Kodak, as you may or may not know, is offering a new line of printers which it says will save you money because the print cartridges cost less and last longer than those from other manufacturers, resulting in a substantial savings per print. It may look good on paper (pun intended), but is it true? And even if it is true, are Kodakis new printers worth your time and, more importantly, your money?
We shall see.
The Cave Test
When I take a look at a new product the first thing I do is to see how far I can get without looking at any of the manuals, quick-start guide, cheat sheets, and other doo-dads vendors include with their gadgets with the intention of getting you up and running quickly.
I think itis a good test, but it is also very subjective; Iim a tech-guy. Stuff just seem to fall into place when I use them whereas other folks will struggle for days just trying to insert Tab A into Slot A.
To make tests like these more meaningful to you I try to look at everything as if Iive spent the last 40 years in a cave listening to radio: I have the general concept of the world outside the cave, but the details might be beyond me.
So, with my Cave Filter on, I opened the box containing Kodakis new 5500 All-in-One Printer/Fax/Copier/Scanner.
Immediately I was presented with a Quick Start guide with pretty pictures, which I promptly ignored, and pulled out the remaining packages before dumping the printer onto the carpet.
Kodak 5500 All-in-One
The box includes a power block and cable, print cartridges (one black, one tri-color), the cradles for the cartridges, a CD, and some packs of Kodak print and photo paper. Like most printer makers Kodak did not include a USB cable, so youill need a USB cable with a Type A plug on one end ( the typical flat plug) and a Type B plug on the other end (thatis the one that looks like a little barn silhouette when you look at the plug on-end).
So, there was the top of the line Kodak 5500 sitting unpretentiously on my living room carpet, and the first thing that popped into my mind was how nice the printer looked.
Iim not getting in touch with my feminine side, itis just that Kodak did a nice job in making the 5500 look good. The styling works well in almost any home or small office. It doesnit stand out nor does it hide or blend, which means that you donit have to search for it when you need it, and it wonit bother you that it is where it is when you donit need it. Thatis a good thing.
I then grabbed the printer and placed in on a shelf in my office (which is a desk, a chair, and a filing cabinet). My next thought was that the 5500 felt substantial.
When you buy a cheap printer you pretty much expect the plastic to be of the cheapest kind and that the whole thing will feel like its held together by willpower alone. Not so with the 5500. I was impressed with the thickness of the plastic parts and how little everything creaked when handling it. I never felt like I was going to break something just by using it. This translates into making me think that I was dealing with a piece of quality equipment.
Iim also a fan of the little LCD screen on the front of the printer. You can adjust its angle for optimum viewing and you can use it to preview photos directly from your memory card or camera. It is not necessary to download pix to your computer first to get prints. That can come in handy.
Tab A into Slot B
Now the fun part: How do I put the ink cartridges in?
There was no apparent opening for the cartridges, but after about 30 seconds of trial and error I lifted the scanner flatbed; lo and behold, a place for cartridges!
The cartridges themselves require a bit of assembly, but, again, nothing that needs a lot of thought, and in two minutes I had the cartridges loaded. I was ready for power.
I turned on the 5500 and watched as flashing lights and the 2-inch color LCD screen displayed its status. About 30 seconds later the 5500 stepped me through the alignment of the print head and a minute after that the printer was ready to go.
I didnit once look at a manual or guide for help. Absolute techno-phobes may want to, and likely need to refer the provided "Start Here" guide, but most will get along without it or use it just for reference. Again, a very good thing.
I did have a problem loading the software that came with the 5500, however. In fact, I never could get the CD to work. The installer kept complaining that it could not load the software because I needed to have Mac OS X version 10.4.8 or higher on my Mac. Of course, I have Mac OS X version 10.4.8 or higher on my Mac so there really shouldnit be a problem. The solution was as easy a grabbing the latest version of the installation software from the Kodak Support Web site. Again, something a lay-person may not think to do.
Be prepared to restart your Mac when you install Kodakis AiO Printer Software (version 1_2Rel3). Youill need to make sure your printer is connected during the install as well.
Up and Running
Once the 5500 is ready to go it is really ready to go. Donit expect the 5500 to match the speed of even the slowest laser printer, but as inkjet printers go, Kodak has produced a hustler: 4 x 6-inch color images print in 30 seconds, full page black and white text prints in ten seconds, and black and white copies in about 25 seconds. No printer speed records, but not too shabby either.
Note that photo print times depend on the resolution and size of your photo. A 300 dpi (dot per inch) 8 x 10-inch 16-bit photo printing from Photoshop CS3 took a full 14 minutes to complete. By way of comparison, a color laser printer at your local office supply store may take about one to five minutes to complete the same job. However, it makes little sense to print an 8 x 10-inch at the highest possible resolution all the time. Unless you are printing a photo to frame, choose 100 dpi or 72 dpi and your prints will zip right out, and youill save on ink as well.
The print quality is top notch, too. Colors are deep and rich, photos retain most of their original detail, and text printing is crisp with no visible print artifacts. Of course, youid expect that a new printer will kick out nice prints right out of the box and only time will tell if the 5500 will hold up under extended use, but after a few hundred or so photos, copies, and prints from my Mac everything looks the way it did when I powered on the printer for the first time.
One of the reasons photographers use inkjet printers is to create proofs and contact sheets. Prints from the 5500 are more than adequate for such things and, if you use high quality photo paper, you wouldnit have a problem using color prints from the 5500 in your portfolio or as a finished product. Kodak claims that photos printed with their new inks will last at least 100 years. I havenit tested this claim, of course. Call me in 99 years.
If you do intend to print high quality photos make sure you calibrate your printer first, else youill wind up with printing artifacts such as striping and subtle shading differences. The calibration does help.
Copying documents and photos is pretty easy too; put your page on the flatbed and hit "Copy," select how many copies you want and hit the "Start" button. Documents copy quickly, but photos take a little extra handling. You can copy multiple documents as well by putting a stack in the document feeder. As you would expect, the 5500 kicks out the requested number of copies without fuss.
... And Scanning
While printing and copying are a straight forward processes, scanning requires you to put on your Mac beanie.
Kodak provides Windows users with an application that lets them manage scans and faxes. That may sound like the ideal solution, but in reality it becomes yet one more application you have to understand in an environment already overflowing with one-trick-pony apps.
Image Capture is use for scanning
In Mac OS X Kodak wisely chose to use existing applications to interface with the All-in-One device. Just as printing can be done from any application that produces printable output, scanned images can be imported from the AiO to applications that support image input -- at least, in theory. Photoshop will import scans from the 5500, but iPhoto wonit. Microsoft Office will grab scans, but Text Edit wonit. Basically, if the application understands TWAIN (a standard that governs how software talks to printers, cameras, and other imaging device) then you are good to go with scanning, otherwise youill have to resort to the Services menu where youill find the Import Image menu option. From there youill fire up Image Capture which, in turn, will allow you access to the scanner from within the application, sort of.
Scanning Dialog Window
In fact, Image Capture is the best way to access the scanning function of the 5500. When you hit the scan button in Image Capture a Kodak dialog window comes up and gives you options for scan resolution, converting to black and white, or scan preview. Hitting the scan button in the Kodak window actually starts the scan. A nice thing about the Image Capture interface is that it lets you set where you want the scan to go and what to do with it once the scan is done. I have mine set to bring up the Preview app, that way I can see the results of my scan immediately and save it however I wish.
The downside is that the Kodak software forces you to save the scan in either TIFF, JPEG, or PNG formats which, if you use my setup, can result in two files. You can save the file in Preview to whatever format you want, but it leaves the original scan file intact. That may be good or bad depending on whatis important to you. Kodak should at least offer a configuration choice that will let you remove the original.
Another unfortunate issue is that after scanning one page I couldnit get the scanner to work again. I would get a communication error that refused to clear without shutting down and restarting the printer.
Obviously thatis not acceptable behavior. I contacted Kodak and they hooked me up with a beta version of a firmware update. Once loaded, the 5500 worked perfectly. Kodak told me that the firmware update (version 188.8.131.52) is now available.
Good thing because scanning is another one of the 5500is strong points. I scanned in photos at 300 dpi and I was hard pressed to find any problem in the results. The colors were true to the original and every detail, including flaws I hadnit noticed in the original photo, were reproduced. In fact, the scanning is so good that I intend to use the 5500 to scan in my familyis old photo collection instead of using the dedicated flatbed scanner I have on hand.
I think some will find the scanning interface a bit cumbersome, and Iid have to agree with that assessment. I like that Kodak is using existing applications to access the 5500, but the integration needs to be tighter. Still, once you get the firmware updated it works well.... And Faxing
Thereis nothing exciting about the last main feature of the 5500: its fax capability. Plug in a phone line, put a document on the flatbed, punch in a number, and youire off.
Kodak missed another prime opportunity to make use of the 5500is features by not integrating faxing with Mac OS Xis Address Book application. You can bring up Address Book from within Kodakis Home Center software, but you have to cut and paste names and numbers into Kodakis Home Centeris phonebook. What a shame and a waste of time.
Donit get happy about the Address Book icon, you still have to drag and drop.
Receiving faxes was a problem, too, if you wanted to save them as files instead of printing them out. I could never get it to work until the firmware update. Now it seems to work just fine.
Penny Pinching Prints
Kodak is touting its new printers as money savers. They claim that it costs less per print using their printers and ink cartridges than it does with competing products. The color ink cartridge costs US$14.99 each and the black cartridge is $9.99. If you figure in paper cost as well Kodak says you can get 23 cents per print using their system.
In truth itis hard to know exactly what your final cost per print is because it depends so much on how and what you print. However, you can compare the cost of ink fairly easily, and Kodakis ink cartridges are the least expensive.
For instance, the Canon MP810 All-in-One printer uses one black cartridge and four separate cartridges for color printing. The black cartridge lists for $14.95, but can be had for $12.15 on Amazon, and the color cartridges can be had for $12.15 each as well, for a total of $60.75, or you can buy a cartridge pack containing all five cartridges for $42.75. Not bad.
Kodak offers a combo-pack as well containing a black and tri-color cartridge for $22.61. Thatis really good.
There are more comprehensive reviews of Kodakis printer that attempt to test actual cost per page. You can use these tests for comparing the Kodak printers to other brands, but again, your real cost will depend heavily on what you print and how you print it. At least from the the ink cost perspective, Kodakis printers appear to be very cost conscious.
The Bottom Line
The Kodak 5500 All-in-One Printer looks great and feels like a classy piece of equipment. Printing works great and the output is as good, if not better, than what youill get from the best of any printer maker today.
Kodak wants us to believe that their printer will save us money, and I believe them. The cartridges are cheap enough and Iive given my test unit a workout. Every picture and document printed fine and Iive used a 200 sheet pack of paper completely and made several color prints before needing to change cartridges. Hardly scientific, I know, but Iim more concerned with the perception of value, and on that count, Kodak delivers.
The problem for Mac users, however, is the printeris software and the user interface.
Buggy software is fixed with downloads, but being forced to go through the download process as soon as you open the box takes the shine off an otherwise shiny product. Further, poor integration with existing applications in Mac OS X makes scanning and faxing a lot less enjoyable than it could be. Again, the firmware update helps greatly with basic functionality, but it does little to address how you use the deviceis features in Mac OS X, and user interface is one of the reasons people buy a Mac to begin with.
The Kodak 5500 All-in-One Printer has a lot of potential that is currently unfulfilled in the Mac arena. If I just go by the look and feel of the 5500, print quality, and perceived value I would highly recommend this printer, but the software and interface flaws mean I can only recommend the 5500.
(Note: This printer was originally priced at US$299. Kodak has since dropped the price by $100, making this a very good deal.)
I recommend the Kodak 5500 All-in One.
|Review Item||Kodak 5500 All-in-One Printer|
|Minimum Requirements||OS X version 10.4.8 or above|