Saturday, February 5, 2011

Product Review: Konica-Minolta Magicolor 1600W color laser printer

Back in the early 2000s, the last time I needed a printer, I consulted over the phone for long weeks about it with my best friend -- the man who built my current PC, on which these very words are being written -- who repeatedly spiked the various models I'd been floating past him, regardless of name brand, source of my own interest, functionality or reputation. In exasperation I eventually asked him (not without empirical precedent) if he wasn't just shooting-down every candidate in order to be a pain in my ass, whereupon the other end of the phone-line went uncharacteristically and thoughtfully quiet for a moment. "No, Dave," he finally said, "it's just that every model you suggest is in the kind of price-point that it should come equipped with a hostess in a pencil-miniskirt, pushing a drink trolley past your desk every few minutes. You seem to have decided you're going to spend a thousand bucks on something that will work no better for your needs than one that costs something more like a tenth of that much money."

After some further discussion about reliability, print volume, uses, etc., my friend finally convinced me to drive to my nearest big-box office retailer (about a thousand feet from my house, if it comes to that), and spend a hundred dollars on an HP Laserjet 1012. In the years since, that printer performed flawlessly: nary a single paper-jam or smeared page-proof along the way to generating not one or two but five complete, full-length fiction- and non-fiction manuscripts, for nobody to read. It's a bit melodramatic to say, but not a million miles from true, that every bad book I've written in my entire life I owe in some small measure to the advice of that curmudgeonly, beloved, and now gone forever best friend of mine, who passed away from complications of cystic fibrosis in the spring of 2007. (I'll stop mentioning this detail in my apparently unrelated stories about other things altogether at some point, I suppose -- if for no other reason than it won't be possible to keep bringing it up after I've joined him.)

Of course nothing lasts forever in this molded-plastic-and-printed-circuit-board junk store that is the world of modern consumer technology, and while the HP printer itself never did evidence any signs of getting tired, the combination of increasingly fractious after-market toner vendors, and a sudden interest on the part of yours truly to print a few things in color, led me with a deep sigh and a heavy heart to conclude last Christmas that the time had come to say farewell to yet another of my de facto Buddhist shrines to the life and love of my best friend. As you can tell from reading this, it wasn't going to be easy.

Then again, after digesting a few cursory user-reviews on the web it became apparent pretty quickly that it wouldn't have been easy anyway: Know those machines out there in big, middle-of-the-aisle displays at WalMart and Best Buy? The ones for seventy- or fifty- or in some cases even thirty bucks? You know, the default choices for non-professional home users these days, the color inkjet "all-in-one" with the handy little SD-socket and the flatbed scanner/copier platform at the top, made by Canon and HP and Lexmark? Well, unless the users who've bought these and written about them are all either hopelessly ignorant or part of some mass-conspiracy to slur the once-noble titans of the printing game, the machines themselves are all... well... shite, if you'll pardon me for saying it.

I'd planned to read a dozen user-reviews each for middle-end all-in-one machines by each of the names with whom I'd have expected to have a good experience, and each time I found myself not needing to continue after the second or third write-up. One person would say, "Well, this one is good for what it does -- which isn't much," the next person would say, "I got it to install but it never printed anything," the third person would say, "You have to send a single page at a time, because it jams every time it tries to grab a second sheet on the same print-job," and then the fourth person would say, "DO NOT BUY THIS HUNK OF CRAP; IT WORKED FOR FIVE MINUTES AND THEN GREEN SMOKE STARTED POURING OUT WHICH KILLED THE FAMILY DOG." This happened with the Canons, which surprised me; it happened with the Lexmarks, which stupefied me; it happened with the HP models, which left me literally staring at my monitor with my mouth hanging open and my hand on top of my head.

Some people out there might think it's silly to put this much stock of credibility into the collective feedback of a group of unseen strangers who might not all have any business trying to buy and install a printer in the first place, but by way of justifying my resulting circumspection I should here confess that I am, more than any other single negative-descriptor that suits me better than I'd like, an absolutely zealous consumer satisfaction Nazi. Most people choose to major in economics because they can't bear the idea of messy explanations for bureaucratic red-tape; I chose to major in economics because I couldn't bear the idea of the faceless automatons in windowless conference rooms, sitting around all day trying to figure out how to force us all to buy stuff that they already know won't do what they're saying it does, on the wrapper. When most people buy something that fails to do what it's supposed to, they make a note and shake their heads and try again; when I buy something that fails to do what it's supposed to, I spend the next thirty-six hours watching movies in which people murder someone and get away with it, taking notes.

The difficulty this particular failing presented for me in the present context is self-evident: There simply didn't seem to be anything out there -- anything, out there -- for a person to buy if he wanted to print more than a page or two before feeling he had no choice but to google-bomb the make and model-number with incendiary diatribes about what a hunk of junk he'd just bought. Even the buyers' wizard on CNET.COM -- a usually functional if not always last-word-worthy set of fixed-alternative questions, culminating with a single recommendation -- repeatedly suggested the same particular all-in-one color inkjet, made by Canon, regardless of which options I chose along the way, and which gets less than 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for its user-review aggregate on their very website!

Add to this the problem the stealthy detail that the all-in-one jobbies tend to yield shockingly low page-totals before needing new cartridges (and the implicit hell that finding the new cartridges would surely be, despite all those wall-to-wall glass display cases of cartridges you and I have both seen a hundred times), and it was clear that my search was going to have to bring me a little farther afield. To wit, if I wanted a reliable machine -- even if that was all I wanted -- I was going to have to look at a color, laser printer.

So, having resigned myself to color laser printers for my search pool, I then proceeded to check all the usual on-line-merchant suspects for machines ranging in price from... five to nine hundred dollars! After all, if a color inkjet all-in-one for seventy bucks was a big, fat, do-not-buy, then surely the only reliable solution out there was going to cost at least five or ten times that much money, n'est-ce pas? I mean, it's not like I hadn't been right about this very same logic once before, no? ...Oh, wait: I hadn't been right about this very same logic once before; I'd been dead wrong, about this very same logic, once before. The difference being that this time there would be no irritable and periodically profane friend to all but literally slap me out of it.

In the end the story came to a different resolution through something a lot closer to blind good-luck. Having found a $600 printer that looked promising, I began reading the user reviews for that model and, mercifully, the second one I read had been written by someone who in his first paragraph said that he'd liked that machine, but could see no reason to prefer it for home-office use over another machine that could be had with a little snooping for a sixth as much money. It wasn't until I'd actually divided $600 by six in my head that I realized how profoundly I'd almost just let the memory of my deceased friend, down.

Enter the Konica Magicolor 1600W -- a
non-wireless, non-duplexing, twenty-page-per-minute yawner that, when asked to print in full color, drops down to five.
It's bigger, heavier, and less functional than its principal target market has probably gotten used to expecting out of its products, to be sure. A two-employee consulting business with a studio office overlooking the used records store at Fourth- and Elm is quickly gonna want its money back. But here's the thing about all of that: The fucking thing works. And for this target market of one, that's the non-cinematic equivalent of having me at hello.

Out of the box the Konica makes an immediate impression. It's both self-serving and probably at least to some extent revisionist of me to say so, but I do feel as though I've gotten to the point in my own consumer experience -- not without some negative examples -- where I can tell more-or-less immediately whether I'm going to be happy with something, based on the vibration I get from the thing while I can still hear the UPS truck pulling into traffic on eighth avenue. Arcam makes good stereo source components, period. Integra makes good receivers. Dared makes good amplifiers. Signal makes good stereo cables. Salk makes good speakers. Panasonic makes good TV's. Some of these things might be less likely than their competitors to thrill you, but none of them are going to leave you wondering how you could have been so stupid. Add the Konica Minolta 1600W to the list. From even before the styrofoam ears were safely hidden from the cats, it was going to be a good fit.

The pictorial instructions for unpacking and installing the machine are a little excessive (must, not, throw, metal, transit, screws, in, the, regular, garbage) , but I'd rather that than the opposite, of course. There is a corresponding manual, but it is rendered utterly redundant by the tediously over-detailed cartoon strip that comes folded-in on top, which is fine by me. The point being, I was connected and printing non-test-pages in under five minutes after signing for the box. And a lot less can be said
of many, many, many other printers out there in the hundred-dollar price point. What am I saying, a lot less has been said of many, many, many other printers out there in the hundred-dollar price point.

Since the overwhelming majority of my own print requirements (at least for now) would seem to be of the monochromatic variety, my first big experiment with the Konica was to put it through the trickiest job I could anticipate needing it for in this category--one in which the black-and-white formatting associated with documents like hotel receipts and so-on should appear cleanly on the same page as basic, legible text. And folks, not only was I impressed with the job the Konica did--I was impressed to an extent that didn't immediately seem physically possible.

Whereas the same pages printed from the HP had faint-but-detectable gray "footprints" around logos and other cut-and-pasted graphics on these text pages (e.g., if a piece of mock letterhead had a picture of a legal scale centered at the top, one could detect a blocky under-mat around the scale when the page was printed), the Konica seems somehow -- inexplicably, unless there's something about all of this that I don't understand -- to know that the fuzzy matting surrounding the image doesn't actually belong in the document, and instead the image itself is printed as crisp and clean as if it were the next letter to the right of the mailing address. Obviously there is much about such matters that I don't understand, but this doesn't change the fact that the Konica was able to effortlessly accomplish something for me that had heretofore been completely impracticable.

As impressed as I was with text, full-color printing was, if anything, even more arresting, with less false contouring and better rejection of jaggies than I get when viewing the same image on my plasma television! From photographs to color brochure designs and back, it is clear to me after even a few short trials that all but the most heavy home-office users will be nothing short of fully satisfied by the all-color performance of this almond-colored little sumo wrestler and its slow, moderately noisy, but unimpeachably serviceable output.

The ideal user for this machine -- well, the ideal user other than a crabby and self-alienated and as a result largely friendless-old-coot-before-his-time like your present columnist -- would seem to be the scholastically minded seventeen year-old about to leave home for the toughest school that would have him- or her as a student. Indeed I can't really even look at this printer, much less use it, without transporting myself to a dimly-lit dorm room someplace: It's three-AM and six nervous, dirty-blue-jean wearing kids are standing in an uneasy semicircle around the precocious group-leader, who only just let slip that they don't actually have to walk the flash-drive with their project on it all the way to Kinko's now that the buses have stopped running. Meanwhile the guy who hasn't been one of those kids in more than half his lifetime now may sit over here, on the other side of town, pounding-out bad fiction and even worse narrative memoir, and never once have to worry about any of the tree he's killing for no good reason getting stuck inside his equipment and screwing-up his whole print job.

If it's true that I'm the sort of guy who flips a lot further out than most when things don't do what they say they will on the wrapper, then perhaps the upside of this failing is that, in some specific ways, consumer products have an oddly lower standard to live up to, in earning my esteem. An object that says, "Dave, I'm the newest whiz-bang thing, and I've got the opening-night jitters to prove it" is not going to last in my house (not least because the Polynesian burial ground over which my house's fractious electrical supply was apparently built will only eat such a product and spit it out before I've learned to hate it for my own personal reasons, anyway). But a product that says, "Dave, I will sit here, inconspicuously, un-inspiringly, and do exactly that which you expected when you read about me before buying," is the product that will have my allegiance -- if not my still-broken heart, since that is locked away someplace else -- forever.

A word or two of caveat are also in order, here. First, a few users out there have reported some performance quirks with this machine, but it would seem after a little digging that those users might be having most of their troubles as a result of running non-laser-quality paper through this bad-boy, which strikes me as a bit pointless anyway. (In for a pound, and all that.) A user who splurges on a ream of name-brand, high-visibility bright, laser-printer paper, would appear unlikely to have any problems with quirky performance whatsoever.

Second, the power consumption of this machine is anything but Al-Gore-friendly. In my house, with my house's Amityville electrical system, the Konica causes a pulsating dimming of the lights even when it's at idle. But the amusing thing here is that, in a left-handed way, this trait actually saves power in my own usage, because it inspires me (or perhaps I should say terrifies me) into toggling the Konica all the way off when I'm not printing.

Third, and most important, if you have cats as I do you will very much want to close both the paper feed-tray and the output slot after every use, since both of these are the flimsiest aspects of the overall design, and will unceremoniously snap off -- greatly complicating any subsequent printing processes -- the first time an innocent kitty-cat mistakes either one of them for a viewing perch at the top of your home-office rig. And this would, I'll have to admit, seriously cut into one's impression of the machine's overall rugged build quality.

I'll post a follow-up review after I've gotten better-acquainted with this guy, but the initial impressions simply could not be any more favorable. Readers in the market for a new printer may, as far as I'm concerned, buy the Konica-Minolta Magicolor 1600W with absolute confidence that what they're being promised is exactly what they'll get. And if they're anything at all like me, that's more than enough satisfaction of expectation to ensure that they won't be disappointed. Unless you need wireless (a buying group that includes a grand-total of nobody, admit it) or forty-page-per-minute printing (in which case you wouldn't be reading this), it would seem impossible to buy this particular printer and wish you'd gotten a different one instead.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida


roy said...

You have missed your calling--you should have been a writer!

primigi shoes said...

Anybody who uses a Konica-Minolta printer in an office environment can tell you that it is extremely easy to go through a ton of toner cartridges in a relatively short period of time.

Plumbing said...

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Gracy wills said...

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mavis said...

This new software.