Top 10 personal printers
July 9, 1998
by Dan Littman
It's open season on home digital photography, as printer makers clamor to claim "photo quality." By offering photo-oriented printers, cameras, papers, and software, companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Epson strive to be the Kodak of printing. HP even slaps a Kodak label on its new 2000Cse, which we tested. We liked the model's print quality, speed, and networkability, but not its $799 price. Epson's $279 Stylus Photo 700, also photo-friendly, was the only new printer to make this month's chart. This ink jet produces lovely photos on ink jet paper--and unlike the others, it can print directly from a digital camera. Two other new color models, Epson's Stylus Color 850 and Okidata's Okijet 2020, didn't land on the chart (neither is photo-oriented).
The monochrome market remains calm, except that NEC is pulling its SuperScript 860 (number three in June); we'll test the successor unit in October. This month, NEC's cheap SuperScript 660plus rises to third place, and Lexmark's venerable Optra E+ returns to the chart in fifth.
Epson's Photo Strategy
The Stylus Photo 700 is one part of Epson's digital photo strategy; others include the $499 PhotoPC 600 digital camera, which plugs right into the printer, and a $99 Direct Print Kit that lets you connect them. This setup produced good results in our informal tests, but the prints are available only at 4 by 6 inches.
Even without a camera, the $279 Stylus Photo 700 shines. Its six-color ink technology yields attractive color images and fairly crisp text, especially on ink jet paper. Color and text are duller on regular paper, as with most ink jets. The 700's weak spot is speed: At about one-and-a-half pages per minute on text and half a page per minute on graphics, it's much slower than most color personal printers.
Epson sells various media for the Stylus Photo 700, including glossy paper that enhances photos. Papers range from 4 by 6 inches for snapshots ($6.54 for 20) to 8.3-by-22.5-inch banners ($16.57 for 10). And the printer includes shutterbug software such as Adobe's PhotoDeluxe and a program for creating panoramics.
HP's Ink-Jet Workhorse
With its high speeds and networkability, HP's $799 2000Cse breaks with ink jet tradition. It's one of a few ink jets that feature superb print quality, blazing speed--and higher prices. (The Epson Stylus Color 1520, number one on our color workgroup chart in July, is another.)
Is the 2000Cse worth $799? Not for most users who aren't on a network--that's why it's not on our chart. But on merit alone it's terrific, and outrageously fast--its 5.6 ppm text speed beats even the lasers, and its 1.0 ppm graphics speed is twice that of all but one other ink jet (Epson's Stylus Color 800). Best of all, its text and graphics look great on plain paper, and breathtaking on ink jet stock.
Your $799 also gets you individual ink tanks and print heads, so you can replace each color separately, and 2MB of memory (almost eight times that of most ink jets) to handle complex jobs such as large graphics. Finally, the 2000Cse accepts an optional 250-sheet paper tray--unusual for an ink jet--that sells for $199.
The 2000Cse isn't perfect. Its mediocre software bundle is dominated by propaganda and other detritus such as document templates. The printed manual is short, with no table of contents or index, while the CD-ROM has too few illustrations. And for its high price, the support is weak: one-year warranty, no toll-free calls, and no on-site service.
New Printers to Avoid
The Epson name is usually synonymous with good ink jets, but the company stumbles with the Stylus Color 850. At $379, the 850 costs $80 more than the established Stylus Color 800. Though positioned as a faster, networkable version of the 800, the 850 was no quicker in our tests and produced inferior prints: Blobs crop up in text, ink fades in places, and narrow lines seem to quiver. The 850's color looks okay on ink jet paper, but on plain paper it's gritty and washed out. The 800, which jumps to number two after a $50 price drop, is a better choice.
We also don't recommend the other new printer we tested this month. Okidata is trying to launch itself into the cutthroat ink jet market with the $199 Okijet 2020, but this printer doesn't live up to the company's good, inexpensive monochrome lasers. The 2020, at less than a page per minute on text and a fifth of a page per minute on graphics, is the slowest printer we've seen in ages. To top it off, output quality is wretched, with indistinct text and gritty, supersaturated graphics.
Top 5 Monochrome Personal Printers
Top 5 Color Personal Printers
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