- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

With monochrome laser printers available for about $100 from reputable sellers such as Samsung and Dell, why spend twice as much for a color inkjet? Because, I suppose, the world isn’t just black and white, even if a good chunk of our printing is.

The Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet K550 is far from a romantic name, and there’s probably little luster attached to computer printers. At the same time, try to get along without one. It’s tough, as I discovered when a multifunctional unit died on me about 10 days ago, sparking the HP’s unpacking and installation.

I’m sorry I waited for a breakdown. The K550, list price $199 but available for less via mail order, is an impressive office machine.

The text quality is as good as any laser and its color printing isn’t at all shabby. Some other critics — notably the estimable printer maven M. David Stone of PC Magazine — fault the unit on its photo printing, but I have before me a rather large color image printed on plain paper that looks just fine.

In short, this is a unit that has a lot to offer, and at a reasonable price. Yes, there are far less expensive inkjet machines, but the K550 impresses me as a durable printer that can stand up to a fair amount of heavy use and even punishment. That’s important because office users tend to be rough on printers.

Appearancewise, this is a machine more styled for the office than for the home. Its case is mostly dark black, with a splash of metal and a semi-clear door for the separate ink tanks this printer uses. Unlike many inkjets, the K550 uses two print heads and four ink tanks. The idea, I think, is that the ink cartridges will be replaced more often than the print heads.

This could even out the cost of ink a bit. There are also standard and “large” ink cartridges available for the machine. One plus, of course, is that separate tanks are more sensible in that you replace each color as it runs out.

The unit has a 250-sheet paper tray, and a rather sturdy one, too. You can pull out your regular paper to insert and print envelopes, but I haven’t found an easy way to “bypass” the tray and print a single envelope or page of business cards. That said, a sheet of pre-perforated cards traveled through the K550 without a hitch: there was no damage to the card stock, and the printed cards were, in a word, perfect.

In fact, “perfect” is what could be said for all of my output with this printer so far. I would like to find fault, but the blacks are black, the reds are red, and intermediate shades are rendered faithfully. That’s the kind of thing we want our printers to do, and this HP unit does it quickly. From hitting the “print” button in Microsoft Word 2004 for Mac until the paper popped out of the printer, a mere 30 second elapsed.

That’s not bad, and again, this is quality virtually indistinguishable from a laser.

When you factor color into the process, things get more exciting, because now it’s a combo of speed and color. This printer also plays quite nicely with Apple Computers’ Mac OS X as well as Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, via a speedy USB connection. It also can be networked via Ethernet, and a duplex unit for automatic two-sided printing is available.

Overall, this is a nice machine for a small office — or even one at home. I’m glad it’s on my desk right now. Details at www.hp.com.

Read Mark Kellner’s Technology blog daily on The Washington Times’ Web site at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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