Print about printers. (evaluation) Owen W. Linzmayer.
Astute readers may notice that I am sitting in for John Anderson, our regular Print About Printers columnist. Let me assure you that John, the reigning Emperor of Printers, will return shortly. This month we take an in-depth look at Apple's revolutionary thermal transfer color Scribe printer, the D-300 dot matrix workhorse from Smith-Corona, and the PowerType daisywheel printer from Star Micronics. Re-ink those ribbons, and let's get printing! Apple Scribe
Along with the introduction of the IIc, Apple announced the Scribe, an innovative dot matrix printer that is capable of near-letter-quality hardcopy, hi-res graphics dumps, and color printing. This is a pretty impressive list of features at any price, but for $299 it is virtually unbelievable. Does the Scribe live up to the hype that surrounded its introduction? The answer is "unfortunately not." Read on to discover what lead to this disappointing conclusion.
The Scribe was designed to be an inexpensive, yet versatile printer for the Apple IIc. In this regard it has succeeded. The Scribe is a very attractive 14.5" x 12.5"" x 6" unit that matches the aesthetics of the IIc. Hook-up is as simple as connecting the supplied cable to serial port one on the back of the IIc, and then depressing the power switch on the printer control panel. Also on the front panel are the select (on-line), letter-quality, and line/form feed switches. All are easily accessible and have appropriate status lights.
The Scribe is a "plain paper" thermal transfer printer which uses both friction and tractor feed devices to load 4"-10" wide paper. Most thermal printers have a printhead consisting of a matrix of heating elements that burn the image of characters onto special heat sensitive paper. The Scribe, however, heats its wax-composition ribbon with a vertical 24 element in-line printhead and "melts" the characters onto the paper. This method of printing is at the heart of the Scribe's inadequacy for all but the least demanding tasks.
The thermal transfer process requires very smooth paper to work best. This disallows most high quality, textured letterhead, as well as onion skin computer paper. Apple recommends any 16 to 20 pound smooth finish stock or Xerox 4024 copier paper. Thoughtfully included with the Scribe is a plastic paper tray that connects to the bottom of the printer and neatly holds a 1" stack of fanfold paper in reserve, thus decreasing the footprint of the unit.
The Scribe has two print modes,
Draft and letter quality, with respective print speeds of 80 and 50 characters per second. This is about par for thermal dot matrix printers. Draft mode, 9 x 14 dots per character, is good for quick-and-dirty program listings, and the letter quality mode, 12 x 15 dots, provides acceptable hardcopy for correspondence with good friends and fellow hackers, though it falls short in comparison with other "letter quality" printers (see sample printout). Two common features that increase throughput, bi-directional printing and logic-seeking, are both missing on the Scribe. It is of some compensation that the Scribe can do headline (double width) font, slashed zeros, sub/superscript, and underlining.
One of the most impressive features of the Scribe is its ability to print graphics dumps with a resolution of 160 x 144 dots per inch. When printing graphics screens created with MousePaint, for example, the Scribe performs well, except when the picture contains large areas of black, in which case the hardcopy reveals inconsistent density and registration problems.
To print in color, the Scribe uses a special one-pass ribbon that features three repeating bands of color: yellow, magenta, and cyan. Each band is 8" long, the width of a sheet of paper. To create colors that are not on the ribbon itself, you must overprint one color on top of another. Standard practice is to print the darker color after first printing the lighter. Also, it is most efficient to do all of your printing in the order that the colors appear on the ribbon. If you plan to do a good deal of color printing, plan to invest in a large supply of color ribbons ($9.99 each), as they last only a third as long as black ribbons ($6.99).
If documentation were judged like movies, the Scribe manual would receive an Oscar. Apple has set an unprecedented standard of excellence for documentation. The manual is divided into two parts; the first being for casual owners who wish to do simple printouts, and the second half devoted to exhaustive reference material and charts for the advanced user. Simple illustrations and explanations are found throughout this 142-page spiral bound notebook.
With the introduction of the Macintosh and IIc, the microcomputer publishing industry seems to have fallen in love with Apple. The Scribe printer brings us down to Earth and helps us realize that the hardware wizards at Cupertino are mortal--every bit as capable of making a mistake as we. If. you are a IIc owner in search of a 100% Apple-compatible printer, I suggest that you save your money and purchase the $595 Imagewriter, one of the finest, most durable dot matrix units on the market. The Okidata 82a with built-in Apple routines might be a good bet too. Smith-Corona D-300
Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I present to you a truly versatile dot matrix printer, the D-300 from the folks at Smith-Corona. This large 24.75" x 14.5" x 6.5" workhorse is durable enough for heavy duty use in the office, yet its relatively low price keeps it within reach of the home user.
Smith-Corona knows how to ship a printer--the D-300 was so heavily protected in its shipping carton that it looked prepared to venture through a war zone. After unpacking the D-300, it became evident that the printer itself was a rugged unit capable of taking any abuse you could dish out. What's more, the D-300 can print out just about any style type in any mode you like.
The Smith-Corona D-300 printer supports draft and near-letter-quality print, in either italics or emphasized mode. Also available are sub/superscripts and an enlarged print face for titles and headings.
This dot matrix impact printer uses a nine-pin head, the bottom pin being used for underlining. Standard draft characters are composed on a 9 x 9 matrix, and near-letter-quality characters are 17 x 18, produced with two passes of the printhead. When in normal draft mode, the D-300 spews out information at the rate of 140 characters per second. The paper slew rate is an impressive 2.7 inches per second. All this and bi-directional logic-seeking too! These features, combined with a 2K buffer, make the D-300 perform like a turbo-charged typewriter.
One of the lesser known facts about the D-300 is that in addition to its excellent text capabilities, this printer fully supports high-resolution graphics printing. Sources at Smith-Corona claim that the D-300 graphics mode is more than 90% compatible with Epson FX printers. Our tests with commercial graphics packages confirm this estimate.
The D-300 accepts both single sheet and fanfold paper and may be loaded from the back. Since the tractor mechanism is located above the printhead, fanfold paper may also be fed into the printer from beneath the unit. Due to the position of the tractor, a full sheet of paper must be advanced to remove the last printed page without ripping the document. Furthermore, the edge of the hinged dustcover is dull and not designed to tear paper cleanly. The D-300 handles paper anywhere from 3.5" to 15" in width. In its standard 10 cpi pitch, the D-300 has a maximum column length of 132 characters.
On the front righthand side of the unit is the printer control panel. Standard features such as on-line, form feed and lineffed switches are located here, as well as the paper advance and reverse index buttons that adjust the paper in increments of 1/72".
As I mentioned earlier, the D-300 is a versatile printer--it sports both a Centronics-type parallel port and a female DB-25 serial interface, both located on the back of the printer. Adjacent to these connectors are three DIP switches with which parameters such as baud rate (110 to 9600) and RS-232C protocol (Ready/Busy, X-on/X-off, ETX/ACK) can be set.
There is no denying that the Smith-Corona D-300 printer offers plenty at $795 retail. If the thought of buying two printers--a daisywheel for correspondence and a dot matrix for data processing--throws your checkbook into spasms, consider the D-300. If you can live with an 8" carriage and a slightly slower print speed, you can save yourself some money and purchase the D-200, the kid brother of the D-300. Star Micronics PowerType
From the people who brought the world the famous Gemini-10 comes PowerType, a daisywheel printer for under $500. In the attempt to round out their product line, Star Micronics now offers this daisywheel printer for personal computer users with a need for letter quality output at a reasonable price.
Like the D-300, the PowerType boasts both a parallel Centronics-type connector and a female RS-232C serial port for easy interfacing with virtually every popular computer on the market. For those interested in using the serial interface, the PowerType can communicate at baud rates from 150 bits per second all the way up to 9600 bps. In addition, all three standard protocols are available via DIP switch settings. By the way, the parameter-setting switches are conveniently located under the front cover which flips up for quick access.
The PowerType uses a 96-petal printwheel and hums along at a respectable 18 characters per second. Printing a maximum of 165 characters across with a condensed pitch (15 cpi), the PowerType also has a proportional spacing mode. Star Micronics claims a paper slew rate of approximately 2 inches per second, which matches the results of our tests. In addition, bi-directional logic-seeking is employed to increase further the overall throughput of the PowerType.
As supplied, the PowerType does not have a tractor feed mechanism, but one can be added at a later date if you wish. Using friction feed, the PowerType accepts paper 5.5" to 13" in width. Without the sprocket device, it is impossible to do extensive printing on self-adhesive mailing labels, but the PowerType is suitable for lengthy documents once standard paper is correctly fed into the unit.
What more can really be said of a daisywheel printer? It works well, as you can see from looking at the sample printout, and functions quietly. After weeks of testing, the only negative thing I can say about the PowerType is that the documentation supplied with the printer is very "techie," not user-friendly at all. By returning your registration card you receive the professional updated owner's manual that should have been packed with the printer originally. The PowerType is Star Micronics' entry into the daisywheel business; it is an affordable letter quality printer suitable for both personal and business uses. Congratulations Star Micronics. Not bad for your first shot.
Products: Apple Scribe (computer printer)
Smith-Corona D-300 (computer printer)
Star Micronics PowerType (computer printer)