used in all of the other multifunction printers that I have reviewed. This may yield benefits by providing even lighting for scanning the work but can be requiring replacement on a regular interval for a busy machine.

There is a double-sided automatic document feeder but I have noticed that it has some problems in its use. Here, it can cause some documents to “buckle” up when they are being turned over and this behaviour is more so with older documents that are being scanned. This behaviour is also highlighted with the access panel at the top of the automatic document feeder “creeping open” during the duplex cycle. The ADF has a separate slot where the document partially comes out during the “turnover” cycle. It is also worth knowing that it takes 17 seconds / page to scan both sides of a regular office document.

The reason I am paying attention to this is because most businesses may want to use a double-sided automatic document feeder to expedite the scanning of documents for electronic archiving or optical-character-recognition. Similarly, they may want to use this feature to fax or copy both sides of a document.

Duplex automatic document feeder

Duplex automatic document feeder with narrow slot for paper to emerge when "turned over"

Printing

The printer is very reliable although, because it uses an older colour-laser print engine, the cost of replacement toner cartridges is more expensive than the HL-4150 machine that I reviewed previously.

Another penalty of the older mechanism design is a longer duplex-print cycle where only one page at a time can be printed on both sides. Other than that, the printer is very reliable especially when it comes to large print jobs. Infact I have sent through a single-side print of a 225-page document then followed it with the same document printed double-sided and the printer worked very smoothly.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

For a machine of the price range, it could benefit from a colour LCD display and could also benefit from a memory card reader for “ad-hoc” printing from digital camera memory cards. The automatic documet feeder could do with some improvement for a high-duty-cycle type especially when it comes to reliability when doing a double-sided scan of documents printed on older paper.

It, like most other fax-enabled multifunctions, could have support for a “fax-from-mixed-source” function where a monochrome or colour fax job to a single destination could be constructed from document pages scanned via the automatic document feeder;  document pages scanned directly on the scanner glass (such as bound or stapled documents and till receipts) and / or digital images from a digital camera or user-attached flash storage.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

This multifunction printer does work well if you intend to use it as a printer for many short-run colour jobs or use it as a high-traffic high-usage machine and not do much in the way of archiving older paper documents to electronic form.

The printer could be cheaper to run as far as materials are concerned if a business expects to buy or specify it for use as the only document centre for their operations.

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Considering printing on A3 in the office

Note for North-American readers: The paper size I am talking about here is the A3 paper size which will be roughly equivalent in purpose and size to the large “Ledger” paper. Printers capable of printing on the A3 paper size will be capable of printing on the “Ledger” paper size.

We are about to see the printer manufactures make cost-effective network-enabled printers including multifunction units that print on A3 paper for use by small and medium businesses. Some of the manufacturers are positioning these machines at the graphic-arts industries but a few manufacturers, namely Hewlett-Packard and Brother, are pitching most of these machines, especially their entry-level A3 machines, at the general office space in a small or medium business.

Businesses and organisations of this calibre may resist the idea of using A3 in the general office space due to machine costs but there are many valid reasons for using this paper size in this space.

Why consider A3 in the office

General office life

The A3 paper size can come in to its own with spreadsheets and similar information that is presented for meeting participants to see during the meeting. It can also make things easier when it comes to looking over a large spreadsheet. Sometimes, it can be easy to use the computer to prepare a table with some data on to the A3 sheet but create the space for handwritten information like newer data or anciliary notes taken during the meeting.

Similarly, graphic works like graphs, charts and diagrams have more impact once they are printed on an A3 sheet. As well, if the chart has more detail it benefits from the larger paper size because people can read the detail more easily.

As well, if you turn out signs using your computer and its word-processor or desktop-publishing software, the larger paper size of A3 can allow you to make signs with more impact. Again this is because of the ability to use larger fonts and make best use of graphics and stylised text.

Promoting your organisation

A3 sign used to promote an event

A sign written on A3 paper to promote a community event in a cafe

Most organisations can benefit from A3 as a promotional tool because of its large size. They could make their own signage that is more eye-catching even when seen from a distance. As well, they can make A4 booklets with the help of their desktop-publishing software or even just the printer’s driver. This can be made more easier if the printer has auto-duplex capabilities that can work on both sides of A3 sheets.

Real-estate

Real-estate agents can use the A3 paper size for printing out building plans that they receive so that they themselves and their customers can read the plans easily.

They can offer “premium treatment” on the shop window for their premium campaigns by using A3 window cards for properties that they sell using these campaigns. This will then attract more customer interest from street traffic for these properties. As well, most of the real-estate agents become involved in community-driven promotion efforts and they could put their A3-capable printers to good use for the community.

Food and Beverage

A restaurant, cafe, bar or takeaway outlet can make very good use of the A3 paper size with their promotion efforts as mentioned during my interview with Heidi Webster from Brother. For example, the small outlets could promote those food or drink specials, new menu items or special events on their walls or windows just like the “big boys”. They can also make use of the paper size to produce easier-to-read menus that are stuck on their walls and windows.

Schools, Churches and Similar Organisations

Organisations that undertake educational activities can benefit from printing to A3 when they make their learning aids. They can take advantage of using larger text and make best use of stylised text and graphics in order to make the posters more attractive and convey the message more effectively. There is also room for the organisation to insert more detail yet provide for readability as illustrated above.

If these organisations host events, they can make the A3 paper size come in handy with signage that is to do with the event. This is more so with the timetables and schedules that need to be published or exhibited through the event. They can benefit from A3 due to being able to include more information or presenting the information in a larger typeface so more people are able to read it comfortably.

For that matter, a few years after I published this article, I talked with a church pastor who owned the Brother MFC-J5720DW multifunction printer which has A3 print abilities shortly after I published the review of that printer on this site. He and I talked about how this printer, kept at his home office at the manse, earned its keep when it came to printing material destined for the church’s noticeboard.

How to go about it

Dedicated A3-capable printer

A dedicated A3-capable printer may suit your needs better if you have an A4-capable printer that you use for most of your printing tasks. These come in two forms: a wide-carriage inkjet printer or a colour laser printer which can print on A3 or A4.

HP OfficeJet 7000 wide-format printer

HP OfficeJet 7000 wide-format printer

The former printer typically looks like a regular inkjet printer that is “stretched out” lengthways and has a wider carriage that accommodates the paper. Most of these are pitched at photographers and graphics-design artists and cheaper versions often are designed for direct connection. They typically use photo-optimised inks and these can be expensive to buy especially for office-based use. An exception to this rule is the Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet 7000 which I reviewed previously. This uses the OfficeJet inks which have higher capacity and are cheaper to run; as well as it being designed to work with a network.

The latter printer type is simply a network-enabled colour laser printer that has the ability to print A3 paper. Typically these machines will have two or more paper drawers which can be set up to house any size paper up to A3. They are typically positioned as mid-range colour laser printers that are pitched at larger businesses and therefore have a longer duty cycle. They can be good if you are considering the benefits of colour laser printing and A3 printing.

A3-capable multifunction printer

Another way to go would be to purchase an A3-capable multifunction printer which has integrated scanning, copying, faxing (with some machines) as well as printing. Previously this class of machine was very expensive and only available to large businesses in a similar manner to an office copier.

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Now Brother have introduced compact A3-capable inkjet multifunction printers like the MFC-6490CW which I have reviewed on this site. They have been pitched at prices most small businesses can afford but there are cheaper varieties that can only scan up to A4 paper size. These units may be enough for the general office space because most documents that exist there are typically written on A4 or smaller paper. The machines that have A3 scanners may work better for graphics-arts industries as well as anyone who has anything to do with the building industry where there is a likelihood of handling building plans.

Since this article was produced, Brother, Epson and HP have competed with each other by offering at least one multifunction inkjet printer model in their small-business product range that can at least print on A3. Brother even took this concept further through the use of compact A4 multifunction printers which implement landscape printing that has the printhead work along the long edge of the paper. These printers do support A3 printing mostly through the user passing A3 paper through the manual bypass slot on the back but, in the case of newer two-tray variants like the MFC-J5720Dw, use a tray that can convert to holding A3 paper.

I would recommend use of these machines as replacements for existing multifunction “document-centre” printers rather than as secondary units. This is more so with home offices or small offices and shops; or bigger businesses who implement a large multifunction machine the size of an office copier can use these desktop printers as “private” machines that serve a particular office or suite.

Conclusion

I would still encourage an established small or medium business or organisation to consider the A3 paper size as part of their printing arsenal. This is especially when wanting to use it as a paper-based promotional or public-relations tool.

This article, originally published in November 2010, has been updated to reflect further experience with newer A3-capable multifunction printers both personally through the use of review-sample equipment and with another user who read my review of one of these printers.

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Product Review–Brother HL-4150CDN Colour Laser Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-4150CDN colour laser printer which is a dedicated printer based on Brother’s latest colour laser-printing “engine”.

There is a more-expensive “deluxe” variant of this printer available as the HL-4570CDW and this machine is  equipped with 802.11g/n WPS-enabled wireless networking out of the box.

Brother HL-4150CDN colour laser printer

Print Paper Trays Connections
Colour 1 x A4 Direct (USB)
Laser Xerographic Manual-feed tray Ethernet network
Auto-Duplex Optional high-capacity A4 tray IPv6 ready

 

Prices

Printer

RRP: AUD$599

Optional Extras:

High-capacity secondary paper tray: $249

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black $106.95 2000 $179.95 6500
Cyan $106.95 1500 $299.95 6500
Magenta $106.95 1500 $299.95 6500
Yellow $106.95 1500 $299.95 6500
Servicing
Drum Kit $259.95 25000
Belt Kit $179.95 50000
Waste Toner Kit $29.95 50000

All prices quoted in Australian Dollars with all taxes inclusive.

The printer itself

The local control console is based around a small LCD user-interface display which shows approximately how much toner there is left as well as the printer’s status. There is a group of buttons used for various functions like walk-up printing, and print-job management.

Brother HL-4150CDN control panel and USB host port detail

Control panel detail

The printer has a USB host port on the front for walk-up printing from a USB memory key. It can print PDF or XPS documents or JPEG and TIFF pictures. You have to use the LCD display to select the document or picture to print from and this can be difficult if you don’t know it by folder location and filename. This is something you have to do as soon as you insert the USB memory key in to the port because it will show the first file in the list of files that you can print when that happens. This function could be improved on by providing PictBridge functionality to print from digital cameras or mobile phones using the camera’s control surface.  <optional detail on USB port>

It also supports “confidential job release” where you can send the job to the printer but it isn’t printed out unless you are at the machine. The small keypad makes this function more difficult to operate because you have to “pick ‘n’ choose” numbers to enter the document-release password. This could be improved on by use of the USB HID device class to support the connection of a keyboard or numeric keypad to the USB port for entering this password.

Similarly, this same USB port could be used to connect USB flash storage for print jobs so as to provide increased print-queue capacity and fail-safe printing; or a Bluetooth radio module to allow a user to send print jobs from their phone.

The printer would take between 30 and 40 seconds to start printing even if it went in to a standby mode after a long period of inactivity.It will take 5 seconds per page for the printer to turn out a job, This is even if you use the inbuilt automatic duplexer where it will “draw in” and print the reverse side of two pages thus avoiding any time penalty associated with double-side printing.

The duplex-print functionality has support for a “booklet-print” function. This is where the printer scales the document so that two pages fit on each side of the sheet of paper and are sequenced in a book-like manner. Then the pages will be printed using the automatic-duplex mechanism. It can work effectively for documents with up to 6 or 8 pages and comes in to its own with food-service menus, order-of-service sheets and similar documents.

If the printer runs out of paper during a print job, it immediately continues printing from where it has left off once the user puts new paper in the paper tray and closes that tray. There is no need to press any button to continue printing.

Toner cartridges on drum-unit "drawer"

Toner cartridges on drum-unit "drawer"

In most cases, the printer is easy to service and maintain. The drum unit works as easy-to-load toner cartridge drawer so you don’t have to grope inside the machine to change cartridges. may have to remove drum unit and reach in to machine to remove jammed paper. There is a drop-down back panel for access to paper in the duplex mechanism but it can be dropped down for print jobs where a straight-through paper path is needed like envelopes.

The standard print-driver software is easy to use for most job-specification requirements but if you needed to use functions like Secure Print (confidential job release), you have to go to an “advanced” window to set these options. One feature that I like is that if an option is enabled, it is listed in blue on the left side of the window.

Brother HL-4150CDN Driver setup screen

Driver setup screen

Limitations and Points of Improvement

Like most printers on the market, this printer could support “CD-free” setup, whether through storing the driver set on flash-memory or using a link to the Internet to download the drivers.  As well, it could have the option to support “print-to-the-edge” printing for use in running off “full-bleed” print jobs or printing photographs.

As well, when I talked of the control panel and USB port earlier in the review, the printer could make better use of the USB port for activites like PictBridge printing.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

This is one colour laser printer that I would recommend as a dedicated short-order / “as-needed” publishing machine for a small business, church or other similar organisation. It doesn’t matter whether the organisation has a multifunction inkjet printer or monochrome laser printer for use with their ordinary printing needs or not.

Similarly this colour laser printer could come in handy for organisations who end up printing out “infill copies” of material that is printed elsewhere due to delays or short-runs or printing out test-runs of PR material before it is sent out for printing.

The high-capacity toner cartridges and the high-capacity paper-tray option can then come in to their own when you find that you do more of these print jobs frequently.

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Colour laser printers–Are they a luxury or not?

I have received two colour laser printers from Brother International on loan for me to review for this site. These are able to turn out large runs of high-quality colour documents very quickly but a lot of mainstream business users are hesitant to deploy them in the office. They may be used by people in the publishing sector as another tool for turning out proofs of publications. As well, larger organisations may provide a single machine for use by the marketing department for printing up marketing material. But typically, a lot of businesses limit their use because of the cost to buy and run these machines. There is also a fear that employees will use the colour laser printer for running off party invitations or publication material for their own school or community effort, rather than to further the needs of the employer’s business. As well, not many small businesses and community organisations do consider the purchase of a colour laser printer even though they may need to turn out larger colour print runs. Often they end up overworking a colour inkjet multifunction printer or outsource the job to a printing service whenever they do a large print run. A key user case for these printers would be anyone in the real-estate business. This also includes anyone who specialises in short-term or long-term property rental. These people would be relying on these kinds of printers as they turn out many different documents associated with the sale or rental of a property. But most users could use these machines for creating “as-needed” colour business stationery. Similarly, they could be useful for using colour in the reports and accounts that your business sends out. This could include preserving colour in your organisation’s logo.

Main benefits

Like its monochrome brethren, the colour laser printers have the ability to turn out high-quality printouts of documents and publications in a very quick time. But these units can do the same thing in colour and can work to a standard for proofing or short-run multiple-copy publishing. As well, like the monochrome laser printers, most of these printers can run for a long time before they need the toner replaced. They are also designed to handle large amounts of paper thus allowing for long intervals before you need to replenish the supplies. This also allows the printers to be considered on a “per page” level as being cheap to run and is more so with newer equipment.

Drawbacks

One main drawback is that the printers are initially expensive to buy and the cost to replace parts can mount up considerably. As well, because the mechanism has to print the four colours for process printing (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), it is a lot more complicated and this can be of concern with serviceability and reliability. Another limitation is that the availability and cost of special printing media may be limited compared to that for inkjet printers. This is because of the fact that these units use heat to “fix” the image to the media and the special media has to be designed to cope with this situation. In some cases, certain media like vinyl adhesive stickers wouldn’t be available for this class of printer due to the use of plastic as a writing media and also the use of an adhesive in the same media.

Features to look for

There are certain feature that should be considered essential for one of these printers, whether as a dedicated printer or as a multifunction unit. One is for the printer to be able to be connected to the business’s network via a Cat5 Ethernet “blue cable” at least. They may also come with an 802.11g or 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless network that works with WPA2 security and, preferably, WPS quick-setup. Another is for the printer to have an integrated auto-duplex mechanism which allows you to print on both sides of the paper. These should allow the whole of the paper face to be printed on when printing both sides and preferably there should be no time penality for doing double-sided printing. As well, you should be able to buy a high-capacity paper tray for the unit, whether as standard or as an optional extra. There should also be the option to buy high-yield toner cartridges so, with the combination of the high-capacity paper tray and these cartridges, you don’t have to attend to the machine frequently.

Conclusion

It is still worth considering putting the colour laser printer in your printing technology landscape especially if you intend to turn out a large number of short-run or application-specific documents. So have a look at the reviews of the Brother HL-4150CDN colour laser printer and the Brother MFC-9840CDW colour laser multifunction printer and stay tuned to this site for more networked colour laser printer reviews. While you are waiting, any of you can leave comments after this article about your experiences with buying or using a colour laser printer.

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HP Asia-Pacific Innovation Summit–My take on it

I have been following the HP Asia-Pacific Innovation Summit through feeds from Facebook and Twitter. It has become a chance for HP to launch printers relevant to the enterprise market but they have put the spotlight on a key feature.

HP ePrint

I have talked about HP ePrint when I reviewed the HP Photosmart Wireless-E B110a “network printing appliance” on this site. This printer had as its main party trick the ability for a user to forward an email to a specified address in order to have it printed out. As well, it was able to run apps like online colouring books or newspapers-on-demand downloaded from a special Website ran by HP.

Later on, I touched on Apple’s desire to have these printers work with their AirPrint setup for printing from iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad). From this event I had heard that 85% of smartphone users were wanting to have “there-and-then” hard copy of documents or other material that they bring up on these devices. As well, I had heard that the Apple AirPrint technology will be enabled on the LaserJet lineup of printers as well as the OfficeJet lineup of inkjet printers.

This event also was a chance to justify the business case for implementing HP ePrint technology in business-class printers. The main benefit was to provide accelerated mobile productivity because of its ability to satisfy the demand to “have hard copy now” while I use my smartphone or portable computing device. It also emphasised the fact that the printer is not just a dumb device but a fully-capable appliance as I have noticed with the Photosmart B110a.

Some put up an idea of using Instapaper “newspaper-on-demand” technology with this HP ePrint technology to provide a “hot-off-the-press” daily newspaper from these printers, As well, Matteos Del Campo who founded SPAN Architecture and Design had highlighted the ability to print plans for the Austrian Pavilion for the World Expo over the Internet from around the world using HP ePrint technology. This was done using the ePrint&Share plugin for AutoCAD.

I still had further questions to ask such as whether HP ePrint could allow for a “universal driver” setup and if this kind of technology, especially the “print by email” function, could support business operations who want to provide printing in conjunction with public Internet access.

Other News

HP also had used this event to launch the smallest colour laser printer which has the footprint of a typical desktop monochrome laser printer.  I had the usual reservations about this one as I have with other colour laser printers due to the cost of replenishing the printer

They had also introduced a “copy fix” technology that improves the quality of copies made from bound originals. This is by “squaring up” the copy if the original is not squared to the edges as well as cutting out the dark background that occurs due to the lid not being closed when you copy or scan these originals.

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Apple iOS 4.2 beta becoming enabled with handset-driven printer access

iOS 4.2 beta hits Apple’s developer portal, wireless printing dubbed ‘AirPrint’ – Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

HP ePrint enabled printers first to support printing direct from iOS devices |  The HP Blog Hub

My comments

A function that most of us who own smartphones long for is the ability to print documents from the smartphone using a regular printer. The main problem with this is the requirement for the computing device i.e. the smartphone to have drivers for the various printers that it will encounter. Typically this has been achieved through printer manufacturers providing free single-purpose apps through app-store platforms like iTunes App Store that only do a task like printing photographs on the manufacturer’s printer.

Now Apple have taken up the initiative by establishing a one-size-fits-all printing mechanism as part of the iOS 4.2 operating system. This mechanism is intended to work with the HP ePrint-enabled printers like the HP Photosmart Wireless-E printer that I previously reviewed but is intended to be rolled out to more printers offered by other manufacturers.

There are a few questions that I have about this wireless-printing platform. One is whether the platform is really reinventing the wheel that standards like UPnP Printing have established or simply is a way of allowing a manufacturer to market one of these standards under their own name?

Another more serious question is whether other handset operating systems and platforms like Android will implement the wireless-printing platform in a universal way at all. It may be easy to accept the status quo with Apple providing support in the next version of iOS but if this feature is to work properly, it has to work for other handset operating platforms and devices made by other manufacturers.

Other issues worth tackling include support for public-access printers, including secure job submission and collection as well as support for paid operation models.

This concept may open up a new field of access to hard copy for devices like smartphones and tablet computers as well as dedicated-function devices.

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Product Review – HP Photosmart Wireless-E Multifunction Printer (B110a)

An Internet-based printing appliance from HP

Introduction

I am now reviewing the HP Photosmart Wireless-E Multifunction Printer (B110a) which is the successor to the Photosmart Wireless (B109n) printer that I reviewed previously on this site.

HP Photosmart Wireless-E all-in-one printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour 2 x A4 USB
Inkjet     Receive e-mail from Web-based service   802.11g/n WPA2 WPS wireless

Prices

Printer

RRP: AUD$129

Inks

  Standard   High-capacity  
  Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$18.76 250 AUD$51.20 800
Cyan AUD$16.76 300 AUD$29.56 750
Magenta AUD$16.76 300 AUD$29.56 750
Yellow AUD$16.76 300 AUD$29.56 750

There are no fees or charges to use the ePrint service for print-to-email or the ePrint applications.

The printer itself

This unit looks as if it is a copy of the previous model, with the same compact black chassis and small screen with ATM-style operation and “pinball-machine” touch-buttons around the screen. The printing mechanism is very similar to the predecessor and using the same consumables.

But there is a lot more that meets the eye when you plug it in and switch it on,

Improvements over the B109n

Wireless-network setup

You will notice the first improvement when you set up the printer to work with your wireless network. Previously, if your Wi-Fi network’s router or access point didn’t support WPS “push-button” setup, you had to connect the printer to your computer and run the HP-supplied software to enrol it with your secure wireless network. With this model, you can enrol it with your non-WPS wireless network segments using the control panel. This is done using a “pick and choose” text entry method for entering the network’s WPA passphrase.

Another improvement is the ability to integrate properly with 2.4GHz 802,11n Wi-Fi network segments which means that you don’t need to “downgrade” your 802.11n router or access point to “mixed mode” or 802.11g for it to work properly.

The Internet-based printing appliance

The printer can now work as a network-based “printing appliance” for emails and MMS messages as well as being a network printer and scanner. There is also support for “print apps” where the printer can print out Web pages, RSS feeds, Sudoku pages and the like from the control panel. These are all set up by visiting the HP ePrint website (http://www.hp.com/go/ePrintCenter) where you establish an account using your Google, Facebook or openID credentials or site-particular credentials. Here, you enrol the printer by entering the device-specific code which is on an “ePrintCenter” sheet that is printed as part of the setup process.

ePrint Apps on unit's screen

ePrint Apps on unit's screen

Once set up, you have a machine-specific email address which you can add to your laptop, smartphone or MMS-capable mobile phone. Here, you then forward your document, photo or message to this address or add this address as a BCC address to an email to have it printed on the printer. This will then be printed out by this unit without you needing to have a computer at the same location switched on all the time. You may have to make sure you type some text before the photo if you are sending a photo by MMS so the ePrint service doesn’t reject your picture as spam.

HP ePrintCenter Web page

HP ePrintCenter management page

Similarly, HP have introduced “ePrint Apps” which allow you to print items provided by certain content providers from the control panel. I have talked about this feature on this site last year when HP released their first TouchSmart-based Web-enabled multifunction printer that had this functionality. One of these “ePrint Apps” that I like is the “Tabbloid” which allows you to have today’s posts from a list of RSS feeds that you select printed out at the touch of a button. Of course, there is the HP Quick Forms application which allows you to turn out ruled paper like notepaper, graph paper or music-manuscript paper using the printer’s control panel. This application still has some limitations like only being able to print 10 staves on the music-manuscript paper which is useless for certain music projects such as “vocal+piano”, quartet or organ pieces.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

On the other hand, the small control panel makes it harder to perform most walk-up printing tasks. Here, you have to highlight the task, touch “OK”, then work through menus to determine the task, which can make the whole process more difficult and confusing to perform and lead to more operation errors. This is a real limitation for older people or those of us who have eyesight or dexterity limitations.

As well, like the previous model, this unit doesn’t have Ethernet connectivity, which may be required if your Wi-Fi network is plagued with reception difficulties and you want to use HomePlug as an alternative networking method or connect it directly to the router using an Ethernet cable.

Some of these limitations may be to do with a common practice associated with the design of manufactured goods as the design nears the end of its lifecycle. This is where the manufacturer creates a model that is based on a common physical and mechanical design as other popular models that have the design but this model has a swathe of improvements over the previous models either in order to “finish off” the design or rush certain features in to that design.

Conclusion and Recommendation Notes

I would recommend this printer for home use as an entry-level network-enabled printer especially if you are moving towards the laptop-based wireless-network-driven “new computing environment”. It would also work well as a secondary printer for the study or kitchen area or in another building, especially if you place high value on the unit’s function as a “network printing appliance” that prints emails and photos that you send to it.

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Buyer’s Guide – Buying a network-enabled printer

Introduction

Your may be operating an old printer that is “on its last legs” or you may be considering a printer for your new computer setup. At this point, you are thinking of which printer to purchase as your next printer.

The printer market is divided between two classes of printer user – the consumer which represents a typical household; and the small-business market which represents small organisations and home-office users who use the printer as part of telecommuting. I am not focusing attention on equipment pitched at “enterprise” users because these units are typically either leased or purchased under operation-specific plans and have too much functionality that is out of the scope of this buyer’s guide and Website.

Why prefer a network-enabled printer

When you have a small network in place at home or in your small business, it is now a good idea to move away from the cheaper “desktop-only” printers and multifunction printer-scanner units which are typically connected to one computer using a USB cable, and move towards a network-enabled printer. These printers connect directly to your home or small-business computer network and are in a position to share their printing or other resources without you needing to have a computer running all the time for this to happen.

Sure, you could connect a desktop printer to a network print server, which is now one of many functions provided by most routers or network-attached storage units. But on the other hand, a lot of the desktop-only units come with software that makes them totally dependent on their host computer and they don’t work well with network print servers. In the case of multifunction printer-scanner combos, you may only be able to print to the device’s print mechanism – you may not be able to gain access to the scanner, fax functionality or secondary storage.

Multifunction printer-scanner combo devices also benefit from network connectivity because they can allow you use their other resources from any computer in the network. There is even the ability to “push-scan” documents to any particular computer on the network from the printer’s control panel as long as you have the manufacturer’s software on that computer. This is because there isn’t a standard ability to list all available scanning endpoints on a network as yet. Some units can also “mount” the camera-card slots in the printer as network-shared disk drives so you can import the pictures to the computer for “processing”.

The network-enabled printer can work well with the “new computing environment” because the laptop computers that connect wirelessly to the home network can send their print jobs through that network to the printer. This avoids the need to locate the printer and connect up the USB cable to your laptop every time you want to print something out. The printer would be connected to the network via whatever network medium works best for the situation whether it be Wi-Fi wireless; blue Ethernet cable, or HomePlug or MoCA “existing wires” technology. This also allows you to locate the printer wherever you want to, as long as it is connected to your network and to power.

The main exception to this rule would be a portable printer like Canon’s PIXMA IP100 which is designed for use as an “on-the-go” printer for a laptop user; or a printer that services a particular desktop computer’s computing needs.

Printer Device Classes

Consumer printers and multifunction devices

Examples: Canon PIXMA MX-350 and MX-870, HP Photosmart series

HP Photosmart Wireless B109n printer

HP Photosmart Wireless B109n printer

Canon PIXMA MX-350 multifunction printer

Canon PIXMA MX-350 multifunction printer with fax

These are printers and multifunction devices that are pitched at households to use primarily for printing “happy snaps” and other casual short-run print jobs, with occasional large print runs for homework projects and the like. They are often sold through the big appliance chain stores like Best Buy, JB HiFi and Harvey Norman and typically are finished in a cabinet that is attractive for home use. This is a way where manufacturers try to please the “woman of the house” with this class of printer by emphasising the machine’s beauty.

This class of printers always uses inkjet technology and the printing system in most of these printers is typically optimised for printing of photographs. This is typified through the use of photograph-optimised inks including five or six ink cartridges in some machines. In most of these machines, the paper-feed mechanism is optimised to handle “snapshot” prints with some machines like the HP Photosmart Premium Fax having a separate paper tray for 4”x6” paper.

The downside of this is that these printers are costly to run and, in most cases, they have a low duty cycle which will cause reliability problems for business users who run off many documents.

It is also worth knowing that most of the premium devices in this class are pitched as “home-office” printers and have business-ready functionality like integrated fax functionality or high-speed operation. This is although they are optimised for photographic printing and use the expensive consumer-grade photo inks rather than business-grade large-capacity inks.

Small-business printers and multifunction devices

Examples: Canon LaserShot series, HP OfficeJet series, HP LaserJet series

HP OfficeJet 6500

HP OfficeJet 6500

The printer equipment that is pitched at the small-business market is optimised for speed, efficiency and economy for a high duty cycle.

Most units will use inkjet printing although some models may use a laser or LED xerographic printing technology and one brand, namely Fuji Xerox, uses a “solid-ink” technology similar to how crayons work. This is although the output speed and quality of the inkjet printers is approaching that of equipment based on these other technologies.

There is much less importance on photo quality with most printers in this class because they are optimised for printing business documents most of the time. Let’s not forget that the colour inkjets in this class can do a good quality job of printing photos when given A4 or similar size paper. As well, they won’t have support for “snapshot” paper for use with printing “happy snaps”. Some manufacturers won’t provide a colour display on their low-end small-business models, which then will make it hard to print selected images from a digital-camera’s memory card, although they can print a DPOF print order that you determine on the camera from the camera’s memory card.

Network connectivity and setup

Connectivity

Most network-capable consumer-grade multifunction printers and a few small-business multifunction printers can connect to 802.11g WPA-PSK wireless network either with a built-in wireless network adaptor or a wireless network adaptor sold as an optional accessory. Some of the newer models in each class will properly support 802.11n wireless networks and may work with dual-band networks.

The mid-range and premium consumer equipment and all of the small-business equipment will have an Ethernet socket as a network connectivity path. This will provide increased connection flexibility such as the ability to use the “no-new-wires” technologies like HomePlug powerline or MoCA TV coaxial-cable networks as well as direct connectivity to a router’s or network switch’s Ethernet socket.

Wireless-network setup

Most of the economy consumer-focused models will require direct USB connection to a PC that is running manufacturer-supplied software to allow a user to configure them for most wireless networks. An increasing number of these machines may support WPS-based connection setup from the device’s control panel.

Better-equipped models will allow wireless-network setup for most home and small-business wireless networks at the unit’s control panel. usually with an “SMS-style”, “pick-n-choose” or virtual-keyboard text-entry method for entering WPA-PSK passphrases. Most of these models will not support WPA-Enterprise networks which are based around access to the wireless network based on user name and password credentials.

Network functionality

All of the machines will support network printing and if they have scanners, they will support network scanning. This will be in the form of allowing PC-initiated scanning to be started from the operating-system interface or manufacturer’s software, or device-initiated scanning as long as the host computer has the manufacturer’s software running.

Fax-equipped units can allow a user to send a fax via the network using the printer’s “fax” driver and some of the machines can send a fax to one of the computers in the network as long as the computer is on and running the manufacturer’s software.

Due to the cost-conscious manufacturing practices that exist in the consumer and small-business class of printers, there isn’t the likelihood of the printers supporting “on-device” print-job spooling where the print queues are held at the printer. Instead, the computers that prepare the jobs have to hold the jobs on their hard disks until the printer has finished printing the current job. There may be situations where there will be a “rush to the gate” to get a print job going when a print job is complete and two or more computers have pending print jobs. This feature could be made more available to this class of printer now that the cost of flash memory or hard-disk storage that is enough for this purpose has come in to ridiculously-cheap territories.

The network printing appliance

A new trend that is emerging especially with consumer equipment; and has been spearheaded by Hewlett-Packard is the ability for the printer to become an Internet-connected computer-independent “printing appliance” rather than a printer for computers on the local network. This is aided with a dedicated Web-based “online printing” portal created by the printer manufacturer where you manage this functionality. Here, the printer can be set up to print emails forwarded to a specific email address associated with that unit, print files uploaded to a particular Web page or print from special Web-based applications that are loaded on it.

Large-sheet printing

You may want to invest in a network printer that can work on paper sizes that are A3 or bigger, perhaps to print promotional material on large sheets of paper or to “run-off” hard copies of large spreadsheets.

In some cases, this may become more ecessary as organisations that you work with supply their “on-site” promotional material in a “download-to-print” form. This is where you download PDF files of the promotional material from a Website or receive the PDF files as an email attachment, then you print these PDF files out.  For these organisations, it is a cheaper option because they don’t have to print out and deliver or post the material to the sites where it is needed and they can focus the material to particular locations in an easier and quicker manner.

At the moment, there aren’t many network-enabled printers that can do this kind of printing, especially at an affordable price. The printers that do this functionality are usually single-function units that are to be connected to their host equipment through a USB or similar connection. There are some exceptions to this rule as mentioned below.

Hewlett-Packard have two network-connectable single-function printers that work with A3 paper: the OfficeJet 7000 colour inkjet printer, reviewed in this site; as well as the Color LaserJet CP5225dn colour laser printer.

HP OfficeJet 7000 wide-format printer

HP OfficeJet 7000 wide-format printer

Brother have introduced a few network-enabled inkjet multifunction units that can print on A3 paper. One of them, the DCP-6690CW, also has an A3 scanner, which would make it functionally equivalent to the typical office photocopier of the mid 1980s. This is insofar that these units could copy A3 to A3 or do tricks like reducing an A3 document to A4 or enlarging an A4 document to A3. These printers have two paper trays so you can load one of them with A4 paper for regular use as well as the other with A3 paper for those large documents.

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

The best idea for most small businesses who want to fill these needs at the moment would be to obtain a wide-format colour inkjet that is capable of being hooked up to a network, such as the HP OfficeJet 7000. If they have a need to do an increased number of mid-to-high-volume A3 print runs, they may be in a better position to go for an A3-capable colour laser printer. This is in addition to a good inkjet or laser multifunction unit that connects to the network.

Consumables issues

Original-brand consumables vs generic-brand consumables

There is an ongoing issue concerning the use of generic-brand or private-label inks and toners for printers compared with using the inks and toners supplied by the manufacturer under the manufacturer’s own brand.

Most printer manufacturers often sell their consumer-market printers on a “razor and blades” model where they sell the printer cheaply but make up on the losses involved by selling highly-priced inks and toners. This is similar to how the razor manufacturers sold low-cost interchangeable-blade men’s razors but required that the customers bought their expensive replacement blades to work with these razors.

But there are some third-party suppliers who supply inks and toners that can work in a similar manner to the original-part cartridges and these may be sold direct or through smaller retailers. Some other retailers may sell these inks under one of their own private labels. The main issue with these cartridges is that the ink or toner may not yield the same high-quality output as the original-part cartridges. As well, the printer manufacturer doesn’t cover faults caused by the use of these generic-brand inks in the machine’s warranty or service contract.

The output-quality issue may not matter with routine jobs like faxing or printouts of emails, database reports or downloaded PDF documents intended for immediate reading but may matter with quality-sensitive material like photographs, presentation handouts or proofs. Another issue that may be of concern is that some of these cheaper inks may fade over a long time which may be of concern for photographs or documents intended as paper archives. In some cases, particularly with very cheap generic-brand consumables, there may be damage caused to the printer by their use.

On the other hand, there may be companies who will offer to sell consumables that are the same standard as the original-brand consumables but under their own label. It may be in the form of “clean-skins” that are consumables of a standard equivalent to original consumables loaded into “white-label” cartridges or simply consumables built by and for original-brand companies but sold under a private label, both practices that may be more prevalent in the USA and Canada but not so much in Europe or Australia.

It would be worth making sure that if you use generic-brand or private-label consumables that you use those consumables that are known to be good quality and you may have to remember that use of them may be suitable only for “rip-and-read” printing.

Use of aftermarket continuous inking systems

There are some firms who offer aftermarket continuous-inking systems for certain inkjet printer models. These are devices which draw ink from larger containers and feed the ink in to special cartridges that are installed in the printer. They are valued because they improve the printer’s economy and allow the printer to run for a long time without the need to purchase or install new cartridges.

Like generic-brand inks, these inking systems are not endorsed by the manufacturers as approved accessories and won’t be covered by the printer manufacturer’s warranty. So you would need to make sure you are using a good-quality continuous-inking system that is supplied by a reputable supplier.

Another issue worth knowing about with these systems is what is involved with maintaining them. This includes adding extra ink or handling ink or hose blockages; or air-locks as well as preventative maintenance. Some systems may require intensive end-user training and this may be of concern with workplaces where there are many different staff members coming through the business.

What to look for

When you buy a printer or all-in-one, you may find that buying the cheapest model, especially the cheapest consumer-grade model, may be penny wise but it can end up being very pound foolish.

Operation economy

You will need to look for a machine that is cost-effective to run in your operating environment. It may be cheaper to buy the consumer-focused model for your home office or small business, but you will find that these models will become expensive to run because of their low-capacity ink cartridges, whereas the expensive small-business models will end up being cheap to run due to their higher-capacity cartridges.

A good question to ask is whether you will be running many documents out of that machine. This will include, for fax-enabled all-in-ones or units with “email-to-print” capability, whether you will be receiving many documents, including “deliver-by-fax” periodicals, by fax or email-to-print.

Ease Of Use

The machine should be easy to use, especially for what you want it to do. Such a unit will end up being worth using by everyone at home or in the business because they don’t have to be involved in performing ridiculously difficult tasks in order to use it fully.

Firstly, you should be able to load paper and ink / toner cartridges without having to spend a long time “fiddling around” with or in the machine. This includes making sure that any lids that you need to open don’t require much effort to lift and can stay open without you needing to move a stay in to place. The cartridges shouldn’t need any extra effort to insert or remove. These factors are more important for machines used by older adults who may be losing their physical strength.

It also includes easy access to the paper path so you can rectify paper jamming and similar problems.

The print drivers should be easy to install for anyone who is competent with the computer operating system that they use. The instructions should be easy to understand and easy to follow, and the experience should be friendly.

If you use a multifunction printer from its control panel for tasks like scanning, copying or faxing, the display should be easy to read and the controls easy to identify and follow. If you print from a camera card, the machine should have a colour display that can show the pictures so you can choose whichever one to print.

Reliability

The printer should be able to handle a large print or scan job without jamming or saying it’s out of paper when there is paper in the unit. This is also important for machines that use extra paper handling like automatic duplexers, multiple paper trays or automatic document feeders.

You may find that your new printer will perform ultra-reliably during its first few years of service but will start to show problems after a good run of documents or as it ages. Here, it may be worth paying attention to the warranty that the manufacturer provides for the machine or specifications like mean-time-between-failures or duty-cycle to ascertain how reliable it is likely to be.

Similarly, the printer should be able to stay on the network while doing large print jobs. This may be a problem with some wireless models that go “off the air” during a print job. If this is important to you, it may be worth making sure that your printer has an Ethernet socket and purchasing a HomePlug powerline network kit or an extra “homeplug” if you have such a network segment running if you want installation flexibility and reliable operation.

What should I buy

Main printer for the household

An economy consumer all-in-one may be suitable as a first machine, such as when you use the wireless network for your laptop for the first time. This would be more applicable for a single person or couple with light printing needs.

A mid-tier consumer or an economy to mid-tier small-business all-in-one may work well for most houesholds as a main printer where a lot of traffic is expected. It would be also suitable for people who have a home office, whether they work primarily in another location or from home.

A premium consumer or small-business model is worth its salt if you are after the features it offers like high-quality photo printing for example. Some of the premium machines have fax capability which may be important if you need to send or receive faxes from home.

Secondary printer for the household

An economy consumer network printer or all-in-one can come in handy as a secondary printer, such as for children to use in the study for example. It would also go well for use in multi-building home networks where you want a network printer that is local to that remote building.

Main printer for small business

It is much wiser to stick to small-business multifunction models like HP OfficeJets for use in a small business or community organisation. If you intend to expect more printing activity, you may have to consider using a laser-based unit.

The feature set that you choose should be relative to what you expect out of your machine, especially the kind of printing that you may end up doing.

Secondary printer where main printer is a monochrome laser multifunction unit

For occasional colour printing jobs, it may be worth purchasing a network-enabled colour inkjet printer like an HP OfficeJet 6000. You may want to go for a wide-format machine like the OfficeJet 7000 if the kind of colour print jobs are primarily done on A3 or similar large paper sizes.

If you end up doing many colour print jobs, it may be worth looking at a dedicated colour laser printer because of these machines’ quick speeds.

Secondary printer optimised for quick turn out of receipts, etc

A networked laser or LED-based printer could do the job well for applications where you need to turn out forms, receipts and similar documents very quickly as part of your workflow. Similarly, these printers may also work well if you do large document runs like what would be expected in a legal office for example.

You may prefer a monochrome unit if the kind of work is primarily forms, receipts, large legal documents and the like or go for a colour one if you do some colour documents such as documents with photographic illustrations.

Conclusion

Once you know what the marketplace is like for your next network-enabled printer and know what to buy for your particular application, you can then choose a printer that will provide you with many years of reliable economical document-printing service.

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Product Review – Canon PIXMA MX-870 Inkjet Multifunction Printer

Introduction

The network-enabled printer that I am now reviewing is the Canon PIXMA MX-870 which is positioned at the top-end of the home and small-office / home-office range. It is another of the multifunction printers that are starting to complete a “bridge” between the high-end of a manufacturer’s consumer-oriented range and the low-end of their small-business range when it comes to inkjet-based multifunction printers.

Canon PIXMA MX-870 multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax Document Feeder Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour Double-sided 2 x A4 USB
Inkjet 2400dpi         Ethernet
Automatic Double-sided           802.11g WPA2 WPS wireless

Prices

RRP AUD$299

Inks

Standard
Price
Black 22.95
Cyan 22.95
Magenta 22.95
Yellow 22.95
Photo-Black 22.95

 

This printer is the PIXMA MX350’s bigger and more expensive stablemate but offers a lot more for the price. Most of the operations are very similar to the MX350, where the main functions are a button away. Even the quick-forms functions are similar in capability to what the MX350, with the support for printing music sheets that have 12 staves for composing and arranging “vocal+piano”, quartet or organ music.

The network connectivity is very similar to the MX350 where it can be hooked up to either a WPS-capable 802.11g WPA2-PSK wireless-network segment or a Cat5 Ethernet network segment. This can then cater for use with “no-new-wires” network segments based on HomePlug powerline or MoCA TV-coaxial technology when used with the appropriate bridge device.

The fax caters for the full requirements for single-line setups like FaxStream Duet (distinctive-ring) or automatic detect with telephone answering machines as well as the traditional dedicated-line setup. It can work “best-case” with colour transmission and reception.

There is even further improvement with receiving faxes where the unit can be set to print on both sides of the paper when it receives a multi-page fax. This feature can be very confusing when the fax is a separate pre-written document accompanied with a cover page or cover letter because the start of the document may be on the back of the cover page / letter.

It is also worth knowing that there is an optional Bluetooth interface kit which allows you to print pictures on your mobile phone using this printer or the MX350. This can also work with the 

Improvements over the MX350

5 Separate ink cartridges

Five separate ink cartridges

One major improvement that I like is that it uses separately-replaceable cartridges for each of the colours rather than a single colour cartridge. Here, you have 5 inks in separate cartridges which makes this printer more economical to operate

Paper handling

Front paper tray

Paper tray at front of the printer

There is a drawer on the front of the machine which is used for A4 or Letter plain paper. This drawer, which is referred to as the “cassette”, is where you would keep regular paper for use in ordinary print or copy jobs and receiving faxes while you use the rear feeder for printing on to special media like coated or glossy paper. When documents are printed from the paper held in this drawer, the paper path is a “horseshoe” path similar to many HP and Brother printers rather than the linear path used by Epson printers and Canon printers, including this one when it uses the rear tray.

There is also an automatic duplexer which I am very pleased with especially if you want to do your own short-run desktop publishing rather than just use it to conserve paper. Here, you don’t have forced margins or scaling involved and you have a very slight registration shift of 1 or 2 mm between the front and back sides of the page. The only limitation is that you have a 20-second per page time penalty when you print on both sides.

The automatic document feeder is also capable of scanning both sides of a page but it does this in a sequential manner. This can still benefit those of us who scan documents like accounts to PDF for electronic archiving.

User Experience issues

You may find that paper won’t load from the front tray and the printer will show “out of paper” errors for that paper source. This can be rectified by running the printer through a cleaning cycle for the paper-feed roller, which you do by pressing the “Setup” button and selecting “Maintenance”, then “Roller Clean” on the “Maintenance” menu.

Windows 7 users will notice that the printer isn’t replicated twice for the “print-to-fax” queue and the regular printer queue. What will happen is that when they click on the printer in “Devices And Printers”, they will see the printer’s Device Stage which is a “branded” user interface for the printer. If they click on the device status line in the Device Stage header to see what is yet to be printed, they will see a drop-down box which gives the user an option between the printer queue and the print-to-fax queue.

Limitations

There is still one problem with the software where the print monitor program can be out of step with printer, especially if the computer and the printer are working across the network.

Another limitation that I have found with this printer is that there aren’t any high-yield ink cartridges available for it, which can be of a limitation if you do a lot of printing or have to provide for a period where a lot of documents have to be printed like end-of-school-year.

Similarly, I would like to see the front paper tray be able to hold more paper, especially if you expect to receive more faxes or do a lot of short-run desktop publishing. As well, I have always said this that the printer manufacturers need to take advantage of flash memory being available at cheaper prices in order to provide for efficient print-job handling.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend this printer as another option for a home-office or small-business printer, especially where double-sided printing or scanning are required and the business places importance on fax capability. It would also work well for people who will want to use the automatic double-sided printing function as part of their short-run desktop-publishing requirements.

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