Don't get a printer that needs to be hooked up. Get a wireless model.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 31 years

Cheapskate's Guide: Printers, scanners, external drives

December 7, 2014

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2014, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2014, The Post-Standard

This is the third installment of the Cheapskate's Guide for 2014. Go to the Technofile website at www.technofileonline.com for other installments.

Printers are commodity items, just like apples and razors. You can buy a cheap printer without worrying whether it will be any good. Just keep in mind that printer ink is vastly more expensive, over a few years, than a printer.

The most important feature for any printer is a wireless connection. You wouldn't buy a cellphone that had to be plugged in all the time, and you shouldn't get a printer that needs a cable either. You can easily print to a wireless printer from a cell phone, tablet or computer -- and sometimes even from a camera.

But don't get a wireless printer that's not an AirPrint model. Any Apple device can instantly print to an AirPrint printer, and so can any non-Apple (Android or Windows) phone, tablet or computer. Don't leave yourself wondering how to print from your iPhone or iPad. Get the right kind of printer.

My personal choice among color inkjet printers is the Brother MFCJ870 wireless (and AirPrint-compatible) printer, discounting for about $100. It's an all-in-one device -- printer/scanner/copier. The printer part of this model makes outstanding prints (text and photos), and the copier and scanner are good, too.

So don't buy a separate scanner unless you're doing professional scans. If you're sure you need a stand-alone scanner, I recommend the Epson Perfection V550, discounting for about $170. It scans both photos and slides.

Don't buy an inkjet printer if you are only going to print in black and white. B/W laster printers cost much less over the long run; toner cartridges, which laser models use instead of ink, last for years in home use. My choice of good laser printers continues to be the Brother line. This year I prefer the Brother HL-L2340DW, a wireless AirPrint model. It discounts for about $130.

The biggest bargains in computer peripherals continue to be external hard drives. They're all made in the Far East -- Thailand is a major source -- where labor is cheap yet fairly skilled. USB 3 drives that can also be used on USB 2 connections are the best choices; don't get a USB 2-only drive no matter what.

Choose a portable USB 3 drive with a 500GB to 1 terabyte (1,000 GB) capacity. Drives with less storage will just need to be replaced soon. You should be able to find one locally for only a little more than the price from an Internet discounter such as New Egg (www.newegg.com). Expect to pay about $60 to $70 for a 500GB model and about $20 more for the 1TB version. (Shop around and ignore brand names. They don't mean anything any longer for portable drives.)

Next: Give an app or two for the holidays. Write to Al Fasoldt at afasoldt@gmail.com. You can read any of Al's thousands of past columns at www.technofileonline.com.