When I was in college I bought my first color printer. I’d done all the research and determined that the best deal was easily an Epson that was out at the time. About the same time, my roommate Hubert got an HP. I scoffed. He’d paid more for a printer with a lower DPI. The fool! Despite the lower DPI, though, his prints came out consistently better than mine. I went from scoffing to envious. He said that though HP was cheaper, it was a better brand name so he knew that he couldn’t go wrong with it.

As I worked more and more with computers, I realized that he was absolutely right. Sometimes the specs matter a lot less than the manufacturer. The brand. I was still too much of a cheapskate to get an HP printer, but I did get HP products where they were price-competitive for products such as scanners. Since then (though not necessarily because of that specific experience) I’ve become big into brand name.

A couple years after that I was the solo IT department for Wildcat, an engineering and manufacturing company in Colosse. When one of our office printers died, it was up to me to find a replacement. I immediately searched for an HP printer. Yeah, it was more expensive, but as Hubert had pointed out, you couldn’t go wrong buying it. They didn’t make bad printers. Risk-aversion is a powerful force when you’re the IT guy, so I made the order and received it not long after.

It was a piece of junk. The plastic broke even as it came out of the box. The colors didn’t align creating fuzzy prints. One of the print cartridges leaked. The drivers didn’t work right (taking up 100% of the resources whenever anything was printing). There was an additional series of events about trying to get updated drivers (they wanted money), but that’s a customer service problem so I won’t go into it here. From there I had an unofficial and inconsistent boycott against HP with any product that I wasn’t convinced would be good and that I couldn’t download the drivers for before it was even shipped to me.

For some reason, our laser printer didn’t seem to make it from Estacado to Cascadia. It may be boxed up somewhere mislabeled, but we’ve looked in just about every box that’s the right shape for it. In any case, Clancy and I each having our own printers would be a good thing, my (HP) scanner busted, we’ve spent obscene amounts of money at Kinko’s in lieu of having our printer, and it would be useful to have a color printer (the laser is B&W). So we decided to purchase an all-in-one scanner.

So I was knocking around Newegg looking at printers. I decided to bite the bullet and look at HPs, though I’d keep an eye on customer reviews to make sure that I was getting the best product I could. Even when I bought my crappy one, HP has always made some printers that were good, so I’d just have to pick the right one.

The problem is that since HP has started selling crappy printers in addition tot he good ones, it’s so difficult to tell which is which. In the customer reviews on Newegg, there are always some cranks that just go around trashing products as well as the dissatisfied customer that happened to get a hold of a lemon. So I take negative reviews with a grain of salt unless I see some consistently what aspects of the component the people are complaining about.

Most of the reviews on the HP printers I’m looking at are pretty positive (50-70% give it four of five stars out of five), but there are just enough to give me pause. It used to be that the brand name alone was enough to assuage my doubts, as with Western Digital, ThinkPad, and a host of other companies that I consistently buy parts from. The problem is that even if these are great printers and the people giving it low marks are just cranks, I have no way to know that for sure. In their attempts to compete for the bargain-shopper market, they lost something very valuable. They’re just another Epson at this point.

Canon printers, on the other hand, have almost universally high marks. Their printers are more expensive across the board, of course, but even their low-end machines get good marks. Even though Clancy and I want a fax machine (in the medical community you can’t always just scan and send it in email the way you can in IT). A Canon without a fax machine costs about the same as an HP with one and if I want a Canon that has fax capabilities then I’m going to have to shell out considerably more. However, just to avoid getting an HP printer that may be good or may be crappy, it might be worth losing some functionality (at this point, we can’t afford to shell out the extra money).

It’s unfortunate that a brand that was once so reliable is now cause for trepidation.


Category: Server Room

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8 Responses to Brand Degradation

  1. Bob V says:

    I somewhat agree on the brand thing. I think it used to be that the specs on any product were enough to direct your purchases. I used to get the cheapest ____ with _, _, _, and _. Eventually that got to be dangerous with most types of goods. I will still do it if it is something relatively cheap, non-critical, and old technology. Take a home router, for example.

    For anything expensive, critical, and new technology, I generally go brand name.

    Furthermore, I have a lot of brand loyalty for very particular items that seem to be tricky for companies to get right no matter how old the technology gets.

    Any random nicknack they sell – 3M, Target store brand

    Cars – Honda

    Computers – Apple or IBM

    Digital Cameras – Canon

    Hard drives – (Do you know who sells decent ones? They all seem to suck now.)

    Printers – HP (though I’ll now switch to Canon)

    Salt – Morton (when it rains it pours, man.)

    Tape – 3M

  2. Webmaster says:

    I’ve never had a problem with HP laser printers. What I have seen, however, is that no company seems to be able to reliably make good ink printers. Between that and the fact that ink printers have precisely one purpose these days (printing photos to photo paper), I don’t bother having an ink at home.

    Of course, there’s the fact that ink cartridges generally are expensive enough that you’re better off doing your photo printing at a Kinko’s anyways and not paying for the printer maintenance or risk of a dried-up cartridge.

    Bob V, on your items:
    Computers – Do it Yourself; there are a few component makers to avoid, but for the most part stuff these days is made in the same couple factories for the individual brand names.

    Cars – I like my Ford Mustang. But I’ve seen a lot of devoted Honda owners, and there may be something to it. The one downside: finding a shop (besides a dealer) to service a Honda once warranty is out. Car to avoid: Volkswagen (they won’t even sell foreign-car shops the parts to do the work).

    Digital Cameras: I’m actually happy with my Sony.

    Hard Drives: I usually go with Seagate right now. Can’t speak for reliability but they’re easier to deal with in terms of actually getting warranty service than the others.

    Printers – HP for Laser. For ink, see above.

    Salt – I get my salt and spices from The Spice House (www.thespicehouse.com). Shipping is reasonable and they’re the best quality I’ve ever found. “The best food starts with the best ingredients…”

    Tape – Duct Tape Forever.

  3. ecco says:

    There are technical reasons why no inkjet printers are as good, but then there are also huge profit motives. I work with someone who use to test printers and he said that you don’t save any money by not using the cartridge. After a month of being used, the cartridge would have lost 50% of its efficacy. You might as well print all the time, because that ink is going to be lost anyway, if you’re not going to use it. Also, I’ve heard from another scientist that HP programs its cartridges to stop even if they have sufficient ink. I’m never heard that directly from HP engineer/scientist though. It’s only been secondhand information. Anyway, the moral of the story is to go laser.

  4. Webmaster says:

    ecco,

    That’s actually been caught by a number of studies where people “reprogrammed” cartridges to have a longer life counter; they got acceptable printing quality an average of 25-30% longer than the normal page counter indicated.

    HP’s not the only company to do it, either – just about every ink printer manufacturer does.

    The moral of the story is to go laser *except* if you’re printing a lot of photos – and then just suck it up and go to Kinko’s, because the cost is about the same per page anyways.

    Also, where I work, it’s been a nightmare to get certain groups to stop “spending up” their yearly budget (so that they don’t look like they can exist on less and see next year’s budget docked) on ink cartridges. I watched ~$1200 in expired ink thrown out one year, because they’d stocked up and then stuffed a bunch of cartridges in a closet to harden up. I wouldn’t mind if they were actually using the stuff they were “spending up” on, but seriously – this is a university-wide problem. I ran the numbers and figured the aggregate waste just for my campus at ~5 times my annual salary.

  5. trumwill says:

    Ink Vs Laser Jet The main reason that I didn’t go with a laser jet is that I wanted a scanner combo and there is somewhat limited selection and none of it affordable to us at this time. The other printer we have is a B&W Samsung laser jet that I was pretty happy with. Hopefully we will unearth that and we will do most of our printing with that. But it’ll be nice to have the color printer there if I need it.

    Ink Jet vs FedEx That may be true for full-on photos, but honestly if you’re printing those then you should go to a kiosk or development center. Stuff like that usually has sentimental value making it worth the extra money. For the kind of stuff a lot of people print, though, text with small images or colored text or something like that, it isn’t even close. If you do that sort of thing frequently, you need a color printer of some sort and even ink jet is better than going to FedEx.

    HP vs Canon It’s not that HP inkjets can’t compare to laser jets in the same way that all ink jets can’t. HP is no longer better than other ink jet printer manufacturers and worse than some. Whether it’s reading customer reviews or comparison charts, HP lost what it once was: the go-to brand for printers.

    Ink Cartridge Life One of the big things about ink cartridges for at least some brands is that it’s important to turn the printer off. Otherwise it gets exposed and degrades quickly even if it’s not being used. I’ve heard that HP’s are particularly bad in that regard. Dad got a lot of mileage out of my old Epson by keeping it off when he wasn’t using it.

    Ink Cartridge Life II The problem with counting pages is that it assumes a particular density and they have to assume a certain density. Not to keep picking on HP, but I hear they’re particularly bad about this. My old Lexmark, which had expensive cartridges that died young, would actually start losing quality before the printer stopped using them. The Epson is the same way.

    In Defense of HP Maybe the problem with their inkjets is that they’ve decided to focus primarily on laser. Despite the problems on the inkjet side, I’ve heard generally good things about their laser jets. I’ve been pretty happy with my Samsung though and would probably go with them again.

  6. Webmaster says:

    I tend to try to recommend steering clear of all-in-one models on the basis that universally (5 different brands so far) the drivers are (a) far too crammed with “extra” features, (b) unreliable, (c) incredibly invasive to the Windows OS, and (d) tend to just suck.

  7. trumwill says:

    Unfortunately, the consumer scanner market was thrashed. There are a couple that are cheaper than my two-in-one, a handful the same price, and the vast majority a lot more expensive. Which would be fine if I needed to do some heavy duty scanning, but I don’t.

    We’ll see how it works out. The good thing about having as many computers as I do is that I have more flexibility. If nothing else, I can put one of the computers primarily on “printer duty”. I’ll probably do a review of the printer after I get it.

  8. ecco says:

    The other thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the pure profit in each cartridge. Each cartridge sells for an absurd markup compared to the raw materials or even any of the transformations that have to be performed on the the raw materials in the cartridge. I think too many companies have just gotten addicted to the money coming in from selling printer cartridges.

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