- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The folks at Kodak have been rather intense this year in advertising their ink-jet printers as being less expensive to operate than those of rival manufacturers. I haven’t heard any caterwauling from rivals Epson or Brother, but the people at Hewlett-Packard’s ink-jet division, which, after all, invented the category, were none too pleased.

They proposed, and I accepted, a test: They’d send me roughly equivalent models from Kodak and HP. I’d test both and judge which is the better value. HP bought and sent a Kodak EasyShare ESP7 All-in-One Printer and also furnished the HP Photosmart C6380 printer. Both list for $199.99, though you can shave about $20 and $50 from those prices, respectively, by shopping online at Amazon.com.

That means HP wins round one on the “street” price. If I can spend $30 less on the C6380, that’s $30 in my pocket. However, many users have discovered what I learned long ago from motivational speaker Jim Rohn: It’s not what something costs, but what it’s worth.

The ESP7 offers two features not found on the HP. One is stylistic: The ESP7 sports a rather attractive black finish that I liked seeing on my desk. The other is practical: The ESP7 offers what’s known as full-duplex printing: It will print on both sides of a page automatically. That’s good when it comes to printing out reports, proposals, e-books and the like.

The C6830’s case is a silver-and-white combo that might look good in an office, but, frankly, lacks a bit compared with the Kodak unit’s design. There’s also no automatic two-sided printing; you can duplicate this manually, but it requires more than one extra step and perhaps a bit of trial and error. It would be nice to have the duplexing feature on the HP model.

Print quality is about equal for the machines. The Kodak ESP7 does a nice job on pictures, but its dedicated tray for photo-print paper holds only 4-by-6-inch paper; the HP C6830’s default photo-paper tray size is 5 by 7 inches, a substantial difference. Each firm claims its inks are better for photographic printing. Without going to a laboratory to test, I can say both units offered good print quality. The visual impact of the larger print size, however, is stunning. (To be fair, I imagine one could load larger photo-print paper in the ESP7’s main paper tray. But, like manually arranging for two-sided printing, it’s an added hassle.)

There is one notable flaw on the Kodak unit. If you’re using a Macintosh computer and have an Acrobat PDF file, you’ll need to use Apple’s Preview.app software to print it on the ESP7. There’s a glitch, which Kodak acknowledges, with printing from Adobe’s Mac software to the ESP7 machine. The HP printer, on the other hand, is blissfully free of such an impediment.

Both printers yield a fair number of “standard” text-and-graphics-filled pages before you need to change the black-ink cartridge: about 300 for the Kodak and about 250 for the HP. Replacing those cartridges, for each printer, costs $9.99, meaning its costs about 3.3 cents for the Kodak and 3.9 cents for the HP for each of those “standard” pages. Color ink yields are different, of course: Most documents don’t use as much color as black ink, and the inks tend to run out at different rates. It’s the black ink that gets you, I’ve found.

Both printers also offer Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity along with standard USB cabling. The Kodak offers Bluetooth as another connection option. Each printer also has a card reader that will print photos directly from a camera’s memory card and also send the photos to a connected computer. Each also has a small LCD display screen to preview photos and show printer messages and menus.

The printers also boast abilities as scanners and copiers, though I didn’t test those, specifically, in my evaluation. Neither functions as a stand-alone fax machine, but I would imagine that if connected to a computer with a modem and fax software or with a fax-via-Internet capability, you can accomplish the same thing.

So which printer to choose? It’s really a toss-up: The ESP7 offers a great-looking product, and the duplex printing feature is nice. Yet it’s a bit of a bummer that the photo tray’s paper size is limited. The HP does very well on print cost and paper sizes.

One factor in HP’s favor, in my opinion, is that with the more-established brand, you’re likely to find supplies more easily. Then again, my local Best Buy had a replacement Kodak black ink cartridge when I suddenly found myself in need.

Sigh. If I had to choose, I might go with the HP for the larger photo-paper tray. But will the HP folks forgive me for liking the Kodak as much as I did?

- What are you printing with? E-mail mkellner@ washingtontimes.com.

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