product strives to be
everything to everyone
by Alan Zisman (c) 2002
First published in Business in
Issue #648 March 26- April 1, 2002 High Tech Office column
All-in-one devices (also known as multifunction
devices, or MFDs) have
found their way into many home and small offices, by conveniently
a collection of common office tools into one, reasonably small package.
Typically built around a combination of a printer,
most often a colour
inkjet, and a scanner, some extra circuitry adds the features of a
photocopier and plain-paper fax machine. Putting all this into a single
unit saves both money and desk space.
A downside is that, as in all-in-one home
entertainment units, you rarely
get best-of-breed functionality in each component. As well, if one
needs repair, you lose the use of all your office tools.
HP's new PSC 950 ($599) ups the ante by
components and adding easy-to-use photo-processing capabilities to the
standard MFD feature set. It's built on top of the same inkjet print
found in the company's popular 900-series printers, giving
colour printing. On top, there's a flatbed scanner that, unlike the
scanners of most MFDs and fax machines, offers higher quality scans and
allows scanning of 3D objects (such as books). However, the flatbed
it awkward to fax multi-page documents and is limited to a maximum 8.5"
x 11" original.
A well-designed front panel makes it easy to use as a
photocopier; place the original on the scanner tray and press a button
for black and white or colour copy. You can easily set number of copies
and reduction/enlargement size. Colour photocopies appear with
speed and good colour fidelity, even on plain paper. Note, however,
ink costs of about $0.10 per page for black and white text and about
per colour (plain paper) page.
The new photo-finishing capabilities start with a trio
slots: SmartMedia, Compact Flash, and Sony Memory Stick slots
the formats used by most digital cameras. Plug in a card and press the
Proof Sheet button to print a sheet of photo thumbnails.
However, this is a contact sheet with a difference.
Beneath each thumbnail,
you'll find a little bubble. At the bottom of the page, there are
for number of prints, image size and paper quality. Darken the bubbles
to indicate images you want printed and your desired photos print,
with good quality, even on plain paper. No computer needed! While this
is exceptionally easy and convenient, it doesn't allow you to digitally
enhance your picture quality.
For that, you still need to store your photos on your
hard drive, and
open them in an image-editing program. HP includes basic PhotoView
software for people who don't already have an image-editing program.
included is ReadIris, a not particularly good optical character
program, for converting text on a scanned image into digital text that
can be edited in a word processor.)
The PSC 950 uses USB and works with both Windows and
Macs. Windows XP
setup is easy -- XP simply finds the unit and installs basic printer
scanner drivers without user intervention. Unfortunately, until HP
its own XP drivers, these built-in drivers don't allow use of some of
advanced features when using the 950.
Also in the family is HP's PSC 750 (about $400).
Though looking like
its higher-priced sibling, it lacks both the fax and photo-processing
While both models can be found locally, be prepared to search store
Some retailers stock MFDs with their printers, others with the
still others with the fax machines.