HP have always had the edge in the business market, producing leading products for offices around the world, but they missed a trick with photographers. Epson realised that photographers wanted quality and were less concerned about speed. Quality is all about pixels or, in printer terminology, dots per inch. When Epson introduced their model with 1440dpi onto the market, where previously the best anyone had offered was 600dpi, it was bound to turn heads.
HP had a tough act to follow, and I've seen several failed attempts, that was until the 970cxi appeared.
Here's is a printer that takes all the fine characteristics of HP printers, such as front loading paper tray, speed and inkjet technology, but adds photo quality and a stylishly redesigned shell.
It offers 2400x1200dpi resolution and is whisper quiet.
The curvaceous looks make it far more attractive than any of its grey competitors and the front loading is perfect if you're tight for space. This works by taking the paper in from the front bottom tray and returning it on a second tray, positioned above. Most printers have a top-loading tray, which means you need access from above the printer, unlike the HP, which can be tucked neatly on a shelf.
The software supplied is easy to install on a MAC or PC, and the unit can be connected via USB or parallel sockets. I use USB and it lives up to its plug & play name.
Getting the printer ready is straightforward. Paper is loaded into the bottom tray, which has an adjustment for carriage width. There's also an individual slot to take an envelope for address printing. A button on the right switches the printer on and a green light illuminates to show it's ready. This flashes when it's receiving signals from the computer.
When you're ready to print a HP dialogue box appears with plenty of printer options. You can adjust from colour to greyscale, choose the paper quality, adjust the ink output, the print quality, change the size or even print double sided (I'll come back to this later)
Select the paper type you want to use and click okay. A few seconds will pass while the info is being transferred from the computer to printer and then you'll here the printer ready itself and the green light flashes to indicate it's printing. A page of text takes about 5 seconds to output while a full colour photo can be anything up to 12 minutes depending on colour saturation and size.
Text is beautifully sharp, something that I was never happy with on the Epson Stylus Photo. And photographic quality is brilliant, providing you use HP or similar quality papers. Some Ilford paper I used was terrible on this machine.
Print on both sides
One other trick up this printer's sleeve is a duplex unit that fits on the back and allows both sides of the paper to be printed on automatically. Where you would normally have to refeed a sheet this gadget pulls the sheet back in, turns it over and prints on the other side without you having to do anything. This is a great feature if you want to create newsletters and such like.
I liked the HP 970cxi so much that I replaced an old Epson Stylus Color 600 with it and have never looked back. It may not have quite the colour accuracy and resolution of the latest Epson Stylus Photo, but overall it's a more practical if you also intend using it for text printing. The newer HP 990cxi even detects which type of paper you are using and calibrates accordingly, and it's faster. Maybe I'll trade up!