There was a time, a few years ago, when Canon was the poor relation of the photo printing industry. It’s products were OK, but nothing to write home about. Since then, the company’s products have improved immensely and the i850 is further evidence that Canon is once again a printing force to be reckoned with (grammar).
We’ll get the spec out of the way first, as that’s the bit that will be of interest to many of you. First, there’s a 4800 x 1200dpi (dots per inch) print engine that has various enhancement technologies such as MicroFine droplets, a minimum 2-picolitre ink drop size and so on. The quoted print speed is 22ppm (pages per minute) for mono and 14ppm for colour. As is usually the case, these are a little optimistic, and the printer does a bit of chugging around before it’s ready to print from ‘cold’, but otherwise it’s very quick. A plain paper photo page popped out in under 30 seconds.
Canon has erred on the side of reasonable build quality; the plastics feel a bit thicker than is the case with some printers, but you’d expect that given the target audience. It’s useful that the i850 has both USB and parallel ports as standard, plus the option of a network module. You probably pay a little more for these dual interfaces, but they give the printer a lot more flexibility for office or legacy use.
Leaving aside the driver software, the ‘user interface’ consists of two buttons (on/off and paper feed) and one LED. This makes for idiot-proof operation, which is also the case with the driver software; a big green “Install Drivers” button screams out at you when you first run the setup program. Do that, plug in the cable and you’re away. It’s all very simple and the USB driver installs itself as a root hub, which is a nice, robust solution to the problem of USB printing.
The i850 is also very quiet – whisper quiet, literally. There are no loud clanking noises as the print heads move back and forth. It prints nicely to the edges of the page too. As for print quality, it churns out crisp and clear text output on plain paper, so no problems there. For photographs, we noticed slight banding on standard paper but that disappeared when using coated paper at higher resolutions. In this mode the quality was excellent; more than adequate for printing out digital photos at home.
The i850 uses just four ink colours, rather than the usual six for photo printers, but you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference for anything other than professional photographic work. It has single ink tanks, so you only need to replace the ones that are empty.
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