- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2000

For some odd reason to be uncovered, perhaps, by years of analysis I've long been searching for the perfect output system. I guess it began when I bought an electronic typewriter back in 1982. You could hook it up to a personal computer, I was told. The part I wasn't told: the film ribbons the typewriter used cost $3.50 each and would yield about 10 pages.

But I digress.

In January, Hewlett Packard announced the HP LaserJet 3150, a $599 system it bills as a "printer/fax/copier/scanner all-in-one" unit. For once, I believe a major corporation could be accused of gross understatement: this isn't just a multi-function unit. It's a minor miracle, I believe.

For one thing, the unit occupies about 1.4 square feet of space on a desktop. That's not as compact as some might want, but it's superior to other similar machines I've used recently. What's more, the compactness does not diminish the unit's effectiveness: there's no compromise in terms of functionality.

Another plus is the 600-dots-per-inch print resolution. That seems to be the default these days, but somehow, HP seems to score better in overall quality and sharpness of images than anyone else. In one instance, I had far better success setting up the LaserJet 3150 to use the Stamps.com Internet postage service than I did with a competing "all-in-one" device from Xerox, which balked at printing an envelope in the way that service required.

The sharpness of images also applies to faxes received as well as photocopies made. The unit is "always on" in a standby mode, meaning that it's ready to make copies or print pages, without using too much energy in the process. The copier function and the built-in fax operates without having to have a PC turned on.

But when connected to the PC, the LaserJet 3150 truly shines. Place a sheet of paper into the scanner feeding slot, and a window pops up on the PC display. You can select functions to make copies, send faxes or scan text, and the systems, PC and printer/scanner/fax, will work in the background to process the request.

For me one of the most interesting capabilities is the combination of scanning and faxing from the machine, which is controlled, optionally, by the PC. Here's how it works: Load some papers in the scanner slot and either dial the number manually (there's a dial pad on the front of the unit) or using the software on the screen. Then, something akin to magic takes place the device scans the first page, dials the fax number, connects and begins sending while scanning the remaining pages in the hopper. The result is faster scanning time and seemingly quicker faxing. In a group situation the device is designed to be used on a network by a small cluster of workers this could send people back to their desks quicker.

The print quality, as mentioned, is excellent. The software included with the unit works well, both for scanning line art and text that needs to be recognized and placed in a document. About the only failing, in my view, is that when scanning in a form to be filled, the only way to annotate it is to create fields that have a border around them, making it look rather "boxy." I searched, in vain, for a way to turn that feature off.

But this is, in my view, a minor problem. The device runs on Windows 3.x, Windows 95 and 98 as well as Windows 2000. Because the actual rendering of the document image, something called "rasterizing," is done on the PC, HP offers no software to use the LaserJet 3150 under Linux or other operating systems; those seeking such might want to try another HP laser, and find a separate scanning solution.

Overall, however, the LaserJet 3150 is an excellent device that beats anything else I've seen for the home office, small office or work group. At $599, this product will, I believe, return value to users for a long time to come.

Write to Mr. Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, sende-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page (www.markkellner.com).

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