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For a freelancer, printers are the kind of thing that you end up replacing more often than anything else. In fact they rank up there with irons and kettles as the electrical appliances I’ve replaced most in my lifetime! Now admittedly I find I don’t print quite as much as I used to in the days before CAT tools (TRADOS in particular with its dual column layout) or multiple screens for ease of viewing source and target documents side-by-side. However, as small business owners, there are still many documents we need to print, either for our own records, or to send to clients/authorities, etc. Scanning too is an increasingly important requirement – whether you’re submitting a tender and need to send signed copies of tender forms, or for the NDAs and confidentiality agreements we seem to be asked to sign on a regular basis.amstrad_8512_printerI started off with an Amstrad dot matrix (or was it a daisywheel?) printer back in the late 80s when I first went freelance – I remember the long reams of paper with holes down the side – how times have changed! I then had a series of Epsons, all of which seemed to be designed to expire just outside warranty, after about 13 or 14 months – and then you’d be off again. Getting fed up of this, I did once have a brief flirtation with an HP model, but that didn’t play ball with my computer at all, heaven knows why – and back it went. When they started to bring out all-in-one machines with combined scanners/faxes/copiers, there was even more to go wrong, so inevitably they never lasted long either, but my previous machine, a Lexmark, managed to stay the course for nearly 6 years – a record for me! It came with a 5-year guarantee and was as good as its word; I did have to have the printhead replaced at one point, and a new document feeder, but Lexmark simply sent out a replacement printhead or even a replacement machine – brilliant! Is it cynical of me to suspect that the reason the shops don’t stock them any more is precisely because they last too long and we spend less money replacing them?

Anyway, the reason for this particular post is because my trusty Lexmark had been refusing to feed through the automatic document feeder (ADF) since before Christmas and it was a pain if I had to scan official documents to have to use the flatbed scanner and do them one page at a time. It had also started losing connection to the computer at random times (usually when a deadline was looming) and the only way to get documents to print when that happened was to go through a complicated list of instructions, switching off document spoolers and deleting files that were stubbornly stuck in the print queue, deep in the bowels of the machine – a real pain. So, time to take the plunge and buy a new printer. I waited until the Christmas holidays when my sons were home to give me the benefit of their technical advice, and we plumped this time for an all-singing, all-dancing HP machine with ADF, scanner, fax, etc: the OfficeJet 4658.

My son set it up for me and at first all seemed hunky dory: quiet wifi printing and even iPhone/iPad printing via Apple AirPrint – great! Then came the day, two weeks later, when I had to scan several pages for a tender I was submitting. First the documents wouldn’t scan from the printer control panel itself. Strange, but not an insurmountable problem, as I was used to doing it from the computer anyway. Then it took ages to recognise the scan command via the computer; sometimes it worked, after a long delay, but at other times it told me it couldn’t establish a connection. The plot thickened, as it printed via wifi straightaway. The final straw was when I eventually managed to persuade it to scan via the ADF: not only was the scanned document wonky (which could be corrected on screen, it’s true), but two lines two-thirds of the way down each page had been squished together and were illegible. Oh, and the printed document itself had a dirty black line right down the centre of each page, so I had to print out another to try again…. And try again, I did, but to no avail – I couldn’t persuade it to create a perfect (or even half-perfect!) scan. Sigh. Just not good enough for a virtually brand new machine.

I ‘phoned HP, but after various diagnostic tests was told that it must be a hardware problem and that the machine would have to be replaced. Despite it being barely 2 weeks old, they were only able to offer me a reconditioned machine, which was clearly completely unacceptable. Under the Consumer Rights Act you have 30 days from purchase in which to reject or request replacement of a product that is faulty or unfit for purpose – which this evidently was. However, this right applies to the retailer, not the manufacturer. I had in fact taken out an instant replacement extended warranty when I bought the printer (based on bitter experience!), but I would have been entitled to a replacement in any event given that the problem had occurred within 30 days. When I phoned Curry’s, however, they didn’t have that particular machine in stock at my local store, nor could they offer me anything comparable. Obviously I needed a printer of some sort, so I asked if they could deliver one from another store, but no, that would only have been possible if I’d bought the printer online. More sighs. Needless to say this all took a huge amount of time and effort – good thing I was experiencing a rare quiet spell! In the end, after much discussion and being passed to and fro between different departments, it was agreed that I would drive to another store, in Ashford, some 29 miles from home, where they had the printer in stock AND Curry’s would reimburse my mileage costs.

It took me a couple of weeks to find the time to make this two-and-a-half hour round trip to exchange the printer, and then of course I had to pluck up courage to set the printer up myself as my tech-minded sons weren’t at home. Mission accomplished, I managed to print and scan my tender documents with hours to spare before the deadline for submission. So far so good. The next day, however, I was asked to sign a new confidentiality agreement for an existing agency and lo and behold, the ADF refused to feed any paper. It had worked the day before, no problem, but now refused point blank. No-one else had been in the house, I hadn’t touched it since the last time, so heaven knows what had changed. More calls to HP ensued, in which the operative took remote control of my printer, carried out various tests and then asked me to reset the printer – at the end of which the printer simply flashed up an error message and refused to cooperate at all, even when unplugged and powered off and on. Very cross sighs on my part by now. Once again, a reconditioned model was offered – and rejected. What irked me most was the complete lack of useful support from HP – this model clearly had problems if I’d had issues with two machines from completely different stores, but no apology or compensation was forthcoming. They didn’t even respond to my irate tweets!


I trundled off to my local Curry’s yet again, armed with my extended warranty, although I was still within the 30-day replacement period for this particular device. By this stage I was determined not to have another HP (ever again!), so spent some time (which I could ill afford) choosing another brand, ending up with a Canon Pixma MX535. Back home, I had to set it up again – becoming an old hand by now! – and this time both printing and scanning seemed to work and still work (finger crossed) one week on. Not much to ask, you’d think, but this had been a particularly sorry tale. And yes, Curry’s did refund my mileage, but only after another exchange of tweets when they tried to get out of paying the full mileage for the journey to a more distant store; I pointed out that in actual fact the mileage was the least of my worries – the lost time was much more valuable to me and if I’d charged them for that, they’d be paying me a whole lot more! They duly paid up.


So, lessons learned?

  1. Don’t buy HP – shambolic customer service. As the market leaders, perhaps they just don’t give a damn about one customer’s woes, but I shan’t be lining their pockets again.
  2. Buy an extended warranty – these cost very little (I think mine was £15), but given the rate at which printers seem to break down, that’s peace of mind for the next three years and well worth the money in my experience.
  3. Buy online – then at least if it does go wrong, you can ask them to deliver a replacement and take back the faulty model without trekking halfway across the county.
  4. Tweet about your problems – HP didn’t respond, but I did get an immediate response from Curry’s – and to be fair it wasn’t really their fault that the printers were defective in the first place!
  5. Check the cost of ink – the salesman on my final visit to store pointed out that printers sold specifically as small business printers tend to have much cheaper ink than home printers. Both the models I’d selected had fairly reasonable ink costs, although the HP also came under the new Instant Ink service – worth considering if you already have HP or are not put off by my tale of woe! I calculated that I spent £180 or so on ink the previous two financial years. The most expensive instant ink contract was £7.99 a month with the first 5 months free, so would definitely have worked out cheaper. Not much use if the printer doesn’t work in the first place, though….
  6. Don’t buy compatible inks – I’ve found them to be poor quality, plus they clog up your printer if you print a lot and you’ll probably find your warranty isn’t valid if you’ve not used original ink – you have been warned!

Happy printing!