If printers were cars, the Canon i550 would be a small, efficient sedan, such as a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic. Thus, although this printer may lack the éclat of a Lexus or a Hummer, it gets you where you need to go. Plus, it's cheap to buy and run, and it's speedy enough for everyday use. The i550's features package is out of the ordinary, too; it offers borderless photo printing and a small suite of image-handling programs. The i550 suffers a tragic flaw, though; it can't print decent-looking text on cheap paper. Of late, the HP Photosmart 7550 is the only color inkjet or photo printer to do so. Still, for around $120 (after a $30 rebate), the i550 is a good fit for families or small-business folks who want to print acceptable photos in a jiffy.
Strong paper trays.
In tests, we experienced nary a paper-handling problem with the i550, even when we fed it poor-grade, curled-edge paper that would choke a lesser printer. Even paper outages caused no more than a wrinkle in the process. A clear notice from the included setup CD guides you through the paper-loading process, and printing resumes when you hit the printer's reset button--one of only two on the printer.
Connects to your PC via USB.
To make it easy to manipulate photos before you print them, the i550 ships with several useful, well-made (albeit basic) programs. No, you won't get Photoshop quality from these apps, but Canon Easy-PhotoPrint lets you edit images and browse through your photos, and Canon ZoomBrowser EX lets you view thumbnails as full-screen previews. With Canon PhotoStitch, you can put together a seamless collage of multiple images (say, several shots in a digital panorama or an oversized image scanned in four parts). And Canon PhotoRecord builds photo albums by automatically placing and resizing images on pages ready to print.
Like other new Canon printers, including the S820D, the i550's ink cartridge contains four separate tanks: one each for black, cyan, magenta, and yellow (called the Think Tank System). While the ink-changing process is a tad cumbersome, this model is cost-effective for color printing. You needn't throw out leftover yellow and red ink when you run out of blue, for example. Replacement BCI-3e tanks retail for less than $10 apiece for three-color cartridges, while black ink will run you $10, all of which add up to a low cost per page. In our heavy-print tests (which assume a 50 percent ink coverage on the page), pages came in at just more than 3 cents for black printing and 19 cents for color. That lands the i550 among CNET's top 10 printers with lowest per-page print costs, alongside the ancient HP 2250tn, the Lexmark J110, and a mess of other Canon printers.
Canon's Think Tank system.
But although the i550 saves you cash, it boosts your labor quotient. Because you don't replace it every time you change ink cartridges, the printhead will have to be cleaned often--a noisy process for a printer that's pretty loud to begin with.
If you are a gambling type, bet on the i550 to place rather than win the speed race. Although this printer makes quite a racket while running, it's not quite fast enough to beat the current print-speed frontrunner (the Canon S9000 Photo still outpaces it in both text and photographic output), but it does come in ahead of the pack. In our tests, the i550 spat out a page of text in less six seconds (barely trailing the Lexmark Z45 in text and beating its photo speeds by nearly 2 minutes per page).
When it comes to images, the i550 is also a mixed bag. The printer supports EXIF printing, which improves prints from EXIF-enabled digital cameras. (EXIF data embedded in JPEG files provides camera setting data to optimize print settings, which is great if you have an EXIF digital camera but extraneous if you don't.) But with our non-EXIF files, the 8x10-inch photo looked grainy and streaky, trailing output from the entire Epson Stylus line.
| Inkjet printer text speed |
Pages per minute (longer bars indicate better performance)
| Inkjet printer color photo speed |
Minutes to print a color photograph (shorter bars indicate better performance)
| Inkjet printer quality|
Canon supports the i550 with a year's warranty; a Web-based knowledge base; and toll-free, recorded-message phone support. You can reach interactive phone support via a toll call from 8 a.m. to midnight weekdays and noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays. During our test calls, we encountered reasonable hold times and received fast, accurate answers.