TopShot Top Marks

Like everyone else, I still look forward to going completely paperless.

I seem to recall first getting this same feeling more than a decade ago, when it was ‘only just around the corner’. I’m now not sure which corner, or whether the corner even exists, but I do know that is as illusory now as it was then, and maybe still will be in a decade hence.

Given that we cannot do without paper output, our printer seized the right opportunity to make that known. I was just about to go to bed one Monday night, and my wife was hurriedly trying to print lesson and seating plans for school the next day. A fairly robust all-in-one, our HP 2840 had served us well despite periodically trying to bleed me dry for replacement toner cartridges and its even more costly imaging drum.

Each year printing our newsletter to insert in Christmas cards has marked the start of the festive season, and the peak of our printing year. The LaserJet had happily spewed out Scottish Gaelic and Georgian pages, school maths, and photos from which I then painted. Although its colour was never a match for my Canon Pixma Pro 9500, and network scanning had been a casualty of an earlier OS X upgrade, it had proved thoroughly businesslike and reliable.

It was a fuser error that prevented me from going to bed that Monday night. Knowing how hot the fuser system becomes, I finally gave up, turned it off, and confirmed the fault the following day. In itself, this was not fatal: I could buy a replacement fuser for around £160. But the printer was growing old, and I wondered how long it would be before its next hardware failure. I therefore looked around for a replacement.

I hate shopping for printers, and despite several attempts to replace the HP 2840, I had each time been unable to match an attractive current model (according to the manufacturer) with anything available at a decent price (according to retailers) but without seriously adverse reviews (according to user consensus).

The new HP TopShot LaserJet 200 Colour M275nw arrived on the Friday morning, as I was still trying to memorise its full name.

I had relinquished fax, which only burdened me with more spam and had not been used in anger for years, in return for 3D object scanning and AirPrint. Completing the minor assembly actions to get it ready for use was confounded by cryptic purely visual instructions, but proved simple once I decoded its idiosyncratic arrow language. I think for the first time since my Apple LaserWriter 12/640PS (which now provides the cat with a convenient snooze platform out in the garden), putting the TopShot to work was truly plug, add to Print & Scan, and play.

My next task was to prove to my wife that this rushed purchase was not the hasty action of a total idiot. Before I even had time to print the demo page, resplendent in far superior colour than its predecessor, we were scanning in assorted knitted items, the product of those dank, sodden days during that June’s half-term break.

Once these had met with official approval (muted delight, I think), and I had set her MacBook up to benefit from the TopShot’s rich services, I was off the hook. If anything computing wins my wife’s seal of approval, it really is good.

The TopShot’s overhead imaging system is peculiarly distinctive. Gone is the whining sweep of the scanner: two or three brief flashes as its digital camera snaps whatever you put on the stage beneath, and a few seconds later a crisp image appears on your screen. Its design is strangely evocative of ancient overhead projectors and their antecedents, the tiny camera and light embedded in an arm held high over the stage.

I fancy that we will see more scanners follow suit.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 28 issue 16, 2012. In the nearly 3 years since, the printer has served us well, although I still twitch whenever I need to buy new toner cartridges. I suppose no matter how happy you might be with a printer, you can rest assured that you will continue to pay through the nose for consumables.