State of the Intrepid – Scan & Print
If there’s one thing I quietly agonized over while setting up the Intrepid, it was what to do about scanning and printing. There have been times when I’ve needed to receive PDF forms which can’t be edited on the computer, so they must be printed and filled out by hand (and perhaps signed) and then either be mailed, or scanned and emailed back. These tend to center around either medical forms, or such things as fishing licenses, which then need to be printed out and carried with me. This can be a problem in the boonies. The vexing thing is that printing and/or scanning isn’t a frequent thing, so once you figure it’s worth the money and all-important storage space, then you need to decide whether you really need both capabilities, and whether you really need to be able to handle letter-size sheets.
Naturally, I researched the usual compact printer solutions. They tended to be rather large, and my available space to stow them is very limited. Adding in the need for scanning complicated this further. In my experience, inkjet printers don’t do well with inactivity – the cartridges dry up and go gimpy, then it’s a battle with a wet paper towel. I looked at thermal transfer, dye-sublimation (sub dye) and laser printers as alternatives, and couldn’t get happy for one reason or another. I figured I’d stick with inkjet and carry a spare cartridge as the cost of doing business. Over the years, I’ve had serious issues with high-end HP and Epson units, while my Canon’s mid-line foibles have been limited to eating cartridges like there’s no tomorrow – even when seldom used.
Then I stumbled over an oddity outside the Big Three that seemed interesting. Built by a company mainly known for commercial CD printers/labelers, Primera decided to go after a niche market: printer/scanners intended for business travelers, people who make their living on the road. You know, consultants, sales people, delivery, contractors, you name it. Three things intrigued me about it, the first being its exceptionally small stowed size despite being able to scan and print letter-size sheets. Second, it’s price, which is reminiscent of commercial/business-grade equipment rather than consumer products. Read: expensive. Third, given this price level and their intended market, it may work and keep working. Business folks, well, if they can’t do what they do, they don’t eat. They get frustrated easily and do not tolerate any type of gizmo that threatens their livelihood, especially when they are walking the walk while out of reach of easy fixes. They literally can’t afford to spend time troubleshooting technical problems. I mulled this consideration over, albeit accepting the inherent mortality of inkjet cartridges.
I researched user comments on the Trio, and found polarized results. People either loved it or hated it, and the rest whined about it not being wireless or doing duplex printing. I’ve become suspicious of highly negative comments in my old age. Some people order products without bothering to read about features, capabilities, etc. Then they chastise it for not being what they were looking for. Some criticize it from afar, based on what they think they wouldn’t like about it. Others don’t bother with the manual or quick setup sheet that accompanies it, do what they’ve always done in the past, run into trouble, and return it without contacting the manufacturer’s Customer Service for help. The Primera Trio looked to be a bit quirky and not for people who toss the setup sheet, but its compelling features were just too enticing, and I decided to take the plunge and find out if it was what I hoped it was.
Once I got it, I went through everything with a religious fervor, but practically drew my breath when I opened the lid on the printer to look inside, where the cartridge, belts and plethora of rollers live. There was almost nothing in there! It looked like an empty frame. Surely something had been left out during assembly. With the instructions in front of me, I fed it the color cartridge that came with it, gave it a piece of paper in the tray, plugged in the USB cable to my laptop, and installed the application software. It worked, and worked well, which was almost confusing because I couldn’t see anything in there to enforce how the paper moved through. Likewise, scanning. I expected the sheet to feed off-kilter (that’s what I’m used to), but in it went, and offered to produce a JPEG picture file, PDF, or printed copy. Amazing.
The Primera Trio is a peculiar little beast. Its few lighted buttons include icons which I have yet to understand and remember, but I’ll get it eventually. Still, it’s dead simple to operate once you get rolling with it each time. I expected mediocre scan and print quality, but it rivals everything else I’ve used, but without the paper feed problems. All you do is follow the instructions. It actually does best when you don’t try to “help” it. It handles paper that’s been folded just fine, and getting a copy out of it is a one-button deal. My biggest surprise has been the survival of the used cartridge, as in not showing a hint of printing problems after months of storage in place.
One notable thing about the Trio is that it accepts one cartridge only. That can be a color cartridge or a dedicated grayscale cartridge, but if you want to change for some reason, you need to physically swap them and place the loser into what they call the “garage”, a protective clamshell that seals the cartridge and allows tucking it away in luggage without undue danger of leakage and stains. Business users will tend to stick with one cartridge type or the other, and it’s not much of an issue with me, either. Once the color cartridge dies, it’s grayscale for me.
Limitations? Cartridges are not available in retail stores, so you must find them online or buy directly from Primera online. They cost about the same as other brand factory carts at list price, and you are very unlikely to ever find refilled ones, so running the Trio ain’t particularly cheap. Then again, my Canon isn’t either, since although refilled units are available, they don’t last long and it requires five working cartridges in order to print anything. Another limitation isn’t a limitation within its target market, but only when consumers want it. They want wireless connectivity. WiFi is out, since if you’re sane, you don’t set up printers on the hotel’s or restaurant’s or customer’s networks, and bluetooth wireless can’t handle the rush of data that scans generate. So it’s reliable and fast USB cable for the Trio, and the cable supplied with it is just long enough for a side-by-side setup with your laptop. The last limitation is that the Trio does not copy freestanding – all you need do is push one button, but it needs the computer’s memory to accept and feed back the image to print. A quirk is that its installed cartridge must be rotated down out of the way of the folding lid when you’re all done. What makes this a quirk is that a locking lever over the cartridge must be put in just the right position to allow this, and it can be picky.
A worthy option which I sprang for is an onboard lithium battery, good for 300 or so prints under optimum conditions. A lot of purchasers opt for this, since it allows matching a powercord-free laptop’s operation. Sometimes the last thing you want is to have to go hunting for an AC outlet just to print, scan, or copy a couple of pages. I don’t have a customer waiting, but when I want to print or scan and go onto something else, digging for power cords is not my fav activity. Obviously, the Trio comes with a 110V plug, and a badly overpriced 12V car adapter is also available. It is notable however, that the AC plug also recharges the battery in about 1-1/2 hours, and that the USB connection to the computer can also trickle charge the battery. That takes over 10 hours though, and only then if the printer is left off with the USB cable connected. This isn’t useless, since you can leave both overnight with only the laptop plugged in to power, and the Trio’s battery will be topped up by morning. At any rate, the usage flexibility of the Trio combined with a laptop is not unique, but is not at all common, either. That, and the Trio’s collapsed size make for a highly functional piece.
One other option I included was a stretchy, zippered soft carry case which has an external pocket to hold the USB cord. How you bring along a spare cartridge is your business. I would have felt more comfortable with a snug-fitting hard case, but oh well. Folded up, the Trio is not particularly delicate, so only reasonable care is needed when stowing. The main interest for me is to keep dust out of it and protect its glossy finish from handling scratches.
Summary? Expensive, but it’s a very good functional fit for me. As a “business solution” meant for reliable performance in space-challenged environments, it seems to work pretty well for road hogs with overpacked pop-up truck campers, too. I’m always convinced that the next time I want to print something, that its original color cartridge will no longer be operative, but so far, that just hasn’t panned out. It’s always a happy surprise. Print, scan and copy, anywhere, anytime – and quickly. I’m pleased with it.