Computer Hardware Archive

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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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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