Dirt-Cheap HP Printer Rivals Laser Quality

PALO ALTO, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Here's a sleeper pick for the late-summer, early-fall productivity hit: a dirt-cheap, large-format desktop printer.

The desktop computer revolution has always been just half the small-business story. Sure, a PC or a Mac is nice and all, but getting one's work out on a real piece of paper for a real person to deal with is, in actuality, the money shot for the average small business.

Until recently, developments in desktop printing have been limited to a battle between lux, but pricey, laser printers and cheaper, usually lower-end, inkjet printers. Xerox ( XRX), Brother, Canon ( CAJ), Oki Data and many more makers have tried since the age of Reagan to make laser printers cheaper, ink jet printers better and both technologies less expensive per printed page. And the small business has made big time: Perfectly reasonable high-volume laser printers can be had for well below $500. Staples ( SPLS), for example, has a perfectly good Xerox Phaser for $300.

But one niche of the printer market has gone unserved: cheap, larger-format printers that can handle bigger paper than standard 8.5 x 11-inch sheets but don't cost thousands to buy. Now, printer makers have addressed that market. Epson and Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), for example, now make wide-format, low-cost ink jet printers in the $300 range.

To get a sense of the values in play here, I took HP's riff on the desktop wide-format printer, HP Officejet 7000, for a spin. It costs $299.

What you get: A great little printer that makes big prints.

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