Category: Printers and Scanners

Product Review – Brother MFC-6490CW A3-capable multifunction inkjet printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-6490CW multifunction inkjet printer which is one of the first products of its type to offer A3-size paper handling. This may appeal to you if you are likely to be running-off large spreadsheets, “download-to-print” display signage and promotional material, maps and the like on these large paper sizes.

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 multifunction inkjet printer

Print Scan Copy Fax Document Feeder Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour Single-sided 2 x A3 USB
Piezo-action Inkjet 1200 dpi Preset Enlarge A4-A3       Ethernet
            802.11g WPA2 WPS wireless

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$529

Inks:

Black: AUD$39.95 / cartridge (450 pages) 

Black – Double yield : AUD$59.95 / cartridge (900 pages)

Each colour: AUD$19.95 / cartridge (325 pages)

Each colour – double-yield: AUD$35.95 (750 pages)

A3 map on automatic document feeder

Can scan or copy A3 documents using its automatic document feeder

Paper handling

Brother has moved away from design practices that are common with most inkjet printers. First, they have used a U-shaped paper path which is similar to what is used in Hewlett-Packard inkjet printers. Here, unused paper is located under the output tray rather than behind the printer.

This has allowed for a design improvement where the paper is loaded in two removeable “cassettes” similar to how you load paper in to the typical office photocopier. These trays can hold both sizes of paper, but have to be expanded for larger sizes.

Copier-style paper cassette

Copier-style paper cassette

It can be fussy about which tray holds A3 paper, especially if the paper to be used is of a special type like glossy photo paper. As well, the unit will not be likely to work reliably if you load a small amount of paper in any of the trays, which you may do if you are using occasionally-used media.

The other key difference is the use of an Epson-style “piezo” inkjet mechanism where the ink is pumped to the print-head to mark the document. This is in contrast to how Hewlett-Packard, Canon and others heat the ink in the printhead to make drops fall on to the paper. There can be reliability issues with this kind of setup if you allow the ink cartridge to run bone dry because of air-locks but they can be rectified by your running the printer through a few head-clean cycles to get the ink flowing again. You can do this by pressing “Ink Management” on the control panel, then selecting “Cleaning”.

Brother have taken this further by locating the ink cartridges away from the print-head and using “capillary” hoses to pipe the ink to the print-head. The Ink cartridges are located behind a door on front of machine. One useability advantage is that you don’t need to lift a heavy lid to replace ink cartridges.

Ink cartridges accessible from front of unit

Ink cartridges accessible from front of unit

Network Set-up and Functionality

This printer is capable of working with either an Ethernet or 802.11g WPA2-compliant wireless network. It can support quick wireless-network setup with WPS-compliant access points and routers but it supports conventional WPA-PSK networks by requiring you to enter the passphrase using the numeric keypad in a manner similar to entering a text message on a mobile phone.

You can use the network for printing and scanning, whether initiated from the destination computer or the unit’s control panel. This will require that you use the Brother software that came with your printer in order to run a “scan monitor”. You also have “print-to-fax” and “fax-to-computer” abilities including the ability to allow the unit to work as a standalone fax for receiving faxed documents if the computer is down.

Walk-up functionality

Copying

The unit has just about the functionality that was expected of a mid-range office copier sold through the 1980s plus can do this with colour.

Here, you can enlarge and reduce originals, with preset ratios for enlarging A4 originals to fit A3 paper and reducing A3 originals to fit A4 paper for example, It also has a “book copy” optimisation mode for copying out of bound materials by using digital trickery to eliminate dark edges and skewing that occur with this kind of material.

Fax

This multifunction printer has all the support for most shared-line PSTN fax setups like Faxstream Duet and similar distinctive-ring services, telephone answering machines with proper end-user experience, as well as the dedicated-line setup. This is a boon for small businesses who are unable by cost or installation issues to set up the traditional separate fax line.

This unit is the first inkjet all-in-one that I have reviewed that provides proper “scan-then-send”  memory transmit for many fax jobs. This allows you to do things you are used to with a well-bred fax machine like scheduled sending (send overseas faxes to arrive at their machine “their” morning) or continuing to send documents to other destinations when one or more destinations is temporarily unreachable.

Print from camera cards

The unit does well with printing from camera cards but, like a lot of its peers, it “holds” the memory card for the whole of the print job even if it is just one image rather than copying the image to memory and releasing the card. This is simply because most of these machines don’t have enough memory for working with print jobs efficiently.

Printing tests

Graphics printing

I tested the Brother printer with a Transport For London transport map which covers the London “Tube”, “Overground”, Docklands Light Rail and other rail services covering Greater London. This map, which I have downloaded as a PDF file from the TFL website allows me to assess graphic colour handling (service lines) and printing and intelligibility of small detail (station names).

From this, it was able to work with small detail but can be hard to read with very small detail. For colours, they aren’t as vivid on plain paper unless you make sure that you specify “Vivid” in the colour option when you configure the print driver.

This isn’t an issue when working with glossy paper because the colours come up more vivid and more contrasty. I have had this printer print a photograph of some people and it handles the flesh tones properly. This is something that I assessed because the A3 page format may also appeal to those of us who are turning out rough drafts, mockups and the like for publishing of magazines and similar work.

Of course, photo-optimised paper yields the best results with more contrast and vivid results. If the work isn’t photo-based, the printer would work best with coated inkjet presentation papers for this kind of work.

Limitations and Points of improvement

The colour print output for graphics printing could be improved when you use plain paper. It is because most of us will work with plain paper either to print “download-to-print” onsite promotion material or run preliminary proofs on to plain paper through a project’s approval cycle. This could be achieved through a “proofing” or “plain-paper graphics” mode which optimises for this kind of use.

The unit could benefit from a “manual bypass” tray so you can load a few sheets of a particular kind of media without needing to empty out one of the trays every time you need to use specific media or do manual duplexing.

The paper-size auto-detect function could be made more reliable so you don’t have to re-determine the paper size through the control-panel or print driver menu if you want to use different paper sizes and types in any of the trays.

An automatic duplexer could be worth its salt as we are being encouraged to print routine office documents on both sides of the paper in order to save paper.

As I have always said, these printers need to benefit from more flash memory installed in them and used for holding pending print jobs. This particular unit would benefit more because of its A3 printing capability where these jobs can take a long time to turn-out. The cost associated of furnishing this memory is coming to the point where it will be ridiculously cheap to provide the technology.

Conclusion

This Brother MFC-6490CW is one of the first colour all-in-one inkjet printers on the market that can print to or scan from A3 or similar paper and this feature alone has impressed me. It is a good “all-rounder” for an operation where there is a desire to print to A3 but size is limited

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Product Review – Canon PIXMA MX-350 Network Multifunction Printer

I am now reviewing the Canon PIXMA MX-350, which is Canon’s mid-tier network multifunction printer. This is the first printer or multifunction device that I have reviewed on this site that is from another “stable” and it would be interesting to see how it compares with any of the equipment that I have reviewed previously. It can work with Bluetooth mobile phones if you purchase an optional Canon Bluetooth connectivity kit.

Print Scan Copy Fax Automat Document Feeder Paper Handling Connectivity
Colour Colour Colour Colour Single-Side 1 x A4 USB
Inkjet 600 dpi         Ethernet
Black + Colour           Wi-Fi G 
– WPA2 WPS
            Bluetooth (with optional kit)

Accessibility and Usage Notes

The printer has a styling that can look very confusing especially when you see the press photos or see the unit at the shop that you buy it at. It has a large body with a door on the front which is the document output tray. This can be opened manually or the printer drops this open when it starts printing. The top of the unit has a bay which you may think documents for scanning, copying or faxing but this area is where the documents are ejected from after they pass through the automatic document feeder. When you load the automatic document feeder, you have to open the flap in the middle of the top of the unit.

Canon PIXMA MX-350 ready to operate

Don’t think that if you lift up under the control panel, you will get to the inside of the printer as if to replace the ink cartridges. Here, you expose the scanner’s glass surface where you would put bound documents to be scanned. When you change the ink cartridges, you have to open the document tray manually then reach in further to lift the lid for the print mechanism. Here, this printer requires you to pull out a stay to keep the lid open when you change the cartridges.

Network Setup and Usability

I have set this unit up with the Wi-Fi network and had found that when you enter the WPA-PSK key, you have to use a mixture of “SMS-style” and “pick-n-select” text entry methods. It can also support “push-to-connect” WPS routers which should make the connection experience much easier. It can also be connected to an Ethernet network if you value the reliability of a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug) network setup or it is located near the router.

As far as the Wi-Fi network is concerned, it is responsive to print or scan jobs sent over the Wi-Fi network even if the machine had gone to a low-power mode after a period of inactivity. This is unlike some HP Wi-Fi printers that I have reviewed which require you to fully power them up at their control panel so they announce their presence on a Wi-Fi network if they have been in low-power for a while.

You still have network access to printing, scanning and faxing functions, with the last one being in the form of a “print-to-fax” function from other network computers. 

Canon PIXMA MX-350 control panel

Control panel

Functionality Notes

Walk-up Functions

Like most printers of this class, the “walk-up” scanning, faxing, copying and “print photos” are a button away. As well, the controls are laid out in a logical manner and the unit uses a bright display to help with job-specific configuration.

The menus on the control panel can be very trying to use especially if you use the wrong paper for a particular job. If the unit highlights an error with the paper type that you select for a particular job, it should then “move” you to the option concerning the paper that you select so you have the opportunity to change that option rather than throwing up the error message.

Faxing

The unit supports network-based as well as walk-up faxing for both colour and monochrome jobs but it doesn’t have functions that may be valuable for fax users. It supports user-defined “receive-to-memory” for noise-free operation at night or confidential document reception, but doesn’t support scheduled document transmission in any way.

Quick-forms

This printer supports a walk-up “template-print” function that works in a similar manner to the “Quick Forms” function on the HP Photosmart Premium Fax and other high-end HP consumer printers, where the printer can turn out pre-ruled stationery like graph paper, notebook paper or music manuscript paper. But this one has an improvement that will please the music composers and arrangers amongst us. Here, there is an option to print portrait-style manuscript sheets that have 12 staves rather than 10 which is important for work like “vocal + piano”, quartets or organ music.

The function could be improved on this machine with support for “landscape-oriented” options for some of the stationery like music paper. This function is available only through the unit’s Setup menu as “Template Print” rather than a dedicated button.

Reliability

I have run some large copy and print jobs through this printer and it is reliable enough to handle them. The ADF could handle a 20-sheet scan / copy / fax job properly and the printer can run the large jobs properly although you may have to remove the sheets from the output tray after every 50 or so sheets are printed.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One main limitation that I have found with this printer is that it uses a single colour ink cartridge rather than separate cartridges for each of the colours. This is a glaring omission because most of the equivalent models that are provided by the competing manufacturers have separate cartridges for each of the colours and would place this model at a disadvantage. The PIXMA MX-870, which has duplex printing, has support for the separate colours and this issue affects how expensive it is to run the printer. If the separate ink cartridge was to be kept as a product differentiator, Canon could provide an aftermarket option kit where the printer could be upgraded by the consumer to work with separate inks at a later date.

Another limitation that I would like to see rectified would be that the printer lid is held open with a stay that the user doesn’t need to handle, whether to open or close.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

If this printer used separate ink cartridges for each of the colours, it could stand a chance of being a serious competitor to the HP Photosmart mid-range network-enabled printers and earn itself a rightful place as a multifunction printer option for home-office or small-business use.

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Product Review – Hewlett-Packard LaserJet M1210 Series laser multi-function printer

Here, I am reviewing the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet M1210 Series laser multi-function printer which is a network-enabled monochrome laser printer with integrated scan, copy and fax functionality.  It will also be the first review where I will be providing a “functionality table” for each of the printers that I review

HP LaserJet M1210 Series multi-function laser printer

PRINT SCAN COPY FAX Document Feeder Paper Trays Connect
B/W Colour B/W B/W Single-side 1 x A4 USB
Laser Xerographic 1200 dpi         Ethernet

 Setup experience

This printer was the second printer that I had come across which didn’t need me loading a CD or finding a file on the Internet for me to set it up. Instead, I could find the file on a separate “drive letter” in Windows Explorer if I connected the printer directly. In the case of network connectivity, the printer lit up in the “Network” folder and I could right-click on its icon to open the printer’s Webpage. Then I clicked on the “HP Smart Install” tab on this Webpage and clicked on the “Download” option to start downloading the drivers that I needed.

My test setup involved the unit being connected via a HomePlug powerline network segment and it has performed equally well with this setup. This has also again proven for me that the HomePlug powerline network can work well where flexibility is desired such as temporary networks.

Printing and Copying

The unit was very quick when it came to yielding the printed output. It could come up from a “cold state” and start printing 5 seconds after receiving a print job and could start copying within 10 seconds of you pressing the “Copy” button. The pages then come out fast and furious at about 4 seconds per page.  Another thing that has impressed me is that if the printer needed to be restocked with paper during a copy job, it will keep scanning the rest of the originals in the document feeder while you load the paper tray.

I have noticed that the pages come much warmer that on the HP LaserJet Pro P1560 due to the fusing rollers (the rollers that use heat to bond the toner to the paper in a xerographic printing setup) running at a higher temperature. This may be a need that is required for the toner that this machine uses but some papers like certain recycled papers may be affected more by this with extra curling. From my observations, there hasn’t caused been any jamming problems with this unit caused by the extra curling with the paper.

Fax

The fax functionality was able to match the requirements for a small or medium-size business. These included operation on the same telephone line, with support for distinctive-ring (Faxstream Duet) or auto-fax-detect operation as well as the ability to send many fax jobs from memory at a later time. Another feature I was impressed with was the “private receive” mode where the machine will receive all the fax jobs to its memory and print them when you enter a “release code” that you define yourself. This can ensure that the faxes that you receive remain confidential by avoiding the situation where received faxes lie in the output tray for anyone to pick up and read.

Scan

The network-enabled scanner has the ability to scan in colour and at 1200 dpi. It can work as part of Windows Image Acquisition or HP scan software primarily on a PC-initiated scan option. There isn’t an option for control-panel-initiated scanning, whether direct or via the network.

Reliability.

I have tested this printer on a large print job and it has worked properly without jamming. I also did a copy job with many pages and had found that the automatic document feeder is reliable with 20 A4 sheets of regular paper. When you are copying documents, the automatic document feeder can make a loud “grating” noise as it handles documents and make the machine sound more noisier during this process.

Limitations

There are a few limitations with this machine. The main one is that the control panel can be improved ergonomically. It has a small alphanumeric LCD display that could benefit from a backlight and the buttons on the keypad could be made larger or spaced further apart. This would allow for increased useability when it comes to “walk-up” copying, scanning or faxing.

HP LaserJet M1210 Series control panel

Small control panel and display

Like the HP LaserJet Pro P1560 laser printer that I reviewed in this blog previously, there isn’t a “disc-free” setup option for the Apple MacOS X platform. This could be facilitated by the provision of the necessary software files in the same storage area which is presented as a USB Mass-Storage device and available over the network as a Web download from the same HTTP server.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend this unit as being useful as an all-in-one printer/copier/fax where quick document turnout is desired and colour printing is not necessary. This would be as a main “reception-desk” unit for small legal offices or medical practices or as a workgroup fax / scanner / printer. It could work well as a highly-functional replacement for a low-end laser or thermal-transfer fax machine that has reached the end of its useful life.

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Why buy a network-enabled printer instead of a direct-connected printer?

Most printer manufacturers are supplying printers and multifunction printer (all-in-one) devices that can connect to computers via a network as well as via a USB port in price ranges that most consumers and small businesses can afford.

This function has initially been provided to higher-end business-grade equipment primarily as a way of integrating them in to the business’s network and allowing them to be used by all the computers in that workplace. Now that home networks are becoming increasingly common primarily due to broadband Internet and Wi-Fi networking, this function is becoming commonly available in all but the cheapest equipment in most manufacturers’ product ranges.

You may think that a direct-connect printer is the only type of printer that you need for your home or small-business computer but it may be worth thinking about the advantages of the network-connected units now that this feature is available at an increasingly-affordable price. Similarly you may think of using a direct-connect printer with a print server such as the functionality integrated in to many recent-model routers. But there may be limitations in how this setup works, especially with the multifunction devices that are increasingly being deployed.

Many computers – few printers

You will typically end up with many computers but fewer printers in your home or small business and may find that there are particular printers that offer capabilities that are unique to them.

A network printer allows each computer to benefit from that printer’s capabilities without any need to shift the unit around or disconnect and reconnect USB cables. You also move away from the temptation to buy and maintain many cheaper printers for each computer and end up saving money in the long run.

This can allow you to invest in printers that are good for particular needs rather than a fleet of machines that effectively do the same job. A good example of this would be a medical clinic’s setup where there is a networked monochrome laser printer that turns out health-insurance forms, patient receipts and similar documents very quickly for a group of reception-desk computers and a networked colour inkjet multifunction printer that does general-purpose printing where speed isn’t necessary.

Network-capable multifunction printers expose all of their functions to the networks rather than just the printing function. This can allow for increased flexibility when it comes to scanning or “drawing-down” images from memory cards because these functions end up being shared by all the computer users. If the machine has fax functionality, there is the ability to “print-to-fax” via the network whenever you want to send a fax from one of the computers.

The “new home-computing environment”

We are also starting to see the arrival of the “new home-computing environment” where the computers in the household are laptops that are connected via Wi-Fi wireless to a wireless router. This has allowed users to use the computers anywhere in the house rather than just in the study or home office.

A network-enabled printer can allow you to avoid the need to locate the printer and connect laptop computers to it whenever you wish to print anything. Rather, you can start a print job from the laptop that you are using at the location you are using it at. You also benefit from the increased flexibility of locating the printer wherever you wish, especially if you use Wi-Fi wireless or HomePlug powerline networking to connect the printer to the network.

Conclusion

So if you are wanting to choose a printer that provides for flexibility in your network environment, it would be worth it to consider units that are network enabled.

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Why buy a network-enabled printer instead of a direct-connected printer?

Most printer manufacturers are supplying printers and multifunction printer (all-in-one) devices that can connect to computers via a network as well as via a USB port in price ranges that most consumers and small businesses can afford.

This function has initially been provided to higher-end business-grade equipment primarily as a way of integrating them in to the business’s network and allowing them to be used by all the computers in that workplace. Now that home networks are becoming increasingly common primarily due to broadband Internet and Wi-Fi networking, this function is becoming commonly available in all but the cheapest equipment in most manufacturers’ product ranges.

You may think that a direct-connect printer is the only type of printer that you need for your home or small-business computer but it may be worth thinking about the advantages of the network-connected units now that this feature is available at an increasingly-affordable price. Similarly you may think of using a direct-connect printer with a print server such as the functionality integrated in to many recent-model routers. But there may be limitations in how this setup works, especially with the multifunction devices that are increasingly being deployed.

Many computers – few printers

You will typically end up with many computers but fewer printers in your home or small business and may find that there are particular printers that offer capabilities that are unique to them.

A network printer allows each computer to benefit from that printer’s capabilities without any need to shift the unit around or disconnect and reconnect USB cables. You also move away from the temptation to buy and maintain many cheaper printers for each computer and end up saving money in the long run.

This can allow you to invest in printers that are good for particular needs rather than a fleet of machines that effectively do the same job. A good example of this would be a medical clinic’s setup where there is a networked monochrome laser printer that turns out health-insurance forms, patient receipts and similar documents very quickly for a group of reception-desk computers and a networked colour inkjet multifunction printer that does general-purpose printing where speed isn’t necessary.

Network-capable multifunction printers expose all of their functions to the networks rather than just the printing function. This can allow for increased flexibility when it comes to scanning or “drawing-down” images from memory cards because these functions end up being shared by all the computer users. If the machine has fax functionality, there is the ability to “print-to-fax” via the network whenever you want to send a fax from one of the computers.

The “new home-computing environment”

We are also starting to see the arrival of the “new home-computing environment” where the computers in the household are laptops that are connected via Wi-Fi wireless to a wireless router. This has allowed users to use the computers anywhere in the house rather than just in the study or home office.

A network-enabled printer can allow you to avoid the need to locate the printer and connect laptop computers to it whenever you wish to print anything. Rather, you can start a print job from the laptop that you are using at the location you are using it at. You also benefit from the increased flexibility of locating the printer wherever you wish, especially if you use Wi-Fi wireless or HomePlug powerline networking to connect the printer to the network.

Conclusion

So if you are wanting to choose a printer that provides for flexibility in your network environment, it would be worth it to consider units that are network enabled.

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Product Review – HP LaserJet Pro P1560 Series desktop laser printer

I am reviewing the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet Pro P1560 Series desktop laser printer which is part of a range of monochrome laser printers offered by HP for “quick-form-turnout” applications like invoices or health-insurance forms at a medical clinic.HP LaserJet Pro 1560 printer

This model, which costs AUD$329, that I am testing is an entry-level desktop unit that is directly-attached to the computer via a USB cable.  The P1600 Series is the “step-up” version that has the same functionality but is equipped with network-printing ability as well as a duplexer for printing on both sides of the paper. This is in a similar practice to how most vehicles are sold with extra options being part of increasingly-expensive “trim levels”.

It works with an HP CE278a toner cartridge which has an average page yield of 2100 pages and costs AUD$94.60 each on the streets. This would lead to a running cost of approximately AUD$0.04 per page.

Set-up and Operation

The main feature that impressed me about this laser printer was that I didn’t need to find a CD or download files from HP’s Website to get the printer going with my Windows 7 computer. Once it was plugged in to the USB hub, the computer discovered a USB Mass-Storage device on the printer and mounted it as a drive letter. Then I went to that drive letter with Windows Explorer and ran the Setup file whereupon the drivers were in place and the printer clicked in to action with the Windows Test page on the output tray on the printer very shortly. I have touched on this earlier in my blog as a separate article because it was a “dream come true” when it comes to printer setup. The P1600 would allow me to “hit” its Web front-end to load the necessary driver files at least when installing it on the network.

The other thing I am impressed about is a very quick “cold start”. I have often seen older laser printers and copiers require a warm-up time of a few minutes before they are ready to print. This is mainly to have the fuser rollers warm enough and able to melt the toner in to the paper. Here, the printer was able to be ready to print from “cold standby” within four seconds.

Once underway with a print job, it took four seconds to print each page and wasn’t running very hot. This is even though I ran a copy of the PDF user manual as a large “reliability-test” print job. There may have been some steam coming out of the output slot but this may be to do with moisture buildup in the machine which had been unpacked shortly before this print run.

The printer has an automatic “energy-save” function where it powers down to a “cold standby” mode whenever there are no print jobs coming through for a few minutes. It only uses enough power to “listen” to the USB port for print jobs from the host computer.

Maintenance

The printer is very easy to maintain, especially when it comes to replacing the toner cartridge. Here, you just pop the lid open then pull out the used cartridge from the bottom of the cavity without much force. Then you put the new cartridge in to the bottom of the cavity without any need for any extra pressure.

This unit is at least an example of improving the design of the equipment to make it more useable for all people.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

Beyond the need to provide CD-free setup for the Apple Macintosh platform, there haven’t been any further limitations that I have come across with this direct-connect printer.

Conclusion and Positioning Notes

The HP LaserJet Pro 1560 Series printer could be best positioned for single-computer workstations like reception desks in small clinics and the like for use as a printer for “turning out” documents like invoices or similar forms. It would be best used as an “exact replacement” for an older direct-connect monochrome laser printer that has come to the end of its useful life.

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Product Review – Hewlett-Packard Photosmart Wireless network multifunction printer

B109n I am reviewing the Hewlett-Packard B109n Photosmart Wireless network multifunction printer which is HP’s latest entry in to the basic network-enabled consumer multifunction printer market. It is based on their basic HP Photosmart printer, but has 802.11g WPA2 WPS wireless networking added to it.

The Photosmart Wireless is a piano-black machine with a very small LCD mounted at an angle on the left of the unit. The display has touch-buttons that light up in a “pinball-machine” fashion to provide an operation experience similar to most automatic-teller machines. This is with buttons placed on the edge of the screen and whatever the button does is indicated on the display screen.

HP Photosmart Wireless display

Control panel

Setup

The setup experience is typical for many consumer multifunction printers, where you have to install drivers from a CD-ROM supplied with the printer. You can download the software from HP’s website if you want to make sure the printer works with the latest drivers for your operating system, and will have to do so for Windows 7 systems.

Loading ink cartridges

 

This printer has been improved as far as access to its interior is concerned. When you open it up to load ink cartridges, you don’t need to operate any catch to release the lid. As well, the lid stays open and wide without the need to work with any stays or levers to prop it up, which is also of benefit for people who are short-sighted

There is no need to apply any extra pressure to remove or install any of the ink cartridges, which I consider important for older people or people who have arthritis or similar limitations.

4 ink cartridges that are easy to load

This printer uses one cartridge per colour, which allows you to replace the colours that you need to replace when they run out. This is compared to an inefficient practice older colour inkjet printers where you replace a “colour” cartridge if any of the colours run out. It can work with a standard cartridge or, a large-capacity cartridge which is available at a slight price premium over; and you can choose to run with either of these types for each of the colours.

Network capability and setup

B109n connected only to power

Only cable connected to printer is the power cable

There is the ability for this printer to support “push-button” or “PIN-number” setup from its control panel if you have a WPS-enabled Wi-Fi network. On the other hand, you have to connect it to a host PC and run the software on the CD-ROM to set it up to work with a Wi-Fi network.

The printer doesn’t have an Ethernet port, so that puts other network technologies like regular Ethernet or HomePlug powerline out of the picture. This may not be an issue with typical wooden or brick-veneer suburban homes where you can receive Wi-Fi everywhere from one router, but can be an issue with older double-brick homes or larger homes.

As far as network functionality is concerned, you can print or scan via the network. There isn’t a “wake-up” arrangement which allows you to bring the printer out of low-power mode from any network-connected computer. Therefore you have to make sure that the printer is fully on when you want to start printing or scanning.

Printing

There were no major hassles involved with printing documents, which it was able to do very quickly. I even ran a “pressure-test” print of one of the HP manuals for this unit from HP’s website to see how it can handle a large printing job like a school assignment or large report. It was able to allow 30 pages to “pile up” on the paper tray without causing reliability problems. As well, I was able to replenish the paper supply and continue printing by using the unit’s controls and without having to go back to the host computer when it ran out of paper.

This reliability has been provided for because Hewlett-Packard had stuck to the same kind of inkjet printing mechanism for their desktop inkjet printers ever since they released the original Deskjet in 1988.

For photographic work, the unit worked well with keeping the colour balance and flesh tones right. Infact it didn’t “over-saturate” pictures even when a person who was in the picture had a reddish complexion. It still took its time to print the photographic images because of the requirements of that job.

It can also print from camera cards including SDHC camera cards, and can print DPOF print orders that you set using your camera’s user interface. It still has the usual limitations of requiring the card to stay in the slot during printing, which can be a limitation when you want to grab more “moments” while the unit is printing your pictures.

Scanning

The printer can scan documents and images, whether direct-connected or network-connected. If you want to start the scanning job from the printer’s control panel, you will need to make sure that you select the desired computer to send the job to. This is determined by whichever computers have the HP software installed on them.

I have scanned some 35mm prints using this machine, including some pictures of people and the printer’s scanner was able to reproduce the pictures properly. This included a picture that I took with people who had different complexions and this kind of scenario could be a trial for some scanners.

The Photosmart Wireless printer took around 15 seconds to copy an A4 page, no matter whether the unit was to make a colour or monochrome copy of that page. This would still make the printer suitable as a convenience copier for most households.

Fit and finish

This printer is finished in that “gloss piano black” look that makes it appeal to home use. This would be more of an advantage with rooms where the furniture is primarily a “dark wood” finish or a finish similar to that lacquered-black grand piano. The only disadvantage with this finish is that it attracts fingermarks too quickly.

There is still that sense of sturdiness that is common with good-quality printers with everything snapping in to place in an assured manner.

Advantages

It is easy to perform routine maintenance tasks on this printer like replacing ink cartridges because there isn’t much effort required to open the lid or remove and install the cartridges. As I have said before, this is important for those with weaker hands like older people.

The printer is very quick at most of the routine tasks that you would expect it to do. It also has the hallmarks of Hewlett-Packard’s build quality and reliability that they have been known for.

The software isn’t likely to get in the way of your computing tasks or place unnecessary burdens on your computer’s performance. Infact, the only way it makes its presence felt is to inform you of your print-job status or to accept scanned documents or images if you start the scan from the printer’s control panel.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One main limitation is that you have to connect the unit to a computer running supplied software via USB for it to work with Wi-Fi network segments that don’t use WPS configuration. It cannot be used with wireless networks that use WPA-Enterprise security, nor does it have an Ethernet socket for use with other networking technologies. These particular limitations are most likely to be typical of a low-end Wi-Fi-enabled consumer multifunction printer.

There isn’t a USB host socket, which rules out the use of the printer for PictBridge printing or printing from USB memory keys. As well, the small display screen may be a hindrance for some people, especially those who have eyesight limitations.

Now that the cost of secondary-storage flash memory is becoming very cheap, manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard could install an extra SDHC card slot or low-capacity flash memory in these printers and use it as a low-capacity “hard disk”. This could permit print-job buffering for memory-card or network print jobs, CD-free setup for USB or network installations and improved network-scanning workflow.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend buying this printer as an entry-level Wi-Fi network all-in-one printer, especially if you are moving your computing lifestyle towards the “new computing environment”. This is based around a laptop that connects wirelessly to the Internet via a wireless router and is likely to be used around the house. It would also work well as a secondary Wi-Fi network printer for the home such as one that would be placed in the family room while you have the more-expensive unit placed in the study or home office; or as a Wi-Fi network printer for use at a secondary home location like a holiday house or city flat.

For small-business use, this printer could work well as an “away-from-office” multi-purpose printer/scanner where there are occasional small print runs or the need to do “quick copies”. The network ability would only support Wi-Fi network setups that don’t use enterprise-level authentication. This would mean that it can work properly with the typical 3G routers that “edge” temporary networks.

The machine is priced at a “street price” of AUD$129 (obtained from Officeworks advertisement) with original-name (HP Genuine) ink cartridges (part number 564) costing AUD$18.76 for the black and AUD$16.76 for each colour. You can also buy original-name (HP Genuine XL)  “extra-yield” (part number 564XL) cartridges for AUD$51.20 for the black and AUD$29.56 for each colour if you find you do a lot more printing.

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A “CD-less” way of setting up printers

The current situation

Typically, a printer or “all-in-one” comes with a CD that has a monolithic driver and application set for the device. The files on this disc are also available at the manufacturer’s Website in their latest form and / or ported to different operating systems.

The current problem with this method of printer installation is that it is assumed that every computer has a working optical drive built in to it. The situation here is different in reality because a computer like a netbook or nettop may not have an integrated optical drive and there is a common situation where optical drives are likely to fail. This is more so with the slimline “carriage-load” optical drives that are part and parcel of most laptops that are in the field and are becoming part of the equation with small-footprint desktop computers.

The market might prefer the use of a USB memory key that has all this software, especially due to netbooks and “thin-and-light” notebooks that don’t have optical drives becoming commonly available. But this memory key, like the CD, may end up being lost through the life of the printer simply due to common misplacement. There is even the factor that the files may be wiped by accident as a person intends to “stuff” a memory key with more data to take with them.

What can be done

Use of fixed onboard storage

I would prefer the printer, especially any device that offers network or fax functionality, to use fixed onboard storage. A lot of the “all-in-ones” support local removeable storage in order to permit “there-and-then” printing of digital images held on a camera’s memory card or to support “scan-to-memory” functionality, but the fixed storage could take things further.  The USB host port on a lot of these printers may be able to be used beyond connecting PictBridge-enabled cameras. In most cases, this port may be available for one to plug in a USB memory key to print documents or images held on that memory key.

The fixed onboard storage can extend printer functionality and increase operation efficiency in may different ways.  For example, it could come in handy for queuing documents that are to be printed thus taking the load off the host computers; or providing for enhanced fax functionality like “after-hours” fax transmission (to take advantage of off-peak call costs) or “hold-without-print” fax reception for whenever the machine is out of paper / ink or as a security measure. With the scanner, this could come in handy for “scan-to-email” or “pick-up-from-machine” scanning where you scan the hard copy to on-machine storage and use your computer to visit the on-machine storage when collecting the scanned images . In the case of “there-and-then” photo printing, the fixed storage can come in handy with holding the images that are to be printed so that the user can remove their camera card or PictBridge-connected camera and continue taking more pictures.

Relevance to printer setup

As far as the printer-setup routine goes, a part of this storage could be used for holding driver files for most platforms.

Local USB connection

If the printer is connected directly to the computer via a USB cable, the fixed storage could be presented as a Mass-Storage Device. Here, the storage would appear as another volume of the file system and the operating system would point to that volume whenever it has to load the drivers as part of its “plug-and-play” peripheral installation whenever a printer is connected to a computer running Windows or MacOS X. Linux users could find the necessary binaries and source files when they mount the internal storage to the “*NIX” file-system tree.

This practice is totally similar to how the drivers and supplementary software are stored on one of those USB wireless-broadband modems. Then, if the computer’s operating system doesn’t have native support for wireless broadband, the user loads this software directly from the broadband modem.

Network connection

If the printer is connected to an IP-based network like a home or office network, the fixed storage, especially the driver-files area, would be presented as a CIFS, FTP or HTTP network volume readable to all users and device-initialisation methods like “Point and Print”, UPnP, DPWS and Apple Bonjour to locate the drivers on this storage and load them in to the computers.

Keeping the drivers up to date

The user could keep the drivers up to date by running a “driver-update” program that exists on the printer’s fixed storage if the printer is connected directly to the computer. This program could poll the manufacturer’s Website for newer drivers for particular operating systems and upload the newer drivers to the printer.

On the other hand, the user could set a network-connected printer to poll the manufacturer’s Website at regular intervals for driver updates for the nominated platforms.

Benefit for installers and users

This setup method can reduce the amount of work required to commission a new printer or enable printer access to a computer that has just come on to their site. There is less need to remember where driver CDs or USB memory keys are or the Web download details for the drivers, whether for existing operating systems or for newer platforms.

It can also cut down on the number of helpdesk calls or service visits that are needed whenever someone is setting up a printer for the first time, because they have trouble with balky optical drives (common with a lot of laptops), scratched discs or missing printer-software media.

A wireless hotspot or other facility that provides public Internet access can also benefit from offering a document-printout service to their customers without having to help the customers with adding printer drivers to their computer or make a CD or USB memory key full of driver files available to their customers.

Cost and design impact for manufacturers

The fixed storage could simply be based on a hard disk or flash memory with a very low storage capacity, say up to 160Gb and which is of a small form factor like a microdrive. This can avoid the manufacturer having to vary the printer’s industrial design to suit integrating local storage and the cost to provide the storage becomes very minimal.

This feature offers another point for manufacturers to differentiate the products in their range. An economy model could just have a small amount of memory with just enough room for the drivers and perhaps queuing memory for an average document whereas midrange and high-end units could have increased memory space for all of the functionality that comes with these models.

As I mentioned before, the same feature can provide added value to the printer or “all-in-one” device such as the device taking the load off the host computers or offering a raft of extra functionality. Manufacturers can also save money on preparing and packing optical discs or USB memory keys with their printers and avoid needing to handle support issues concerning these items.

Summary

Once we work towards a method of setting up printers without any need for extra media to come with the printers, we can then see a true “plug-and-play” printing experience for all printer users.

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HP Unveils the First Web Connected, TouchSmart Printer for the Digital Home | eHomeUpgrade

HP Unveils the First Web Connected, TouchSmart Printer for the Digital Home | eHomeUpgrade

My Comments on this Web-enabled printer

When I first read about Hewlett-Packard’s Web-connected printer in this article, I thought that the idea may not be real but they have followed the same path as the recent crop of Web-enabled TVs and the smartphones that are part of most currently-running mobile-phone service contracts. This all-in-one printer could be the start of another development arena for these devices, allowing for a new scope of applications that are “printer-based”. These could include “print-on-demand” like the initial offerings from Google (calendars), Web Sudoku (sudoku puzzles) and DreamWorks Animation (colouring-in sheets) and extend to such applications as image-upload interface points for photo-sharing / social-networking sites and online file storage services.

If this idea pulls off for printers and “all-in-one” devices, then it could lead to other devices that are capable of working with the home network being able to work with the Web and the home network in a manner beyond their obvious design. For this to be achievable, the devices would have to work on platforms like the Windows CE / Windows Mobile platform, the Symbian S-series or UIQ platforms or the Android platform and allow an easy yet secure way of installing the software.

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