At a recent launch I attended in Hong Kong (disclaimer: HP paid for my plane fare and accommodation), HP launched a new range of printers with an interesting addition, namely e-mail addresses for each printer. The idea is pretty simple. If you’ve got a device capable of emailing, you can send files to the printer. This skips the need for drivers, or even a PC at all, as it’s technically capable of taking email from connected devices such as smart phones or tablets like Apple’s iPad.
It’s a neat idea in a field that doesn’t see too many genuinely interesting ideas. Putting it simply, printing is sadly boring stuff, and something that most of us don’t care about a jot up until the printer jams or runs out of ink or toner. A printer’s job is a mundane one, and one that it doesn’t get a jot of credit for. For most consumers, the choice in buying a printer often seems to come down to whatever model is the cheapest on the shop floor. Often that’s astonishingly cheap. I’ve seen plenty of last year’s model printers on shop floors for less than fifty bucks, which on first glance seems like a steal.
Often, however, it’s anything but. There’s nothing wrong with the older technology per se, but what can trap printer buyers is both the cost of the ink and the quality of the output. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise to discover that cheaper printers often have worse print quality, especially for things like photo or colour printing. One of the more interesting figures to come out of the launch I attended was that HP estimates that the era of printers being used for Word Processing predominantly is coming to an end. I’m certain that this doesn’t mean that the humble small office laser should expect a gold watch any time soon, but at a consumer level, things are shifting towards photo and web printing. Once you move from printing characters to how much of a character Uncle Trevor is, the quality of the output becomes a lot more important.
The ink/toner question is the other big “trap” in printer pricing. Buy a cheap printer, and it’s almost certain that the replacement cost for a full set of inks will be greater than the cost of the printer itself. Most (but not all) vendors have moved beyond including half-filled “starter” ink packs with printers, but it’s not environmentally friendly to junk a working printer just to get cheaper inks with a new one. Where you can save money here is in buying the bulk ink cartridges most vendors offer. Look for inks labelled as “XL” or “High Yield” or similar. You’ll pay a bit more for the inks upfront, but when they go through twice as many pages, the cost per page drops, not to mention the number of times you have to go to the shops to get new inks.