PRINTERS : THEIR PRICES ARE INSANE
PRINTERS : THEIR PRICES ARE INSANE
2005-11-04 at 10:26:00 am #14506
Printers: Their Prices Are Insane
Although you can get a printer essentially for free today, spend a few more bucks to get the Canon Pixma iP1600.
Back in the mid-eighties, a hyperexpressive character called Crazy Eddie hawked electronics on late-night TV. Along with inventing Christmas in July and touting his unbalanced mental state, he’d frequently bellow: “Our prices are so low, we’re practically giving it all away!”
Nowadays, the big three ink jet-printer vendors seem to be channeling the spirit of Crazy Eddie. Canon, HP, and Lexmark each offer ink jet printers for less than $50-with some as low as $30. But what’s really crazy is that the ink jet cartridges included in each box cost nearly as much as the printer itself. It’s as if you get a free printer with every set of cartridges you buy.
Two of the printers I found, the Lexmark Z611 and the HP Deskjet 3740, come with just a color cartridge, even though both will need a black one to print text. The Canon unit comes with both cartridges in the box-a plus for most users.
The Z611 cost just $30 at Target and was for sale for as low as $24 at shop.pcmag.com. The lowest price I found for a replacement color cartridge was $23 at CompUSA. The HP Deskjet 3740 was a bit more expensive: $29 at CompUSA and $27 at shop.pcmag.com. The color cartridge was a bit cheaper-just $22 at Best Buy, CompUSA, and Circuit City. Black cartridges for both cost around $22.
The new Canon Pixma iP1600 costs a bit more, probably because it includes both black and color cartridges. Circuit City and CompUSA both promised a Pixma for $50, while $45 was the best online price I could find. Replacing the bundled cartridges will set you back $45 everywhere I checked.
Aren’t these prices insane? Subtract the cost of the cartridges and the Lexmark printer costs a buck; the Canon and HP models, a fiver each. -Continue Reading
But what do you get for a fistful of quarters? Are these printers any good? I put all three to the test, printing out everything from mixed text and images to photos. I compared the output with that of other ink jet printers, and in the case of glossy snapshots, with my favorite online photo finisher, Snapfish.
Alas, at least for two of the three printers, free is still too expensive. The Z611 was glacially slow, taking almost a minute and a half to print our mixed text and image document on standard paper, using the driver defaults. The default ink cartridge printed out just 102 pages before the colors started distorting. Text was readable-albeit in an increasingly blood-red hue-until the 127th page. Although the Z611 delivered the best light-to-dark color gradations on the clouds in our photo test, the end result was terribly oversaturated, grainy, and pixelated.
The Deskjet 3740 did better. It printed our test page in about half the time, 48 seconds, and printed twice as many pages as the Z611 before the colors started distorting. Although sepia-toned, text didn’t start distorting until page 269. But photo output was miserable from beginning to end. Details were blurry and grainy.
The Canon Pixma iP1600′s photo print quality was better but still not as good as what you’d get from a high-quality photo service. The transitions between high-contrast areas were sharper, but I noticed a slight dottiness around the clouds, much like newspaper photos. Still, it delivered a much better image than either the HP or the Lexmark units.
Adding a black cartridge in the box helps the printer’s performance tremendously. It delivered 380 copies of our mixed text and image test, and the black text stayed black until the bitter end. It was also the speediest printer of the lot: At 24 seconds a page, it was twice as fast the HP and almost four times better than the Lexmark printers.
Although you can get a printer essentially for free today, spend a few more bucks to get the Canon Pixma iP1600. It delivers passable photos, and text looks fine. The included black cartridge means you’ll get a lot more pages out of the box. And this printer’s ideal for high-risk areas such as classrooms or kids’ rooms, because the hardware itself is virtually free. If you use a photo-refinishing service such as Snapfish or Costco, the Pixma makes even more sense.
Actually finding one of these printers, though, might drive you as insane as Crazy Eddie. They were out of stock everywhere I checked, forcing me to buy it online through shop.pcmag.com.
Oh, and another thing that will drive you insane: None of the three includes a USB cable in the box. Be sure to pick one up with the printer.