Any printer aimed at the home market must first and foremost face the simplicity test, and the Action Printer passes easily.
The box contains but four parts: the printer unit itself, a plastic output guide to support printed pages as they emerge from the printer, a cable clip, and the ribbon cassette.The power cord runs into the side rather than the rear of the printer, as does the standard Centronics-type parallel port.The reason: The printer can be stood upright as well as laid flat, reducing the already compact machine’s footprint to a mere 14.8×5.1 inches. Weight is approximately 10 pounds.
Gone are the days when dot matrix printers required the use of perforated fanfold paper.
The Action Printer uses regular 8.5×11 paper, which is loaded into an ingenious paper tray that pulls out from underneath the printer and holds up to 50 sheets.
That’s hardly sufficient for heavy duty business purposes, but it’s probably more than enough for the light duty.When the tray is in use, the paper supply juts out (or up, if the printer is standing upright) an additional 3.75 inches.An optional push tractor allows the use of continuous feed paper from 4 to 10 inches in width.
For the most part, the paper flow is smooth, although even a modestly misaligned sheet will fail to go through, while the printer happily prints away on its own platen.
To minimize the chance of this occurring, the paper tray requires you to arrange the paper precisely, under no fewer than five plastic tabs that hold it in place.
Single sheets and envelopes can be fed manually into the printer by placing the unit in an upright position and feeding the sheets through a slot on the printer’s underside.
In the old days, most dot matrix printers had two kinds of text output.Draft was fast but dotty; NLQ (Near-Letter Quality) was nicer-looking, but oh so slow.The Action Printer, however, shows just how far we’ve come.It’s got five high-quality fonts, a standard Draft mode, and a Draft condensed mode.Fonts are selected via a button and two LED indicator lights on the printer’s control panel.
Pushing the button until both lights are on steadily indicates the Roman font, for example; pushing it until the left light flashes on and off and the right light is off indicates that you are in Script.Nor are you limited to just one or two standard point sizes.Two of the fonts–Roman and Sans Serif–are actually scalable in two-point increments, from eight points up to 32 points, thanks to HP’s new ESC/P 2 printer-control language.There is, naturally, considerable fall-off in print quality at larger sizes; nonetheless, the mere presence of scalable fonts in such a modestly priced dot matrix printer must be judged a significant plus.
Print quality in general is certainly good enough for most standard home-business uses.
The combination of 24 pins (rather than only nine) and high-quality fonts means that, at standard point sizes, letters are sharp and well-formed, by dot matrix standards.
Graphics output is good, but not great: Thick vertical rules, for example, show some banding as well as some very faint streaking.
Setting defaults on the Action Printer is an interactive process that spares you DIP switches.
Instead, you are instructed to turn the printer off, lay it flat and remove a narrow covering over the platen, then turn the unit on again while holding down one of the two buttons on its control panel.
A sheet is automatically drawn into the printer, and a message is printed out: “English? Yes/No.
” The unit is asking you what language you wish to communicate with it in for the rest of your default-setting session; the other choices are French, German, Spanish, and Italian. Once you have selected the language, the unit prints out a series of questions about your preferences, which you answer by pressing one or the other button on the control panel.Dot matrix printers traditionally have suffered from two major problems: sound and speed.
In the Action Printer, Hewlett Packard printers division has attempted to address both concerns, with fair to middling success.
HP printer ink cartridges and cheap ink refills can be easily purchased online from Ned’s Cartridge Animal in the UK.
To deal with the noise problem, HP has put all the printer’s moving and sound-generating parts inside the closed unit, and has liberally applied inexpensive noise-reducing foam padding to the bottom and innards of the printer.
Hewlett Packard (HP) claims a noise level for the Action Printer of some 50 decibels–not as loud as a jet airplane, but more than loud enough for you to be continually aware of the printer when it is working.
Probably the quietest way to operate the Action Printer is to stand it upright with the bottom facing you (and the print head facing away).
The underside of the unit is less than elegant, but what are a few aesthetic sacrifices when it comes to reducing the din of a dot matrix printer?
There is one other major reason to position the printer upright and facing away from you: The printer has to be standing upright in order to print envelopes, a task well handled by the Action Printer.All you need to do is lower the flap covering the slot, then feed in the envelope.A mechanism inside the printer draws in the envelope and correctly positions it to await the address; using, for example, the envelope-addressing tool in Microsoft Word for Windows 2.0 makes the task almost completely painless.
The sole downside of the process is that, for proper printing, you must first lay the printer flat, pop its lid, and reposition a paper-thickness lever, then stand the printer upright for the actual printing–a somewhat involved process.
Print quality on envelopes isn’t up to the standards set on regular paper–the output looks fairly dotty no matter which font is used–but is certainly within the bounds of home-office acceptability.
As for speed, there is no getting around the fact that dot matrix technology is slow. Especially on a page that mixes high-quality text with extensive graphics, you may as well go into the kitchen for a Coke; such a page can easily take five minutes or more to print.All in all, the HP Action Printer marks an interesting achievement.
It is probably wrong to regard the unit as a technological advance.
But the Action Printer is surely an impressive technological refinement–a repackaging of existing technology into a sleeker and more convenient package.At a list price of only $299, the Action Printer ought to find a home next to many small-and home-business desktops.