Print and be grand


HP enjoyed a product bonanza over the past month, releasing a raft of new inkjet printers. We tested three of the latest: the low-cost DeskJet 960c, a totally redesigned device called the Color Inkjet Printer cp1160, and the impressive A3 Color Inkjet Printer cp1700. The most striking aspect of all three taken together is that print quality doesn’t vary a great deal from one model to the next. Rather, HP reckons it has developed the very best inkjet printhead possible for a desktop device, and simply varies the models in terms of engine performance and other hardware. As such, there’s a product for every wallet. Because the printheads are essentially the same, HP is able to combine the software print drivers for the various machines into one installer. We were pleased to find that HP has made Mac OS X drivers available as a free download from its Web site, to complement the Mac OS 8/9 drivers provided on the CDs in the box. Obviously, you’ll need to install them all if you use both systems, but they seem to work together fine; the only exception is the HP Inkjet Utility that refuses to do anything if it thinks the other OS is using the printer, even if it isn’t. Also, certain clever print options are not yet provided in the Mac OS X version, which is a disappointment.
In conventional HP fashion, paper is loaded into an input tray at the front, while printouts are dropped on a tray immediately above. In this instance, refilling the input feeder is a bit fiddly, involving hinging up the output tray, pulling the tray below out a little, pushing sheets part of the way into the printer itself and lining up some guides. The trays feel like they’ll snap into pieces if you’re too rough when handling them. Despite an official speed rating of 15 pages per minute (ppm), we could nudge towards this figure in raw draft mode only. Using Normal quality on plain office paper, a plain black text document averaged around 3ppm, which is nothing to get excited about. An A4 high-resolution photo printed from Photoshop onto glossy stock took nearly eight minutes – but the results were definitely worth the wait. HP output is exceptional on all papers. Another issue raised during our speed tests was the noise level, and the DeskJet 960c’s almost silent performance is a key feature that buyers will love. Macworld’s buying advice The DeskJet 960c represents excellent value for the quality of its output. Its near-silent performance makes it great for home and small office alike. Color Inkjet Printer cp1160
Quite a different cauldron of cod is the Color Inkjet Printer cp1160. This machine is neither small nor silent. It departs from the time-honoured HP DeskJet style by opting for an unusual wide, flat-top design reminiscent of a tea tray – see below left. Equally unusual is the huge AC adaptor supplied, without doubt the biggest we’ve ever seen. To get access to the carriage inside you need to swing open a large door at the front and lift a flap on the top – at which point you wish you’d never put anything on it. Initial installation involves fitting a full set of four printheads and two ink cartridges. You’ll know if these have not been fitted correctly because blinking icons will warn you in a little status screen at the front of the printer. This is a bright, clear, backlit LCD screen showing a simple picture of the cp1160 along with blinking sections, such as the paper or the ink cartridges or indeed the printheads. We can see the point of this kind of feedback, but it does border on the childish – and there’s no on-screen error message to match. Up to 150 sheets of paper can be loaded into the open tray at the front. As usual, these are fed through a U-shaped path inside the printer and output directly above the input tray, face-up. The output tray provides a narrow slit to the tray below to help line-up envelopes individually. Although the input tray can be removed completely, it’s not actually necessary to do so before restocking it. The quality of the paper you load is detected automatically by the machine’s built-in light sensor, which is also used to conduct the self-calibration each time you change the ink cartridges. The cp1160 is not a great deal faster than the £100-cheaper DeskJet 960c, achieving an average speed of 3.5ppm for plain black-text documents, while our A4 hi-res photo took just over seven minutes to complete, admittedly using glossy paper. It justifies its higher price with a number of other hardware features, such as an infrared receiver that lets you print wirelessly from any IrDA device. Certain PowerBooks are obvious examples, but you can just as easily tap ‘Send’ on a palmtop to print off addresses and timetables. Also included in the box is a duplexing unit that inserts easily into the back of the printer. Duplex printing is very slow, but the convenience of printing on both sides of the paper for long documents without having to reload the sheets for a second pass far outweighs speed in this instance. Macworld’s buying advice These extra features probably make the cp1160 worth the extra £100, as well as the support for an optional 250-sheet lower input tray. But it would be an odd personal printing solution. Color Inkjet Printer cp1700d
The step up to the cp1700 – a meaty-looking and versatile A3 inkjet for business – is a big one. The case styling follows the general theme from the DeskJet range rather than the peculiar cp1160, thankfully, with three-tone grey details and curved edges. It’s a smart and serious-looking printer for the office. The cp1700d’s printheads and ink cartridges are installed under a cover on the right-hand side. The ink is supplied in four separate tanks, which are big enough to make separating them in the first place worth the extra cost. Fitting these items is just a little confusing, because every time you open the lid to install them, an LCD window at the front of the machine flashes a message telling you to close the lid again. Then again, you may not notice the error message because the LCD window is not backlit. It’s readable in a brightly lit office, but calmer studio-style lighting renders the window completely illegible. If you’re lucky enough to see what it has to say, you’ll be able to keep track of ink levels, paper size prompts and so on. Also at the front is an infrared receiver for wireless printing. Paper is loaded at the front, where it passes through a U-bend and emerges in an output tray at the front again – in principle, it’s just like the DeskJet 960c and cp1160. This time, the trays are large and sturdy, and refilling the input tray is no great challenge, even with sheets sitting in the output tray above it. Alternatively, for thick stock, sheets can be fed manually one by one into a slot at the rear of the machine, forcing a flat travelling path towards the front. The entire rear section can be removed and a duplex unit fitted. This is supplied as standard with the cp1700d model. As with the cp1160, duplex printing is slow but well worth it, because it takes away a heap of manual bother, and during our tests did so without any jams or snarling up. Our A4-based speed tests revealed yet another leisurely amble down print alley, achieving an average of 3.3ppm for plain text and completing our hi-res photo in a reasonable four and a half minutes. Where this machine excels isn’t speed but versatility across paper sizes, and we must admit the A3 colour output on coated stock looks great.
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