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KELLNER: Compact HP printer is impressively useful

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Once upon a time, or so it seemed, a printer was utterly vital to the operation of a home computer. You could hardly have a PC without an "output device."

Now, it seems that printing can be something of a rarity. At home, I've gone a good six months without printing anything. Not that this situation was perfect, but I didn't miss having a printer all that much.

But a new year demands new thinking. For me, it meant installing an HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium, an "all-in-one" printer that scans and sends and receives faxes, the latter when connected to a phone line. (I guess some people are still sending faxes, right?)

For many users, I suspect, an all-in-one is sufficient if it will print and scan. On those fronts — sorry, I didn't test faxing — the HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium is a highly capable device that I can recommend for almost every need. The list price is $169, not at all bad for what it delivers, but for what I presume is a limited time, you can score one for $139 via HP's website, http://bit.ly/VZ5MvX. (As this column is filed, Amazon.com is listing the printer for $143.08 with free shipping. Again, I don't know how long that price will last.)

The OfficeJet 6700's size was the first thing to impress me. It is compact without being ridiculously small or difficult to manage. A built-in "duplex" device for dual-sided printing juts out of the back side of the printer, and the paper feed/output tray juts out slightly from the front of the unit. Not having measured, I'll guess it's about two-thirds the size of the OfficeJet 8600 I used previously — a significant improvement.

Like the larger OfficeJet, the 6700 has a tilt-out control panel that displays various functions, each selectable with a touch on the screen. It also has built-in Wi-Fi, which lets you share access to the printer over a wireless network. The paper input tray is rated to hold 250 sheets or 30 envelopes, while the output tray holds 75 sheets, according to HP statistics.

In something that is becoming more common in the industry, the OfficeJet 6700 uses separate ink cartridges for color (cyan, magenta and yellow) and black ink. The standard black ink cartridge is said to produce 400 pages; an "XL" version will deliver 1,000 pages, HP says. For the color inks, standard cartridges yield 330 pages, while the "XL" versions kick that up to 825 pages, according to HP. As with all consumable supplies, your mileage probably will vary, depending on the type of printing you do and your use of type styles and colors. Lots of dense printing in a solid or mixed color, or in black ink for that matter, will deplete an ink cartridge faster than less-demanding print applications.

Print speeds are fine for a home or small-office application. From the time I clicked "print" in an application, 20 seconds elapsed before my first page appeared, and an entire two-page document was complete in 24 seconds after that click. These speeds were obtained using a Wi-Fi connection, which apparently is HP's preferred way of linking computers and devices these days. Built-in USB and Ethernet connections are also standard, however.

Setting up the printer was a breeze, with one anomaly: Installation worked best when I first connected the printer via a USB, and then, as noted, I was encouraged to print wirelessly, which is fine by me. Connecting the printer to my secure home wireless network was exceptionally easy. HP's computer-based installer found my network and allowed me to enter the encrypted password via my computer keyboard instead of the printer's touch-screen. That is a very nice feature.

Scanning worked superbly. The HP, wirelessly, successfully scanned a two-page document. Software supplied with the printer (a basic version of ReadIRIS from I.R.I.S. software) did a near-perfect job of recognizing the scanned text. I was thrilled.

The only non-thrilling part is that of "duplex," or two-sided, printing. One page's top was at the bottom of the reverse side's page, and this persisted through two word processors. If such printing is your mainstay, you might want to look at something else. Me? I'm going to try to find a solution.

Overall, the HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium is a highly useful printer at a good cost. It is worth checking out, even if you won't be using it often.

Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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