With monochrome laser printers available for around $100 from reputable
sellers such as Samsung and Dell, why spend around twice as much, at list
price, for a color inkjet?
Because, I suppose, the world isn't just black and white, even if a good
chunk of our printing is.
The Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet K550 is far from a romantic name, and
there's probably little luster attached to computer printers. At the same
time, try to get along without one: it's tough, as I discovered when a
multi-function unit died on me about 10 days ago, sparking the HP's
unpacking and installation.
I'm sorry I waited for a breakdown: the K550, list price $199, but
available for less via mail order, is a very impressive office machine.
The text quality is as good as any laser and its color printing isn't at
all shabby. Some other critics notably the estimable printer maven M.
David Stone of PC Magazine fault the unit on its photo printing, but I
have before me a rather large color image printed on plain paper that
looks just fine.
In short, this is a unit that has a lot to offer, and at a reasonable
price. Yes, there are far less expensive inkjet machines, but the K550
impresses me as a durable printer that can stand up to a fair amount of
heavy use and even punishment. That's important, I believe, since office
users tend to be rough on printers.
Appearance-wise, this is a machine more styled for the office than for the
home: its case is mostly dark black, with a splash of metal and a
semi-clear door for the separate ink tanks this printer uses. Unlike many
inkjets, the K550 utilizes two print heads and four ink tanks; the idea, I
believe, is that the ink cartridges will be replaced more often than the
printheads. This could even out the cost of ink a bit; there are also
standard and "large" ink cartridges available for the machine. One plus,
of course, is that separate tanks are more sensible in that you replace
each color as it runs out.
The unit has a 250-sheet paper tray, and a rather sturdy one, too. You can
pull out your regular paper to insert and print envelopes, but I haven't
found an easy way to "bypass" the tray and print a single envelope or page
of business cards. That said, a sheet of pre-perforated cards traveled
through the K550 without a hitch: there was no damage to the card stock,
and the printed cards were, in a word, perfect.
In fact, "perfect" is what could be said for all of my output with this
printer so far. I would like to find fault, but the blacks are black, the
reds are red, and intermediate shades are rendered faithfully. That's the
kind of thing we want our printers to do, and this HP unit does it very,
very quickly. From hitting the "print" button in Microsoft Word 2004 for
Mac until the paper popped out of the printer, a mere 30 second elapsed.
That's not bad, and again, this is quality virtually indistinguishable
from a laser.
When you factor color into the process, things get more exciting, I
believe, since now it's a combo of speed AND color. This printer also
plays quite nicely with Apple Computers' Mac OS X as well as Microsoft
Corp.'s Windows, via a speedy USB connection. It can also be networked via
Ethernet and a duplex unit, for automatic two sided printing, is
Overall, this is a very nice machine for a small office or even one at
home. I'm glad it's on my desk right now. Details at www.hp.com.
Read Mark's Tech blog daily