Test lab. (portable computer printers and communication devices)(includes related article) (Evaluation)
by Mike Hudnall, Tom Benford, Peter Scisco
Increasing power, decreasing size--that's the direction of today's computer industry. And for today's computer enthusiast, the trend has proved a tremendous boon to productivity and convenience. Now you can write that winning proposal while sitting on your sofa, in a plane, or by the lake. Word processing, spreadsheets, and personal information management--even in Windows--are as close as your briefcase, thanks to the lower prices and higher technology of today's notebooks. It's no wonder that portable computing, one of the fastest-growing segments of the computer market, is also one of the most rapidly changing and closely watched segments.
It should come as no surprise, then, that hardware manufacturers have scrambled to provide a line of downsized peripherals for use with your notebook. This month, Test Lab focuses on two categories of portable peripherals--printers and communication devices.
Portable printers are great for producing hardcopy at remote locations, such as a construction site or summer cabin, as well as for making last-minute changes in a document when you're on the go and don't have access to a regular printer. The four printers we cover this month offer versatility; high quality; and, of course, tremendous convenience.
The five portable communication devices examined this month really let you unleash the power of your portable, whether you're uploading and downloading files, sending electronic mail, cheking news and weather with your online service, or sending and receiving faxes.
This month's Test Lab provides the facts, figures, explanations, and analysis you'll need to increase your understanding of these new technologies and make a more informed buying decision. Ready to increase your portable productivity? Then read on.
What weighs four pounds, packs easily inside an average attache case, operates almost silently, and can produce page after page of consistently high-quality text and graphics? If you answered the Brother HJ-100i Portable Inkjet Printer, you're absolutely right.
The putty-colored portable measures a scant 12 1/4 inches wide by 8 1/2 inches deep by 2 inches thick, making it the perfecdt traveling companion for a notebook or laptop computer. A pivoting support stand, located at the rear of the printer's case, swivels out to hold the printer in an upright position when it's in use.
A solid performer, the Brother HJ-100i prints text in either LQ or NLQ modes at a steady 83-cps rate. The difference between these two modes is the density of the printed characters and amount of ink consumed. LQ mode generates black, well-defined characters and yields about 700,000 characters per cartridge. NLQ mode produces a less dense concentration of ink, giving you a gray (rather than black) image; however, it's much more economical, yielding approximately 1,400,000 characters per cartridge.
An optional ni-cad battery pack can power this printer if you choose to use it while traveling. In more stationary environments, the included AC adapter provides the power.
Controls for the HJ-100i--the soft-touch variety--are located at the front of the printer; embedded LED indicators keep you apprised of the printer's status. An internally mounted bank of 11 DIP switches lets you change the default values of the printer, such as paper size, normal or high-density characters, and mode selection.
Installing an ink cartridge in the Brother HJ-100i is a painless procedure best described as drop and click. You simply drop the replacement cartridge into the cartridge carrier and click the locking lever forward.
Three control modes on the HJ-100i allow you to vary graphic capabilities and emulations. In Mode 1 the HJ-100i emulates the IBM X24E series of printers. Mode 2 is the native HJ-100 mode, and Mode 3 provides Epson LQ emulations. A prioritized hierarchy for each mode gives you access to various mode subsets. For example, when the HJ-100i is in Mode 3 (Epson LQ , it will emulate the Epson LQ model 510, 850, 500, 2550, or 800 in that order of priority by sensing the control signals sent by the host PC. If no LQ driver appears in your application's printer-selection menu, the HJ-100i will use Epson FX or MX draft-quality print drivers instead. This prioritized emulation scheme provides a lot of flexibility in configuring the HJ-100i for virtually any application.
Print quality of the unit is excellent in the LQ mode and very good in the NLQ mode as well. Since the print mechanism uses jetts of ink deposited by a cartridge that glides from side to side along a screw-type carriage, the unit is all but silent in operation.
It's a joy to set up and use the Brother HJ-100i, thanks to a super user's manual that details everything you need (or could possibly want) to know about the printer--in English, French and German.
Everything about the HJ-100i is top-drawer--it's attractive, quiet, quick, small, and light. In short, it's a winner.
Canon caused a sensation a couple of years back when it introduced the BJ-10e, an easily transportable device capable of outputting high-quality text and graphics. This mighty mite made the dream of a truly portable office a reality. Not content to rest on their laurels, the Canon folks have endeavored to make a good thing even better. And they've succeeded--the new model is called the BJ-10ex.
Cosmetically, the BJ-10ex is a dead ringer for its predecessor, with the bulk of changes confined to extended firmware (for example, more DIP switches and emulation modes) and improved electronics (with, for example, one component replacing two or three). Aside from the x at the end of the name, the BJ-10e and BJ-10ex appear identical when viewed next to each other.
The BJ-10ex is the popular notebook size (12.2 inches x 8.5 inches x 0.9 inches), and at about four pounds, it's easy to pack along in a laptop's carrying case or in an attache. A snap-on plastic cap keeps foreign matter out of the parallel interface port, found at the right side of the machine near the front.
Using a 64-nozzle bubble-jet printhead, the BJ-10ex can output text at 83 characters per second in either high-quality mode or economy mode. The difference between these two modes is the amount of ink consumed and the quality of the output. Economy mode produces a semifilled character that appears gray rather than black, while high-quality mode generaes well-defined solid black output. Economy mode yields about 1.4 million characters before the cartridge is spent; high-quality mode will deliver only about half as many before you need to replace the cartridge.
Three emulations come with the BJ-10ex to facilitate configurating it to work with all major software packages. Mode 1 is the IBM X24E emulation; Mode 2 provides Canon BJ-130e emulation; and Mode 3, also called LQ mode, provides Epson LQ-510 emulation. Setting the emulation mode involves changing the settings of switches 10 and 11 in a cluster of 11 DIP switches located under the front cover of the printer. (The original BJ-10e had only 10 switches.)
This bank of DIP switches also controls other configuration parameters, including page lengths of 11 or 12 inches, normal or high-density print modes, and readying the unit to work with the optional automatic sheet feeder.
Print quality in high-quality mode is quite good regardless of which emulation you use; when you use a font package like Bitstream's Facelit for Windows, it's almost as good as the output of laser printer. The Epson LQ emulation provides probably the greatest versatility of the three available modes, since practically every software package sold supports the Epson standard.
An optional ni-cad battery pack is available for users who want total freedom from AC power, and there's alos an optional sheet feeder which automates the printing of multipage documents.
Canon has indeed succeeded in toppings its own personal best with the BJ-10ex.
Compact. Lightweight. Indisputably portable. Undeniably a performer. The 2 1/2-pound Citizen PN48 makes good on the promise of the mobile office. Whether in a hoterl room or in the air, this printer can make your documents look almost like they came off a laser printer--it's that good. And when you're packing for that extended road trip, you can squeeze the PN48 into your briefcase next to your notebook computer--it's that small.
If you're looking for the trade-offs, the good news is that there aren't many. You won't have a sheet feeder, but the PN48 offers two paper paths (from the rear or bottom) that woerk smoothly with almost any king of paper and envelopes, in widths from 3.5 inches to 10.2 inches. If you're designing last-minute changes to your presentation at 27,000 feet, the PN48 will also handle high-quality transparencies. Loading is simple, smooth, and flawless. Paper jams just weren't a problem for me.
Print qualtiy is a trade-off, but it's a small one. Since Canon introduced its bubble-jet portable two yeats ago, several manufactureres have worked to improve the print quality of portable printers. Citizen achieves very clear and distinct type with the PN48, although you may experience some slight variation in tone. Overall, however, the quality of the print so far outdistances that usually associated with portable printers as to make these slight variations negligible. If you do experience problems, experiment with different kinds of paper, as paper quality will affect print quality.
The PN48 offers IBM and Epson emulations. A Windows driver is available from Citizen's online support bulletin board system. The drop-in ink cartridges come in two varieties: a single-strike cartridge (best-quality print) that you can use only once and a multistrike cartridge (lower-quality print) that can be turned over and used again. The multistrike cartridge should be good for 100,000 characters, or between 50 and 70 ASCII pages. The single-strike cartridge yields 35,000 characters, or about 20 to 25 ASCII pages.
A rechargeable ni-cad battery provides tru portability and adds little weight to the unit. Citizen claims that a full charge is enough to print about 20 to 25 double-spaced pages of text. Charging a completely empty battery takes about six hours.
The PN48 can't be considered a substitute for a desktop printer, except perhaps by executives who don't want to be seen printing documents they've prepared themselves. (In this case, Citizen's brick-size printer will easily fit into the top drawer of the desk, out of sight.) For the salesperson who needs to update and print orders and contracts while meeting with clients or for other specialized fieldworkers requiring access to a printer, the PN48 makes a lot of sense. The price, while not insubstantial, is well met by performance and reliability. When you're on the road, those are qualities that you shouldn't have to sacrifice.
A perfect addition to the portable computer user's ensemble, the Hayes Pocket Edition 2400 carries on the Hayes tradition of high-quality, industry-standard data-communications devices.
Measuring a demure 3 x 2 x 7/8 inches, the Pocket Edition is a fully functional 2400-baud external device complete with built-in 9-pin serial cable, six-foot phone cord, and Smartcom EZ communications software. The Smartcom EZ software, a bare-bones terminal program, allows for such things as file transfers under the standard XMODEM protocol and is accessed through a friendly menu system; however, it lacks many of the features available in more sophisticated terminal packages--feature like multiple-transfer protocol selections and mini-BBS functions. Because it's genuine Hayes, however, the Pocket Edition 2400 will work with any software that supports the nearly universal Hayes AT command set.
Installing the Pocket Edition requires nothing more than plugging in the serial and phone cables and loading the Smartcom EZ software via an automated installation program. Hayes couldn't have made the installation and setup simpler than this.
The documentation supplied with the modem is clear and simple to follow. Hayes makes no assumptions about the user's knowledge or prior experience with modems and terminal software, and the manual provides more than adequate handholding.
The Pocket Edition 2400 is unique in that it doesn't require a battery or AC power supply to operate like other pocket modems; it draws its operating voltage directly from the computer's +5-volt power-supply pin on the serial port. This eliminates the need to pack and carry an AC transformer or worry about whether your nine-volt battery is fresh.
The Pocket Edition 2400 is a natural traveling companion for use with portable computers, and it comes with a small zippered carrying bag for stowing it during travel. The black bag, with Hayes Pocket Edition 2400 emblazoned on the side, even has a loop on the back for belt attachment.
Such small size dictates eliminating some feature regarded as standard on full-size modems--internal speakers and status-indicator lights, for example. Traditionally, speakers and indicators on modems allow ready access to the modem's status during transmission and provide an accurate means of error detection during problematic transfers.
A modem's speaker lets you know if a connection has been made, if a line is busy, or if you've dialed a wrong number. Without the speaker, you must rely on the terminal software. The bundled software, while it handles rudimentary communications, doesn't monitor connection condition as well as some third-party packages do.
Ideal for portable use and also quite servicealbe for desktop users with limited space, the Hayes Pocket Edition 2400 delivers plenty of features and performance in a pint-size package.