Double duty printers. (evaluation) Owen W. Linzmayer.
The theme of this month's column is Double Duty--which in this case refers not to Howdy Doody's twin brother but to printers that can perform more than one function. We look at the Brother Twinriter 5, which features a dual daisywheel and dot matrix printhead, and the Epson DX-20, a daisywheel printer that can function as a typewriter. But first, a few words about a book I would like to recommend to both prospective printer buyers and Epson printer users.
Although as a rule Epson user manuals are well written and exhaustive, informaniacs may wish to pick up a copy of Addison-Wesley's Epson, Epson, Read All About It!. This 280-page tome authored by Julie Knott and Dave Prochnow is professionally done and contains informative reading on the entire line of Epson dot matrix printers (FX, MX, RX, and LQ-1500) and compatibles. Explaining print technology with practical programs and patches, this book retails for $14.95 and is a fine addition to any computer library.
Conversely, I recommend that you stear clear of Ballentine's Epson Printer User's Handbook. It offers little that isn't covered thoroughly in the Epson manuals that come packaged with the printers. Furthermore, the illustrations are childish and the text reads poorly.
One of the highlights of a recent trip to California was visiting the Epson plant in Torrance, nestled between a corporate park and oil fields with pumping stations as far as the eye can see. Even so, the scenery was not as impressive as the new Epson DX-20 daisywheel printer that I had a chance to evaluate on the spot.
The Epson DX-20 is the wide-carriage big brother of the recently announced DX-10 with some significant improvements. Selling at $299, the DX-10 churns out characters at a rate of 10 per second and is healthy competition for the Juki 6000 that I reviewed on these pages last month. As its name implies, the Epson DX-20 is capable of reaching print speeds of 20 cps and retails for $459.
A peek under the hood reveals that the DX-20 accepts large Olivetti ribbons and can be fitted with any of 12 available 96-character printwheels. Also located under the front cover are the DIP switches which control certain printer defaults. Unlike many other manufacturers, Epson is thoughtful enough to label the functions of these switches. Character pitch (10, 12, and proportional), auto linefeed, page length, and sheet feeder options can all be set via this bank of switches as well as by software escape codes. The Epson DX-20 comes standard with a control panel featuring on-line, linefeed, and form feed switches in addition to power, ready, and paper out lamps.
When operating, the DX-20 sounds like those teletypes that drone mindlessly in the newsroom behind the evening anchorwoman. While it is just as loud as any other daisywheel printer, the DX-20 is unique in at least one respect: it can act as a typewriter with its optional keyboard module. Although several manufacturers offer typewriters that can function as printers, they often sacrifice quality and many desirable features. The DX-20, on the other hand, is a first rate printer and doubles as a fine typewriter for those tasks that are easier done manually than with a word processor.
The keyboard module plugs into the back of the DX-20, next to the Diablo APL interface. Its cable is six feet long and of the curled telephone handset variety. The full-sized keyboard is contained in a hard plastic case and can be propped up one half inch thanks to two support feet, an idea obviously borrowed from the IBM PC keyboard. Incidentally, the DX-20 keyboard boasts a caps lock light, something the IBM PC lacks.
All of the functions present on a standard typewriter can be found on the DX-20 keyboard including tab, margin, underline, pitch select, and shadow print. The "feel" of the keyboard is not on par with that of a Selectric, but it suffices, especially in light of the fact that the keyboard option is used only when a job is so small that it is most appropriately done without a computer. There is a slight delay between the time you strike a key and the time that the daisywheel prints that character. Although disconcerting at first, this effect is common on many electronic typewriters, and I did get used to it after a while.
The Epson DX-20 is a fine daisywheel printer in its own right, but the keyboard option merits additional praise. To be priced in the $100 range, the keyboard module obviates the need to buy both a typewriter and a computer printer. The DX-20 needn't be disconnected from the computer to function in its typewriter mode, just placed off-line, which means that it can be used as a typewriter by your secretary while you are busy preparing a report on the computer. I am very impressed with the Epson DX-20, and for that matter, the DX-10 as well. Both offer competitive features and exceptional value, in addition to reliability afforded them by their Epson heritage.
Truly exciting developments in the printer industry are few and far between, but with the arrival of the Brother Twinriter 5 at our lab, we saw the industry reach another milestone. The Twinriter is the first printer to incorporate both daisywheel and dot matrix mechanisms in a single printhead.
Users have long been frustrated by the need for a daisywheel printer for word processing and a dot matrix unit for graphics and data processing. The Twinriter 5, with its unique dual printhead, solves this dilemma and saves time, space, and money as well.
The Twinriter 5 is a wide-carriage printer in an attractive off-white case that measures 23.2" x 7.9" x 15.0". The elaborate front control panel not only has the standard select, linefeed, and top of form buttons, it also comes complete with switches that allow you to configure the line and character pitch and the print mode. These buttons are accompanied by small lamps which indicate their status. The mode switch determines which print mechanism is to be employed and how it will behave. Although covered rather extensively in the 172-page user's manual, the print mode option is somewhat ambiguous.
Basically the Twinriter 5 operates in one of two modes: letter quality or draft. In the former, the daisywheel is used primarily, and the dot matrix printhead only comes into play to print special characters not in the daisywheel character set. The dot matrix printhead functions exclusively in draft mode. To confuse the issue further, the Twinriter also has WP (word processing) and DP (data processing) software command modes that act in combination with the letter quality and draft modes. If you are using software that was intended to drive a daisywheel printer, you should select WP. In the DP mode, programs that support graphics and require printing with the dot matrix can be used. Among these program types are spreadsheets, business graphs and charts, specialized graphics, and integrated software. Luckily, once you have selected your default settings, you needn't worry about what modes to use with your software.
As the sample printout demonstrates, the Twinriter 5 is capable of printing bold, shadow, sub/superscripts, auto underlined, emphasized, and expanded characters. In its native letter quality mode, the daisywheel can produce 36 cps, compared to the maximum of 17 near letter quality cps from the dot matrix printhead. Lest you be misled into thinking the Twinriter is slow, it should be made clear that the dot matrix printhead is capable of top speeds of 140 cps composed on a 7 x 9 matrix in draft mode. All in all, the Twinriter can hold its own against the competition, regardless of print mode.
However intriguing the dual printhead, the most astonishing aspect of the Twinriter 5 is that it costs only $1295, considerably less than two full-carriage printers. At this price, the Twinriter comes with a parallel interface, 3K buffer (expandable to 19K), and the option for a sheet- or tractor-feed mechanism. The Twinriter 5 can be used with virtually any computer system. Its versatility suits it ideally to office automation, yet its modest price makes it attractive for home businesses as well. Certainly the folks at Brother have proven once again that two heads are better than one.
Products: Epson DX-20 (computer printer)
Brother International Twinriter 5 (Computer printer)