In case you haven't been near a computer department at one of the big box stores, prepare yourself for the holiday push. My guess is that it is "AIOs" or what is actually a printer, scanner, copier, and fax device all in one piece of equipment.
Over the last couple of months I've been trying to set up a small home office in our coastal location. With an office view that you'll see if you click the link, there is also the challenge of not nearly the amount of space that I have in my Roanoke office where I have a real copier, a real scanner, and multiple printers in a huge basement office with a view that often leads to the photos that I post on my photography site. Since we had to redo my basement office, "The Saturday afternoon technologist, electronic hair," due to flooding, it seems like I have been setting up home or business offices all year. That even got me to do a post, "The Instant Economy," on how easy things are today when it comes to going into business.
Yet not all of this happens without challenges as any technology user will tell you. Being mostly a Mac OS X user with occasional forays into Linux and some necessary trips to Windows, I've been suspicious of most AIOs which have traditionally not worked well with Macs.
Part of my suspicions have come from seeing some rather full open box shelves at local electronic stores in Roanoke. I generally find that open box shelves are a good predictor of what people are having trouble getting to work.
My own self demo experimentations on some of the all in one products confirmed that they aren't the most intuitive products. Yet they are very compelling and almost a necessity to people like me who are trying to cram a lot into a small space.
I'm pretty picky about technology or a wouldn't be a Mac user. I'm also methodical and not afraid to ask advice and do lots of Internet research. Researching AIOs on the Internet turned out to be very frustrating with no real consensus opinions unless I went to a site that was trying to sell me something.
Going to the local stores in Roanoke was no better and almost convinced me that customer service is dead and that people under twenty five aren't nearly as technologically astute as some of the media would have us believe. Perhaps their technical expertise doesn't go beyond iPods. The experience visitng the big box stores certainly made me wonder how the Roanoke area could be classed as a "Technology Corridor."
We could find no one in two local Staples, the Circuit City or Best Buy, who could actually make one of the AIOs work properly. One young Staples sales person finally admitted that he hated AIOs because something was always broken. We also had the misfortune in that store of running into a hostile young clerk when we actually purchased some other office items. She wasn't very subtle about the irritation I caused by questioning the pricing she gave me on some folders which came from bins clearly marked with other pricing. She was still snarky even after another staffer went back to check the pricing and confirmed what I said. Obviously this wasn't a very auspicious beginning to our hunt for just the right piece of equipment.
Thinking that being armed with more information would help, I consulted with a couple of my trusted technology advisors and got mixed advice. Andy of DesignNine first gave me a Xerox recommendation and then when he learned of my budget and space problems suggested a Canon. I read some good reviews of the Pixma which is by Canon, but there were also some bad reviews. My friend Russ, one of the great technologists in Happy Valley up at Penn. State, told me he had enjoyed some good experiences with HP products.
Armed with that information, I headed up to the local Staples in Morehead City, NC. It was there that I actually had my faith in sales people renewed. We had been in the store only moments when a Staples staffer probably in her early thirties approached us. We told her what we were looking for and that we wanted to see the products actually work. She immediately set off to get what she needed to make that happen. She got the first test, a simple copy done quickly.
That was actually more than anyone else had been able to accomplish. I asked about why the next model up was $100 more, and she came up with a reasonable answer, Bluetooth. I next challenged her with actually showing us a photo print. She told me that if I had a memory card with an image, she would be glad to oblige. I went out to the car and got my digital camera, and she quickly got the HP6180C working on the task. We got a photo printed on regular ink jet paper about a minute later. I then suggested that I would like to see the machine actually produce a 4X6 print as advertised on photo paper. Another quick trip and she came back with some properly sized photo paper. About a minute and a half later, we were looking at the print.
They had no Canon products in stock, but as you'll find out if you start looking, the Cannons don't have fax capabilities and also don't come with built-in networking, so they aren't a complete solution by any means.
I'll be reporting on how the HP does with my Macs, Windows, and Linux machines. I would be glad to review a Canon if they want to send me one for a comparison. The traditional web can't seem to keep up with the slew of new products. Most of the reviews I saw were from 2005 and on machines that are no longer on the market.
However, the real story today is that having knowledgeable customer sales people sells products and results in happy customers. I congratulate Staples on having at least one very knowledgeable customer helper in their Morehead, NC store. It was a real pleasure talking to someone who actually understood the technology and could demonstrate it. That's something which is getting a little rare these days as big box stores dig deeper and deeper to find warm bodies.
I wonder if they'll ever figure out that having people like the lady in the Morehead City store is a better way of doing it than making their open box shelves larger?