Archive for Thursday, December 15, 2005

Toplikar: Shopping in a printer wonderland

December 15, 2005


It's still a long, long way off, at least for a Christmas procrastinator like me.

But rather than wait until the last minute, I put down the eggnog and got started this week on some of the family gift-buying.

My wife lets me play Santa for the fun items for my son and three daughters - the stuff that buzzes, clicks, whirs, flashes and comes with an optional two-year service agreement.

Topping my list were a couple of items my twin daughters who are in college had requested: computer inkjet printers.

Bonnie just wanted a simple printer to use for homework and papers. Julie was interested in a multi-function device that could print, scan and copy.

The Grinch factor

Humming some holiday tunes, I called on Jerry Landers, a customer service specialist who heads the computer department at Office Depot, 2525 Iowa St.

"I highly recommend HPs," Landers said.

Hewlett-Packard printers are recommended because they are less likely than others to have ink-clogging problems.

Hewlett-Packard printers are recommended because they are less likely than others to have ink-clogging problems.

Landers said that some of the other brands he sells have trouble with their print heads. If they don't get used for a while, the print heads can get clogged up with ink, ruining the printer.

Hewlett-Packard printers don't have the ink-clogging problem. Whenever you buy a new ink cartridge, it comes with a new print head, Landers said.

"If you go with an HP, you can get individual print heads, you can get individual colors, you can get features and functions and they have various machines to suit everybody's needs," he said.

Landers told me he would recommend the HP Deskjet 5440 as a simple, entry-level printer for a college student. It costs $79.

He also carried a rock-bottom entry-level Canon printer for $50. That price seemed low to me.

"Are there any hidden costs?" I asked.

Oh, yes, he said. The Grinch factor is that many low-end printers don't come with a USB cable to connect them to a computer. That little cable costs about $20 - nearly half the price of the printer.

Who's naughty and nice

I also checked out what some consumer Web sites were saying about the low-cost printers. gave the HP Deskjet 5440 a "good" rating, 3 out of a possible 5 points, touting its ability to use six-color inks and print directly from digital cameras. gave the HP 5440 an 82 out of 100 rating for a "very good," and gave it 3.5 out of five stars. ranked the HP 5440 as a "best buy," and gave it the No. 4 on its Top 10 list of printers.

HP's specs on the printer said it would print 22 pages per minute for black ink and 21 pages for color. The resolution was 4,800 by 1,200 dots per inch.

But the reviewer said the 5440 was slow at printing photos, clocking in on a four- by six-inch test photo at 3 minutes, 44 seconds.

Dashing through the prints's reviewer seemed to like the Canon PIXMA ip1600 printer much better than the HP 5440.

Not only was the Canon iP1600 less expensive ($49) than the HP 5440, it was faster at photos, printing at 1 minute and 58 seconds for's test 4-by-6-inch print. gave the Canon a 3.5 out of 5 rating for "good," but pointed out that it doesn't come with a USB cable. gave the printer a 7 out of 10 rating and PC World gave it a 77 out of 100 rating. PCWorld also put the Canon iP1600 as No. 9 on its Top 10 list of printers.

Canon's specs say the iP1600's printing resolution is 4,800 by 1,200 color dots-per-inch. It prints 19 black and white pages per minute and 16 color pages per minute.

A four-color printer, the iP1600 uses Canon's new "ChromaLife 100" inking system, which means if you printed a photo on archival-quality paper and put it in an archival-quality photo album, it would be expected to last 100 years without fading.

I also checked out a higher-end model, the Canon PIXMA iP4200 ($129). ranked the iP4200 as its No. 1 printer on its list of Top 10, with a 79 out of 100 rating and a "best buy" ranking.

The Canon iP4200 has color resolution of 9,600 by 2,400 dots-per-inch, and puts out its highest quality 4-by-6 inch print in 51 seconds. It will print 29 black and white pages per minute and 20 color pages per minute.

Stocking-full of functions

My next step was to look for an all-in-one unit for Julie to scan, print and copy. Landers steered me again to an HP printer, the HP 5610. But it offered faxing, which Julie didn't need.

Looking at some less expensive HP all-in-ones, I found the HP PSC 1610, which was around $114 on sale. gave it a "very good" ranking, with 80 out of 100 points.

One of the features I liked was that it seemed pretty small for an all-in-one model, taking up only 17.3 by 11.2 inches (when the paper tray is closed), which is pretty important in a crowded dorm room.

It also hooks up directly to a digital camera with a PictBridge connection. And it reads most media cards.

Its flatbed scanner picks up at a resolution of 1,200 by 4,800 dots per inch. The HP specs say the 1610 prints 23 pages per minute in black ink and up to 18 ppm in color.

One of the all-in-one models I came across that got high marks on consumer sites was the Canon MP500 at $199.

The specs say it prints 29 pages per minute in black ink and up to 19 ppm in color.

It has a 2.5-inch LCD screen to see, edit and print directly from most digital camera memory cards and direct printing from PictBridge devices.

The scanner can capture at a resolution of up to 1,200 by 2,400 dots per inch.

Visions of sugar plums

Bonnie caught me by surprise.

"Hey dad, what do you want for Christmas?"

I had been having so much fun hunting down gifts for everyone else that I'd forgotten to make my own list.

"Something that you can plug in. Or drive," I told her as she got in her car to head back to Iowa City to study for finals this week. I could tell by her look she wanted me to be serious.

"I don't know. Clothes? A tie?" I said as she drove off.

A little later I got the question again.

"What do you want for Christmas," Katy, my eldest daughter asked as we sat in my kitchen.

I sipped some egg nog and started a mental list: a video iPod, a Nokia 770 Internet tablet, a Sony's XBR Plasma WEGA High Definition Television.

And a Moller M400 Skycar. Neiman Marcus has the prototype cherry red Skycar in its Christmas catalog for $3.5 million - an awful lot of Christmas green.

Hmm. I wonder how sophisticated those entry-level printers are - nah, too much ink.

Still, I pictured myself taking off vertically from my driveway and zooming across the treetops in my red Skycar at 350 mph, like Santa without the reindeer.

"Dad, remember, I'm just a poor cosmetology student," Katy said, playing Scrooge to my thoughts.

I told her I'd print her out a more realistic list.

But I didn't understand her rush. Don't we still have 10 days left 'til Christmas Eve crunch time?


average 12 years, 4 months ago

He doesn't even ask the most important question regarding printers. How much will the ink set my daughters back? For HP inkjets, ink is more costly than gold per ounce. Printing a single colourful page can cost 50c, when you acount for ink and paper.

For myself, printing papers, I'm very happy with a surplus HP Laserjet 4. Faster than any inkjet, standard cartridge, cost per page under 2c. When I need color, I kick it out at the office. Photos I get printed at Walgreens for less than the cost of maintaining a color printer at home.

Oh, and that $20 USB cable? Monster Xtreme High Fidelity USB? Dollar Tree sells USB cables for $1. Work just fine.

Janet Lowther 12 years, 4 months ago

The cost of ink cartridges is a BIG deal for inkjet printers: On some of the varmints two sets of short lived ink cartridges cost as much as the printer did. Further, some manufacturers have taken measures to prevent refilling ink cartridges so you HAVE to buy a new one every time.

If a monochrome printer will do, a low-end laser will have a MUCH lower total cost of ownership than an ink jet.

badger 12 years, 4 months ago

You know, there are days I wonder if Dave Toplikar became a journalist so he could play with tech toys and write catchy pun-filled headlines.

He does a good job, I think, but he generally has the cutesiest headlines of any of the feature-type story writers.

Ragingbear 12 years, 4 months ago

I recently had to do some research for my home system's printer. You see, I have a 64-bit version of windows, and many things out ther do not have the appropriate drivers. But while I was researching, I found out some interesting things.

The print heads for HP printers are less likely to cause trouble because they are located on the printer cartridges. This means that you get a new head with every refill you get.

Lexmark is good quality, but their cartridges cost more than twice the amount of any others.

Epson has a neat trick for those who are tired of the serial number game. Instead of wierd numbers, they put simple pictures on their boxes. My computer uses chair cartridges. Others would use a killer whale, or a sunflower. Sure makes it easier to remember.

When getting a computer printer, your best bet is to get a 4 color. That is one black, a Cyan, a Magenta, and Yellow. That way, you spend less. If you print a lot of red, you only have to replace the red cartridges, and not all the others you didn't use. Same goes with black. It tends to be more cost effective.

At a minimum, you want a 2 cartridge system. One Black, and one colored. Otherwise you will have to replace your cartridge every time you run out of black, but have full color resevoirs. And the printer will not let you operate it without adequate color in all of them.

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