Until recently, buying an ink-jet printer for the Mac meant checking the Epson catalog for the Stylus Color or Stylus Photo model that would best fit your needs. Hewlett-Packard and other ink-jet manufacturers had largely abandoned the Mac market, and Epson’s high-quality color output was a good match for graphics-conscious Mac users. Now HP is back, and its latest model, the DeskJet 970, is likely to cause some sleepless nights for the folks at Epson. It’s not the cheapest printer you can buy, but it offers an unbeatable combination of speed, versatility, and output quality for an affordable $399.
Given the latest advances in ink-jet technology, most printers sold these days offer output quality that would have made jaws drop a few years ago. Nevertheless, this model raises the bar a notch or two, especially considering that it uses four colors as opposed to six in Epson’s Stylus Photo models. If you print on glossy media in HP’s new enhanced photo mode producing the equivalent of 2,400-by-1,200-dpi outputimages rival those you would get back from a photo lab, with crisp detail and vibrant but not oversaturated colors. Yet even when printed at 600 dpi, the images look great. As with most printers, however, to get the most accurate color you may need to tweak settings via the built-in color-management software.
Although 2,400 by 1,200 dpi yields the best output quality, the DeskJet 970 isn’t too shabby at lower resolutions. Even images printed at 300 dpi on glossy paper looked surprisingly good, although we did notice minor banding in some areas. We were also pleasantly surprised by the printer’s plain-paper output, especially at 600 dpi. We saw serious banding when printing photos on plain paper in the 300-dpi draft mode, but text quality, even at the lowest resolution, was excellent.
The printer’s technical specifications are similar to those of Epson’s Stylus Color 900 (see
Reviews , June 1999), and comparisons between the two models are inevitable. Each is a four-color printer that’s capable of producing color pages at up to 10 ppm (12 ppm for black), and each is versatile, able to print text documents and full-color images at a high quality level. However, that impressive 10-ppm performance spec assumes you’ll be printing at a low resolution, 180 or 360 dpi on the Stylus Color 900 and 300 dpi on the DeskJet 970. If you want the best-looking photos, you’ll have to boost the resolution, and that slows the printing process considerably.
This is where the DeskJet 970 stands out. Both printers offer roughly the same output speed at their highest resolution2,400 by 1,200 dpi for the HP printer and 1,440 by 720 dpi for the Stylus Color 900producing a full-page Adobe Photoshop document in about 10 minutes. However, the DeskJet 970 can match or exceed the Stylus Color 900’s maximum image quality even when printing at 600 dpi, and at this resolution, it took just 5 minutes to produce our Photoshop document on the HP printer. The bottom line is that the DeskJet 970 produces great-looking photos about twice as fast as the Stylus Color 900, and even better-looking photos if you’re willing to wait a little longer.
Attention to Detail
The DeskJet 970 sports many other nice touches, including a print-cancel button and a low-ink indicator, both on the front panel, as well as a 150-sheet paper tray. It’s the first low-cost ink-jet model to provide automatic two-sided printing (also known as duplexing), although you’ll need thick paper to avoid bleed-through when printing images. The DeskJet 970 is also one of the quietest printers we’ve ever tested.
HP has largely avoided jumping on the iMac industrial-design bandwagon, but the DeskJet 970’s curved surfaces and elegant dark-gray color scheme certainly break the mold of boxy beige peripherals.
The DeskJet 970’s printer software lacks the range of color and layout controls you’ll find in Epson’s ink-jet printers, but it does provide access to all basic print features, including two-sided output. In addition to supporting ColorSync, the printer software offers a simple built-in color-matching function that allows you to adjust saturation, brightness, and color tones.
The printer features built-in USB and parallel interfaces, but if you use an older Mac with a serial port, you’re out of luck; HP has firmly committed to USB as the interface of choice for the Mac. HP offers AppleTalk and Ethernet connectivity through the optional $259 JetDirect 300X External Print Server. At present, HP doesn’t offer a PostScript option, but it’s likely that other companies will offer software that converts the DeskJet 970 into a PostScript printer.