Stylus Photo 925, Epson Stylus CX3200, Deskjet 450CBi

Introduction

Of all peripherals markets, it’s the consumer inkjet that continues to evolve and adapt faster than any other, driven by the digital-hub philosophies of both Apple and Microsoft, and the demands of today’s tooled-up businessmen. More than digital cameras, camcorders, scanners, laser printers, MP3 players and PDAs, inkjet manufacturers are striving to be all things to all people – and, if the products in this mini round-up are taken as a guide, they are largely succeeding. This review examines three inkjets that are pitched at diverse markets: on-the-road businessmen; digital-photography hobbyists, both those with and without computers; and the home office. Such choice, and the fact that inkjets are getting ever-faster, cheaper and better, is a far cry from just a few years back, when inkjets were a mere fallback for those who couldn’t afford a laser printer. Now, even the cheapest A4 colour inkjet is capable of better photo-quality output than the most-expensive laser, and few people are willing to fork-out up to 20 times as much just for the privilege of the excellent, high-speed text-output that lasers offer. Stylus Photo 925 This six-ink photo inkjet is a great example of how inkjet manufacturers are responding to the dawn of the digital lifestyle. The 925 is being marketed by Epson as a “photo lab”, and it’s easy to see why: not only does it offer high-quality edge-to-edge A4 photo output, but it can process images straight from digital-camera memory cards (including CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Sony Memory Stick and IBM MicroDrive), and also offers an attachable roll-media holder, allowing complete image sets to be printed continually. There’s also a built-in cutter, so you needn’t muck around with scissors. With photo printers, it’s the quality of the output that’s the key factor, and the 925 won’t disappoint, offering crisp colour without a hint of banding. To aid colour accuracy, the printer uses Exif Print, allowing it to make any adjustments using the camera’s readings. In stand-alone mode, operation is via a monochrome LCD panel, but an optional colour LCD panel is available. Epson Stylus CX3200 With its combined scanning, printing and colour-copying functions, the Stylus CX3200 typifies the out-of-the-box thinking of inkjet manufacturers: packed in a casing just slightly deeper than the average A4 inkjet is an all-in-one office able to meet most SoHo (Small Office, Home Office) demands. One real bonus is that edge-to-edge printing is possible, even at A4, meaning there’s no need to trim photo output. The CX3200 took nearly ten minutes to output our image-heavy test file. Speed has always been an issue with inkjets, with most offices opting for lasers because they’re generally twice as fast. Speed is less of an issue for home users, but time is money for SoHo customers, and to this end the CX3200 is underpowered, outputting 14 pages per minute (ppm) or text files on economy setting. This compares unfavourably to Epson’s home-office inkjet range (the C70, 60 and 82), which offers from 16ppm to 22ppm. The A4 scanning unit acts as a lid for the printer. It’s a basic model, offering 24-bit scanning and a resolution of 600-x-1,200dpi, which is fine as long as you don’t need to blow-up photo-quality images beyond double their size. The scanner also acts as a colour photocopier, and it’s this that adds real business value. Although copies are not photo-quality, they are impressive enough, and, with colour photocopies costing around 60p a pop from high-street vendors, the CX3200 could pay for itself. As with most copiers, the copying is a stand-alone function that is controlled via an LCD panel on the printer, rather than via a computer. This is quick and handy, because it means you needn’t boot-up in order to copy. Copy mode offers four margin modes and four layout modes – Standard, Mirror, Repeat, and 2-up. Deskjet 450CBi For anyone doing business on the hoof, small is beautiful, and the 450CBi is compact enough to fit into most travelling bags. But small is only half the story with the A4 450CBi, the other half being its connectivity options, which include USB, Fast Infrared, CompactFlash I and II and optional Bluetooth connectivity via the Compact Flash slot, meaning that it’s possible to print data from a wide range of mobile devices. It also comes with a lithium-ion battery that HP claims is good for 350 pages per charge (with each charge taking an hour and a half). On its maxed-out photo-quality settings, it did a good job, although there was some slight banding. Speed, however, is not this printer’s forte – it took 29 minutes to output our test file. However, photo-quality output is unlikely to be top priority with most travelling businessmen, and the 450CBi’s page-output performance on text files is considerably faster. However, as with notebooks, portability comes at a price, and, at £224, the 450cbi is around £100 more expensive than most non-portable models offering comparable features and quality.
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