Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jackass Award - Dell Printers

Dell 1250c colour laser printer - Photo borrowed from www.archiwum.allegro.pl

Over the years I've owned and disposed of - properly, I might add - enough dot matrix, inkjet, and laser printers to have nearly lost count. With the dot matrix printers, obsolescence was what finally killed them, though I did make it through several ribbons with my old Citizen before it finally got retired.

I was once given an old Hewlett-Packard LaserJet+, probably a first or second generation machine that weighed as much as a tank and was nearly as durable, sucking enough power that the lights in my computer room dimmed noticeably when it spooled up, creating this unmistakeable aura of ozone as it hummed, throbbed, clunked, and eventually theatrically discharged each sheet of paper. Already having occasional paper feed issues, its imaging drum finally succumbed to age, and the cost of repairing it made about as much sense as body-off restoring a Ford Festiva, so it was walked behind the barn and mercifully shot.

Since that time, every printer that has found its way into The Basement Of No Return or actually made it to the electronic recycler has gone that way because it ran out of ink or toner. I don't know what that stuff is made of, but forget splashing around the $3000 bottle of Richard Hennessey Cognac - really rich people pour out inkjet ink and sprinkle some toner on it.

Lexmark got more than enough of my money with its fussy, failure-prone inkjet printers (I didn't learn the first time), whose cartridge-mounted inkjet tips clogged or dried out with alarming regularity, giving both printers the overall reliability of a high-mileage Trabant. Not that the apparent thimble-full of ink in each $70+ cartridge lasted long anyways. A later Canon scanner/printer proved to have better inkjet nozzles, but just as large and expensive an appetite for ink. My last inkjet, it lives on as a flatbed scanner.

Samsung actually makes really good laser printers, and at around $100 for B&W, not quite double that on-sale for equally good colour models, they're a deal. But - and you knew this was coming - like most new printers, they ship with "starter" size toner cartridges. Replacing them with a real one costs slightly more than the printer did new (B&W), or quite a bit more than the printer did new, in the case of the colour machines, which hold four of these apparently unobtanium-filled cartridges.

Look closely: This is a "Ship-With" size cartridge. Dell's by no means alone in using this bait-and-switch scam. Just ship the damn printer with a full-size cartridge! I'll pay more upfront. Really.
Commercial-grade machines cost more new, and sometimes even ship with real toner cartridges. Replacing the toner cartridge makes some sense when the B&W printer in question costs more than $250. Credit where credit is due: They do last - the Dell machine my workplace uses has printed bales of paper, consuming several toner cartridges in the process, lives in a hellish environment of dust and temperature fluctuations, and yet still works perfectly. Though I've personally bought a pair of Samsungs (money talks!), I've been a proponent of Dell printers for commercial use based on the longevity and reliability of this and the previous office printer, whose automatic paper feed stopped working properly after what would be several lifetimes for many lesser printers.

Here's the thing. In every case, without exception, all of these printers all continued to work up to and past the point where their ink or toner ran out, even our business machines (the old Dell would still work if fed paper manually). Citizen, Lexmark, Canon, Dell, HP - it doesn't matter. Witness my current Samsung (seen below), which has been telling me it's out of every toner colour for several months now, yet keeps on printing the few pages a month that I ask of it.

No, seriously, I'm out of toner. Hello? Guys? Oh, fine then. I'll keep working.

Eventually, the print quality will go away, or the print itself will become patchy or faded, and then I'll know it's time to pony up or pitch out.

Not so with the Dell 1250c colour laser printer. Nope. We use this on the alignment rack at work to print out sheets with before and after readings for our customers. It also gets used to print out diagnostic flow charts and wiring diagrams (where the colour is very helpful). To be fair, it's been warning us that it's getting low for a little while now, and we probably should have got a new cartridge in for stock. Like anyone ever does that.

This past Friday afternoon it decided that it was out of black toner. Never mind that the last page it printed was absolutely perfect - not a flaw, fade, or spot to be seen. No. It was out of toner RIGHTNOWDAMMIT and that was that. No way to clear the message or reset it. Put in toner or No Print For You!

So what you're trying to tell me is that you're out of toner? It "need" to be replaced now!
I would bet $100 that there's enough toner left to print another 50 sheets. We'll never know, as it can't be fooled into going that extra mile. That sucks for the environment, sure (wasted toner, added landfill sooner), but it really sucks for the consumer, who gets an immediate cease in printing, rather than the hey-I'm-really-not-kidding heads-up of diminishing print quality as incentive to actually buy - or in Dell's case, order - a new cartridge. Oh, and that consumer also gets ripped off however many printable pages actually remained in the original toner cartridges, as I'm sure the other three will behave the same.

This was somewhat of a pain in the ass for me, as the particular alignment I'd just completed was for a body shop, and they absolutely have to have a copy of the spec sheet for their customers and the insurance companies they deal with.

Consequently, I had to pull the colour laser printer out of the cabinet, drag the big monochrome laser printer/anvil out of the office, hook it up, discover that this computer doesn't have the right drivers, and isn't connected to the internet to download them, go into the office to search for and download the drivers onto a USB drive, install the new drivers in the shop computer, uninstall the colour printer so that our alignment software would recognize and use the B&W printer, print the one F'ing page that I needed printed, unhook the office printer, reinstall the now-paperweight of a colour printer, and finally uninstall the B&W printer, so that when my boss replaces the toner cartridge in the colour machine, the alignment software will recognize and use that printer again. Not that I was at all annoyed by the process. Thank you, Dell, and by "Thank", I don't actually mean "Thank".

Sadly, I was going to replace my two essentially out of toner lasers soon, possibly with at least one Dell machine, but I'm not so sure now. I'm actually feeling a pang of regret for recommending Dell machines to a good friend who's just starting up his new business, despite the fact that I expect his printers to work and last well.

Therefore, for installing a purely software-created jackpot of an inconvenience with no possible positive other than to line your pockets just that little bit sooner - and for making me feel bad - I'm awarding you, Dell, with a well-deserved Jackass Award.