The new Kodak inkjet takes on Canon, Epson, and HP. Several hundred prints
and many lab tests later, the best all in one printer is...
Street Price: $379
The thick manual supplied with the HP Photosmart C7180 says it all: this unit is packed with features. While it may not be the fastest printer of the bunch (both Epson and Canon outpaced it), the print quality is extremely high and prints will last longer than those from the Canon or Epson (based on accelerated tests from Wilhelm Research; there are no numbers yet for the Kodak).
The C7180 uses six of the same separate Vivera ink cartridges found in several other dedicated Photosmart printers, and, says HP, these cartridges are part of a sealed ink system that wastes less ink over time in the cleaning cycle. Users will also appreciate the separate 4x6 photo tray, large and bright 3.6-inch LCD monitor, and support for nearly all types of memory cards.
As mentioned, Advance Photo Paper prints from the C7180 earned an Extremely High rating based on an Extremely High color accuracy (Avg. Delta E of 9.87). But we noticed slightly less detail in magnified views of skin tones and shadow areas than in prints from the Canon or Epson (invisible difference to the naked eye). However, the HP produced prints with the most vibrant reds, especially on HP's Premium Plus photo paper, and prints on its thinner, lower cost Everyday Photo Paper were much more colorful and photorealistic than those from Kodak's 3-star paper.
As for speed, the HP was the slowest of the bunch when the paper setting was set to automatic (the HP can detect the paper used). We found some improved print speeds when we set it manually to the proper paper, and multiple copies of the same print came out much faster (for example, additional copies of the same 4x6-borderless photo on Advanced photo paper came out in 27 secs!)
Due to some visible scanning artifacts and lower color accuracy (High rating with Avg. 12.2 Delta E), print scan quality at the tested 600 DPI setting was slightly lower than on those from the Canon or Epson, but far superior to the Kodak. Since there's no support for color management in the Macintosh scan driver utility, we couldn't set a scanner profile. However, scans showed very high shadow detail, and the device can be set to batch scan film negatives or slides or make prints directly from film scans without using a computer.
The large 3.6-inch LCD, detailed menus, and comprehensive manual make it relatively easy to accomplish the otherwise difficult process of adding a printer to a wireless or Ethernet network. In addition, the built-in Bluetooth radio makes it possible to print directly from camera phones, PDAs, and Bluetooth-equipped cameras -- a feature also supported by the Canon MP810 and Kodak after you buy an adapter.
Set up as a fax machine, the C7180 automatically monitors incoming calls for a fax tone, so it won't interfere with regular calls or require a separate line. It also can fax in either black and white or color. Bottom line? It may not be the fastest printer or scanner, but if you're looking for an AIO that can wirelessly operate in a multi-computer network or do double duty as a fax and copy machine, this is a great bargain.
HP C7180 specs and info.
HP C7180 Ink prices.
HP 24 cent kit with inks and 150 sheets of 4x6 Advanced photo paper prices.
Kodak EasyShare 5300
Street Price: $199
Kodak re-entered the inkjet printer market (after a several-year hiatus) with bold claims for its new AIO line -- most notably the "Save up to 50% on everything you print compared to other consumer inkjet printers" printed right on the printer box. On paper, the EasyShare 5300 packs some great features including a 3-inch color LCD (larger than the Epson RX580's), fast flatbed scanner, card reader slots, and separate paper cartridges for 4x6 and up to 8.5x14 inch documents.
Unlike the other printers in this roundup, Kodak bucks the trend towards separate color cartridges by using just two cartridges -- a black one for text, and a 5-ink color cartridge for color photos and color document printing. Both contain pigment inks, but the 5-ink color cartridge holds only 4 colors, including CMY and a photo black. The additional ink is a clear, protective overcoat that also helps create a glossier appearance on certain media. So, essentially the Kodak printers are 4-color units with a separate black ink for text-only printing. But no information is available regarding the size of the smallest dot produced by the printer, nor the number of nozzles.
The 5300 produced bold colored, photo-quality (or lab-quality) prints when fed either Kodak's 4-star Premium Photo Paper or 5-star Ultra Premium Paper, but the color gamut was the lowest of the four when fed 3 star paper, and those prints showed the lowest color accuracy with a Delta E of 11.4 (a High rating).* Kodak supplies no color profiles for use in color managed programs, and its print drivers for the Macintosh didn't even include the ability to print from the Adobe RGB color space (a choice included in the PC version**). Prints made from a Mac also showed plenty of overcoat applied outside the image area, but the same didn't occur on PC prints. The 5300 also had several paper jams during our tests (especially when loaded with 3-star paper), and it doesn't sense the size of the paper being used.
The prints were dry to the touch and final color changes set in within minutes (similar to the HP and Canon). However, prints made on Kodak's 3-star (6 mil) paper -- which happens to be included in the 180 paper color ink package that Kodak bases its 10 cent per print claim on -- were no better than "draft" quality and deemed unacceptable as photo-quality prints because of their low color saturation. Kodak's price-per-print claim was indeed close with this 3-star paper, and we were able to make 165 borderless color prints from the package (not 180), for a price of 11.5 cents each. However, with lower color images you might actually be able to get 180 prints.***
If you use the more expensive 4-star Premium Photo Quality paper (9-mil thickness) the number of prints from a full color cartridge drops to 80, and the price per print climbs to 37-cents per print. That's more in line with the 4x6-inch prints from the other units tested, and certainly nowhere near the 50% savings claimed by Kodak.
The printer is fast, as is the scanner. But scanning quality was the lowest of all four, with a color accuracy rating on the upper edge of extremely high, and bothersome noise levels that were apparent in 4x6 prints that were scanned and enlarged to 8x10 inches. Scan resolution is also limited to just 1200 dpi according to Kodak, but even if it were higher scan artifacts and noise would interfere.****
Overall, the 5300 came in at the bottom of the four in terms of image quality for both 3 star prints and scans. And while Kodak can actually claim dramatic saving in ink costs over the competition -- it does so by comparing apples and oranges -- or more accurately, draft quality prints to "lab quality" prints from other manufacturers.
Kodak paper sizes and prices.
Kodak 5300 specs and info.
* When originally posted this sentence read "but the color gamut was the lowest of the four, just shy of the Canon's, and prints showed the lowest color accuracy..." The current text clarifies that those results were from the 3 star paper and not the 4 star paper.
** The Adobe RGB profile is automatically used by the Kodak Mac printer driver when it receives an Adobe RGB-tagged image file. However, there is no way to turn this automatic color management off should you wish to use a custom profile via Photoshop's print driver.
*** According to Kodak, the version of letter-sized glossy 3 Star Photo Paper we used to determine the color accuracy and gamut of that paper is being phased out. The newer version will have a similar thickness and ink receptive layer, but feature stripped watermarks on back of each sheet that the printer can read to optimize 3 Star output. However, at this time there are no external box markings that identify the watermarked paper version and no way to manually set the print driver to 3 Star paper.
**** A software bug in the Kodak scan driver for PC's (opened using the Import command in Photoshop CS2) caused the 5300's scanner to malfunction in our test, resulting in lower color accuracy and high noise. This bug occurs after selecting the Kodak Perfect Touch control (subsequent deselecting doesn't correct the problem unless you quit the scan driver and relaunch it). Without Kodak Perfect Touch selected and the scan driver set to color document (instead of color picture), the color accuracy of scans improved to Extremely High (8.53) and noise levels drop to moderately low (2.3).