- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I’ll confess to a not-so-mild obsession with computer printers. Longtime readers know this goes back to a gigantic, now-ancient Qume daisy-wheel printer (and even before), as well as to all the dot-matrix, inkjet and laser printers with which I’ve worked since shortly after Noah landed the ark on Mount Ararat, or so it seems.

Yet whenever I think the printer market has been fully saturated, that there could be nothing new to add to all this, I’m often surprised. Epson America, based in Long Beach, Calif., last fall introduced the Artisan 835, a $300 list price, home-friendly inkjet featuring a touch-screen display, wireless connectivity and a passel of features. Even better, you can find it online or in area stores for between $179.99 (at Amazon.com) and $199.99 at Best Buy.

But saving money off the list price is only one aspect of the savings you’ll find with the Artisan 835. You’ll save space over some competing models, and you’ll save cabling because this is a wireless printer that supports both the Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X operating systems. And you’ll save (some) hassles, because everything works rather well. (There’s one notable exception, which I’ll address in a moment.)

The basics: The Artisan 835 is a lower-profile multifunction printer, meaning its smaller size is better suited for home-office decor than the bulkier office-style machines. It’s generally available in black, with a white-colored model on sale only at Best Buy.

The printer features a full-color LCD panel that swings out of the unit for easier viewing. It can show various printer, fax and copier functions, as well as images from a camera’s memory card when inserted into the included card reader. You can select and print images from the LCD screen, no computer required. The printer has a separate paper feed for photo-quality (and print-sized) paper. You can also print photos from a mobile device.

At least one of Epson’s claims for the Artisan 835 came through without a hitch: The firm boasts the device prints “lab-quality photos [that] are smudge, scratch, water and fade resistant.” Well, I didn’t pour water over the print I made, but an 8-by-10 print was certainly lab quality.

If, as I suspect, the bulk of a printer’s use is generally to print on basic paper stock, then it is there that a printer such as the Artisan 835 must be judged. Here, I was also pleasantly surprised: Print quality is superb, and speed is excellent, matching the claims of 9.5 pages-per-minute in monochrome. There’s even built-in double-sided printing for professional results and paper savings.

An “acid test” for me is in the printing of envelopes: Here, the Artisan 835 worked in a sublime fashion, printing from a pre-defined template in Microsoft Office 2011 for Macintosh with great ease. On my first attempt at printing an envelope, a perfect specimen popped out, something that didn’t happen with a Kodak inkjet I tested about two years ago. Bravo, Epson.

If “every rose has its thorns,” then a flaw in the Artisan 835 is its handling of wireless scanning. Where the HP OfficeJet 8500, reviewed here within the past year, worked seamlessly with the Mac, Hewlett-Packard having developed a version of its scanning software for that platform, Artisan users face a different challenge. Here, Mac users are directed to Apple’s Preview.app software for wireless scanning, a process that adds an extra click or two, and a bit of uncertainty when scanning in receipts and small items.

Epson provides software for PCs, and I imagine the Artisan 835 might work differently with a Mac if connected via a USB cable; there’s an option for “wired” scanning on the printer’s LCD display. But if the idea of a wireless unit is to work untethered, then Epson, in my view, needs to catch up on the Mac scanning side. The Mac platform is taking an increasing share of the desktop/notebook computer market — particularly for home users — and there’s no reason for Epson’s Mac-loving customers to be second-class scanners.

Barring this, however, I like the Artisan 835 as a product worth having in a home office. Epson’s done a very good job here, and with some scanning tweaks, it would be 100 percent perfect.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.