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Kodak offers versatile printer

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Can a $299 inkjet printer (and scanner and fax) start a revolution? I don't know, but the Kodak EasyShare 5500 is one interesting piece of equipment that I'm enjoying in ways I didn't expect.

Beyond the glaring white case — a trend among printer makers who must think that "consumer," all-in-one printers will never, ever enter an office space — the EasyShare 5500 offers a combination of features and a tantalizing promise: ink refills that won't require you to refinance your house.

Inkjet and laser printer manufacturers have operated much like the Gillette Co. The printer, like the razor, is relatively inexpensive, but you pay for the bargain when you need to buy a new cartridge.

With the new EasyShare printers, announced in February, Kodak says it will turn the tables. The firm said it would offer refills "priced at $9.99 for a cartridge of black ink and $14.99 for a five-ink color cartridge," a price the company said was "half the cost of other consumer inkjet printers." Having just begun using the EasyShare 5500, it's impossible for me to prove that claim. It's a somewhat audacious one and, if true, it will be rather liberating for users. What I can say is that if you use the printer properly, the resulting prints will be quite nice.

For example, attach a camera (or even an Apple Inc. IPhone) using a USB cable, or slip in a camera's memory card, and you can print photos directly without going through a PC. There's a small LCD screen on the front of the printer which lets you view and select photos using a series of push-button controls. It's rather nice. You can also print photos from a computer using software such as Apple's IPhoto '08, which arrived last week.

A neat "trick" though is the built-in miniature paper drawer which handles 4-by-6 inch photo paper. Slide it forward before printing, and your photos come out looking very much as if they came back from the drugstore, only they appear in 10 seconds, not a couple of days.

The printer handles other types of photo paper, and you can also print, on plain paper, a "contact sheet" of prints from a digital "roll" of photos, from which you can select what you want to print.

That sort of thing has been available on other printers for a while, but it's a nice feature to have here.

I haven't used the duplex, or two-sided, printing feature of the EasyShare 5500 yet, but that's one item that probably accounts for the high-end price. Printing on two sides of a page not only saves paper, it can make certain kinds of reading, such as with a report, that much easier. For those who really want to use this device in small business, it's almost a must.

I would be remiss, though, if I didn't discuss the scanning feature of this printer. It's more than handy — it can be a lifesaver. I found scanning better for monochromatic documents (bills, receipts, etc.) using the sheet feeder and/or glass than for color items, unless I scanned the latter as a photo. Scanning a color inkjet printout, I either got a nice monochrome document or a very slow color scan of the illustration on the printed page.

Did I mention that all this costs only $299? (Further practice with the scanner will likely result in better scans, I suspect.) No, the Kodak EasyShare 5500 will not slay dragons or do everything everyone might want in every way imaginable. However, at the low price it offers, you get a lot to like, and if the ink price works out, little to regret down the road.

c Read Mark Kellner's Tech Blog at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.