HP Photosmart 1218

The Photosmart 1218 appeals most to digital-camera slingers. It features two slots that read SmartMedia and CompactFlash memory cards, so you can print photos directly from a digital camera. Using the control panel and LCD screen, you can access menus to select which images to print, set their size and crop them, arrange them in simple layouts, and even apply a few special effects, such as rendering photos in sepia tones. If your camera doesn't use the supported memory cards, it may still be able to communicate with the Photosmart 1218 via its infrared port.

As a general-purpose printer attached to a PC, the Photosmart 1218 acquits itself handily: It cranks out clear, slightly grayish text at a zippy 5.2 pages per minute, and calm, carefully textured colour graphics at a respectable 0.9 ppm. The 1218 also prints breathtaking gray-scale photos on ordinary paper, while on coated ink jet paper its gray-scales and its colour photos both testify that digital photography is no longer an empty marketing promise.

Unfortunately the Photosmart 1218's $899 price tag is probably too high for anyone who's not serious about printing photographs. The paper feeder includes a well for snapshot-size media, a flap to support folded banner media, a bypass slot to feed a single envelope without emptying the main tray, and a long, wobbly extension for legal-size paper. The various paper feeders work, but the ensemble feels like a Rube Goldberg contraption, and prints in the output tray block access to the input tray.

Though its purchase price is steep, the Photosmart 1218's ink costs are not: A page of black text uses about 5 cents' worth of ink, and a page of graphics only 18 cents' worth. (Keep in mind that full-page photos use quite a bit more ink--five to ten times as much.) Also, HP includes an automatic duplexer as standard equipment with the 1218, so if you print long text documents you can save some money by printing on both sides of the page.

In summary the PhotoSmart 1218 is a sweet deal if you're serious about digital photography, but it's too expensive for those who aren't enthusiasts.

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