Smile, It's Three New Ink Jets

SAN FRANCISCO (09/11/2000) - Ink jets are all about photo quality these days, and photo quality was clearly on the corporate mind of Hewlett-Packard Co. when it announced three new printers last week. According to HP, the DeskJet 990Cse/Cxi, PhotoSmart 1215, and PhotoSmart 1218 will make your photos look the way you want them, and perform like LaserJets. But they all come with hefty, laser printer-style price tags.

To get those great pictures, the printers offer an alternative 2400-by-1200-dots-per-inch Photo mode. (HP won't give the resolution of its Draft, Normal, and Best modes.) In addition, all three use HP's year-old enhanced color layering technology, which controls the size, shape, and layering of ink drops for better-looking images. According to HP, they also deliver laser-quality black text--at least, if you're using good paper.

Other new features include optical paper-sensing technology, which guesses the type of paper you're using and sets the printer appropriately. (You can override this if the guess is wrong.) There's also an infrared connection to certain portable devices.

Different Printers, Different PrioritiesWhen the DeskJet 990Cse/Cxi ships later this month, it will be the fastest ink jet HP has yet released, with a top speed of up to 17 pages per minute. Of course, the only time you'll see that speed is when a document consists entirely of black text, is at least five pages long, and you're printing it in draft mode. That same document, in Best mode, will roll out at a more common 1.3 ppm.

As befits its $399 estimated street price, the 990 is designed for professionals. It has a larger-than-normal paper tray (150 pages rather than the 100-page trays of the PhotoSmart printers) and can print both sides of a piece of paper. You can turn it into a network printer with additional hardware.

The PhotoSmart 1215 is also expected to sell for $399, but it lacks these features and the 990's speed. This isn't so much a businessperson's printer as a photographer's, with conveniences such as an extra 4 by 6 photo-paper tray. The 1215 also has CompactFlash and SmartMedia slots, so you can print photos directly from your memory cards. Even under the best of conditions, the 1215 won't print faster than 13 ppm.

If you want the combined features of both printers and the speed of the 990, the PhotoSmart 1218 will look good to you, although its $499 street price may take the bloom off the rose. This printer has almost everything you'll find in the others--fast speed, memory card readers, two-sided printing, and optional networking. You're still stuck with a 100-sheet paper tray, though.

HP plans to ship both PhotoSmarts in October.

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