Printers can produce a love-hate relationship. We love the utility they provide and their low cost. But we hate the high cost of ink cartridges, sometimes priced at more than the printer itself.

Epson WF-4630

I’ve been using the Epson Multi-Function Printer WF-4630 for about four months. The all-in-one inkjet printer scans, faxes, copies and prints, both single and double-sided.

It’s one of the best home-office printers I’ve ever used. It addresses many of the objections of past printers, including being hard to set up, paper jams, low-capacity paper trays and the high cost of ink.

The WF-4630 paper tray holds 250 sheets of paper compared with others that hold just 50. Epson rates the cost per page at 1.6 cents for black-and-white and 8.2 cents for color, significantly lower than many other printers, including Epson’s older models.

The printer is fast and quiet, and the quality of the printing is excellent.

The printer has what Epson calls PrecisionCore technology, which uses four sets of nozzles (actually on a microchip) to create more dots, resulting in faster printing and higher resolution.

The WF-4630 is also durable, with a 30,000-page monthly duty cycle. In four months, I experienced one paper jam that could have been user error — the result of the paper not being properly stacked.

There’s also a rear tray for holding 80 sheets of a different-size paper or envelopes. You can also stack up to 35 pages in the automatic document feeder for copying, scanning or faxing. And there’s a choice of printing on one or two sides of the paper.

It handles paper sizes up to legal size.

I’ve been using it primarily to print Word, PowerPoint and other documents from my computers, and photos from an iPhone and computer. Text quality is as good as a laser printer and charts, tables and graphs are colorful and uniform.

Photos are also very good.

The printer was simple to set up and connect to my Wi-Fi home network. It can also be set up with a USB or Ethernet connection. It has a large 3½-inch color display for accessing many of its settings and providing status messages.

The printer is 13.5 inches tall by 18.1 inches wide by 16.6 inches deep and weighs 31½ pounds.

It is available for $199, making it a very good buy for all that it provides. Now if could just eliminate the junk faxes that keep showing up.

Epson SC-P600

While Epson makes some of the best, small office printers, such as the WF-4630, it’s also the acknowledged leader of large-format printers used by photographers and printing companies.

Epson lent me its latest large-format printer, the SC-P600 color inkjet, designed to print at the highest possible quality on paper up to 13 inches wide. It’s typically used for making prints up to 13 inches by 19 inches, but also can print on a paper roll of 13 inches up to 129 inches long, perfect for panoramas, banners and posters.

The P600 is designed to produce professional-quality photos, artwork, prints and graphics. It uses nine cartridges of pigment-based ink: yellow, vivid light magenta, light cyan, vivid magenta, cyan, very light black, light black, photo black and matte black, all of which are fade-proof.

The printer is black with a 2.7-inch display and measures 24 inches wide by 14 inches deep by 9 inches tall (with the trays closed). Like the WF-4630, setup was easy, aided by the 2.7-inch display. You simply download and install the software and configure it for the way you want to connect.

In my week of use, I did a variety of printing: large photos, diagrams and artwork. I had recently created a 20-inch by 30-inch watercolor painting/poster.

I tried making 13-by-19-inch copies of it by photographing it outdoors and sending the file to Costco, one of the well-rated consumer photo labs.

The results were just fair. Colors were muddy, and there was an overall gray cast to the background.

I tried the P600 and printed directly on both Epson watercolor paper and photo paper. The results were best on the watercolor paper, nearly an identical copy of my original. Prints on photo paper were better than Costco’s, but not as good as the watercolor paper.

I also tried printing a large poster of a family tree that my wife was working on that included small photos. Again the results were excellent.

Last, I printed several of photographs at 8 by 10 inches and 11 by 17 inches on a variety of photo paper, performing color correction using Adobe Lightroom. Results were terrific and reminded me of when I used a darkroom — but this is much less work with better results.

This printer is ideal for an advanced or professional photographer or an artist, as well as for a small printing business. Many artists use watercolor paper and an Epson printer such as this model or its predecessors to make commercial prints of their paintings.

The P600 costs $799. Ink refills are costly at $31.99 for each of nine colors, but their capacity is huge, and I barely moved the needle after printing dozens of prints. The superb quality from this Epson printer is why printing companies charge as much as $50 for a print using this printer, compared with a few dollars by doing it yourself.

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The auto industry has strived to build technology into its cars to manage navigation, the phone and entertainment. Most in-car systems in use now are designed in-house or by large original equipment manufacturer suppliers to the industry, such as Denso.

The challenge for the auto companies is to advance their in-auto capabilities fast enough to match those of our smartphones, and to incorporate all their new services, such as streaming music, Internet radio, local search and much more. This opportunity has attracted Apple and Google to develop in-car systems based around their experiencs with their smartphones.

Ultimately, they want to replace the automobile’s system with their own, but that will take years. As a first step, they’re offering systems that sit on top of the car’s interface, much like an app. That leaves it to the user to choose whether to use the auto company’s built-in system or switch to an Apple or Google system.

Google’s Android Auto is the first to become available; Apple’s Car Play is coming later this summer. I’ve been trying out Android Auto on the first car to incorporate it, the Hyundai Sonata, a beautiful new model incorporating Hyundai’s next generation of sleek styling.

Android Auto is designed to work with an Android phone running Android 5.0 or later, something not all phone brands have made available. For my tests, I used a Motorola X phone supplied by Hyundai.

To set it up, download the Android Auto app on the phone, along with other apps that work with Auto, such as Play Music, Spotify, Pocket Casts and iHeartRadio.

The phone is plugged into the USB port and paired with the car’s Bluetooth. Once that’s done, the phone can be tucked away, because it’s only used for connecting to the Internet. Surprisingly, the phone is not adequately charged through this port, so the battery dies over time.

When the phone is connected by USB and Bluetooth to the car, the Android Auto icon is activated on the car’s display. Touching that icon brings up Android Auto, You can toggle between the two operating systems by touching the Auto icon on the car display.

Android Auto offers a few apps that play streaming music and Internet radio, as well as displaying Google Maps and managing your cellphone. You’ll also want to use Google’s voice interface because the buttons for making selections are severely limited on these apps, apparently in the name of safety.

In this Android Auto mode, your phone allows apps to communicate to the Internet. Most of your apps won’t appear on the car’s display, only those that are designed for Auto and meet Google’s rules for minimizing distractions — so forget email or text messages. I was surprised by how few apps are available and how limited most of them are. For example, the Google Maps phone app offers tremendous capabilities that include detailed maps of both outdoors and indoors around shopping centers, callouts for local dining and much more.  In contrast, Google Maps on the Android Auto is just a shadow of the Google Maps we know and love. There’s a minimum of detail and limited customization. And it sometimes got its directions wrong.

Navigating to a supermarket, it took me to a highway entrance ramp 50 feet from the store’s parking lot. It pales in comparison with Hyundai’s own excellent GPS system, which, for example, lets you enter whether you avoid tolls or use the HOV lane or FasTrack One nice feature is the Google dashboard screen that lists personal activities, past destinations and appointments that pop up on a scrollable list, much like Google Now on the phone. However, you cannot swipe the messages to delete them and they are so large that you can only see a few at a time. I did like the ability to listen to radio stations using the iHeartRadio app.

I found using Android Auto to be limiting and often switched to Hyundai’s own system, which also includes its own unique set of controls for Sirius/XM, climate settings, and wireless calling. So expect to be shifting back and forth much like using Windows 8 where you need to switch between two different interfaces.

Android Auto is far from a polished product. Since this is just the first generation, it will improve. The good news is that it’s all updatable on your phone.

And it’s understandable that the auto companies want to include Android Auto and Apple Car Play to give their customers a way to use their phones and an alternative to using the phones by themselves, which can be dangerous. But in this case more is less, and they are not making it easier for the customer.

Just consider it a work in progress.

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I’ve been trying out a product that’s designed to improve cell service, both data and voice, in the home. It’s called the Cel-Fi Duo Signal Booster from Nextivity, a San Diego-based technology company.

I’m using the model designed for T-Mobile cellular phones. A second version is available for AT&T phones. While there are not yet models for Verizon or Sprint, the company produces models that work with 170 carriers around the world.

I began as a skeptic because I’ve tried so many products over the years that claim to boost cellular reception, but rarely did they work well enough to detect any improvement. But this product is different. It really works and its performance exceeded all expectations.

The Cel-Fi consists of two boxes that stand on end, each about the size of a small router. The concept is to locate one of the boxes, called the Network Unit, in the home where the signal strength is the strongest, and the other box, called the Coverage Unit, where the signal is the weakest.

In operation, the Network Unit searches for cellular signals from your carrier’s three nearby cellular base stations, and figures out which one is the best for noise characteristics and has the least signal loss, all in less than 20 milliseconds. It then sends that cellular signal over a wireless frequency, similar to Wi-Fi, to the Coverage Unit, which then rebroadcasts that cellular signal from the weakest area of the home.

The company notes that Cel-Fi is the only consumer booster with up to 100 decibels of gain approved by the FCC, allowing one system to cover up to 13,000 square feet, or a two-story home about 100 by 60 feet in size.

Like most wireless specs, the coverage depends on the number of walls and other construction factors that may reduce the signal’s penetration. Hey, I’d be happy if it would work over an area of 2,500 square feet.

My home is a one-story ranch with a U-shaped layout. At one end of the U is large open living room with floor-to-ceiling windows. At the other end is the master bedroom. In between are hallways and other bedrooms, a bath and my office, which gets the worst reception, probably because it’s buried in the middle of the house.

Before setting up, I walked around my home noting how many bars my phone, an iPhone 6 Plus, displayed to find the strongest and weakest areas of reception. The phone display ranged from one to three bars: three bars in the living room near the windows, just one bar in my office and one or two bars everywhere else.

Setting up was simple and straightforward. I plugged the Network Unit into an outlet on the wall next to the large windows and stood it on the floor against the baseboard, tucked behind a chair. Its own built-in display indicated four green bars.

I then plugged in the second box, the Coverage Unit, in my office where the signal was the lowest. The number 9 was displayed, indicating a strong signal was being received. The instructions ask you to find a spot that is at least 8.

I was curious to see what the cell signal measured on my phone. I repeated the walk around and found the number of bars, originally ranging from one to three, now read mostly four or five, with an occasional three. By the numbers, the improvement was very impressive.

I used the phone for several days, and the phone worked really well — no dropped or staticky calls and very clear conversations. I measured the download speed during a time when the networks were not likely to be busy, using a neat free app OpenSignal.

With the Cel-Fi active, download and upload speeds averaged about 15 Mbps. With the Cel-Fi unit disconnected, the download was about 8 to 10 Mbps and the upload with a meager 0.6 Mbps.

I also measured the signal strength on my phone to be -74 dB with Cel-Fi on and -118 dB with it off, an improvement of 44 dB.

There are also a couple of side benefits. Because of the strong signal, the phone doesn’t need to run at its maximum power; thus battery life is extended, and the phone emits less radiation.

This is a very impressive product: easy to set up, easy to use and the improvement in performance speaks for itself. The product sells for about $500, and is well worth it if you have unsatisfactory cell service at home.

Equally important: If you’ve hesitated to get rid of your landline because of marginal cellular service, now there’s less of a reason to hold back. (www.cel-fi.com).

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I consider myself to be a good photographer, although sometimes I become more focused on the equipment than the results. Before vacations I often obsess about which camera to take along. Should it be my prized Leica digital rangefinder, a pocket-sized Canon or Sony, or something in between, such as a Leica D-Lux 109, slightly larger than a compact camera? Often I’m looking for something that performs well, but is not a problem carrying everywhere.

On my recent vacation to Italy with my wife and daughter, I decided to travel light and take just the D-Lux, while my wife took the Sony RX100. But something unexpected happened during the trip. I used my iPhone 6+ to take more than half the pictures.

I suspect I’m late to the party, joining the masses that are using their phones instead of separate cameras. But based on my experience on this trip, phone cameras are a viable alternative to the best of cameras. In fact, a phone camera can take comparable images and even better video in some situations, and offers several advantages over conventional equipment.

Among the other half-dozen in our group, ranging in age from 30 to 81, there was just one other camera. Everyone else used their phone cameras, both iPhones and Androids. And there’s good reason for it, particularly on a trip like this. We were all able to immediately share our experiences through our photos with each other and with friends back home.

When it came to quality, the images from the phones were usually quite good, sometimes better than we got from our expensive cameras. While smartphone cameras don’t have the large zoom lenses, wide aperture or flexibility of settings that cameras do, they have other capabilities that cameras don’t have.

They have in-camera processing, using the power of a computer to improve the original images. And because of the lens’ smaller aperture, nearly everything is in focus. When set to “HDR,” they can make images that are multiple exposures superimposed on top of one another to bring out details in the dark shadows and the overexposed areas.

The phone cameras also excel for close-up images. We all took many pictures of wine labels, as well as the food we cooked or enjoyed out at a restaurant, images that did not focus well when using the other cameras.

The lack of adjustments means there’s no fiddling with settings; you simply pick up the camera and shoot. As a result, the pictures capture what you intended, closer to the moment.

When we returned home and examined the collection of images and videos under magnification, the iPhone images held up quite well. They didn’t beat the Sony or Leica for sharpness, but for color, snappiness and capturing the moment, they compared favorably. And unless you plan to make enlargements of 8-by-10 inches or more, resolution becomes less of an issue.

But even more important than capturing the images was what we were able to do after taking them. At the end of each day, we uploaded our phone images onto the Apple iCloud to create photo albums with everyone’s pictures together.

Apple’s new sharing of albums feature means you can create an album made up of everyone’s images and accessible to all. Many posted their images directly onto Facebook or Instagram to share them with friends. Android phone users were able to upload to iCloud using an app.

This is all enabled by the phone’s built-in wireless technology that lets you upload images using Wi-Fi or the cellular. Most avoided the cell because of cost, but I used it on my T-Mobile iPhone 6+, which has free data in most of the world.

The quality of the photos and video from the in-phone cameras on both the iPhone and Android phones were good.

While there’s no zoom lens on phone cameras, a similar effect can be accomplished by zooming in on the image, which, while lowering the resolution, lets you get a perfectly composed image.

However, the limitations of the smartphone camera begin to appear in very low light, where the lens has a smaller opening than the camera’s and the tiny sensor creates camera motion, underexposed and grainy results. But that tended to happen at the end of the day, after we were full of food and had several glasses of local wine, and few of us cared!

Using a smartphone camera offers a sense of liberation from using complex equipment, allowing you to pay attention to where you are at the moment. Taking a picture becomes a quick break.

I discussed my experience with Ken Rockwell, who runs one of the most popular websites covering camera equipment (www.kenrockwell.com). What’s his favorite compact camera for traveling? His iPhone 6+.

So now when I travel, the question will not be which camera I take, but whether I take one at all.

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American Express positions their card as the one never to leave home without, and that they are wherever you are around the world. But on a recent trip, they let me down just when I needed them the most.

As I boarded a plane a few weeks ago at LAX on my way to Rome, I received an urgent email from Amex asking me to call them about several recent charges to my American Express Platinum card, suggesting that my card may have been compromised.

I called Amex during a layover in Montreal and confirmed the charges were not mine. As a result, they said they would need to cancel my card and issue a new one.

They offered to send me the new card to my Rome hotel where I’d be for two days, and assured me there was plenty of time for it to reach me. I offered to visit their Rome office to pick up a card, but they said they no longer offer that service. They also assured me that my recurring monthly payments to about a dozen companies that are automatically billed to my Amex card would not be affected.

But on my last day at the hotel in Rome, I received an email from them with a DHL tracking number that took me to the DHL site saying that the card was just being shipped from the United States and its arrival date would be several days after I checked out.

I called Amex; they apologized and offered to deliver the card to me at my next hotel in Norcia, a small town in Umbria. I’d be there for a week and was assured there was more than enough time. Five days after I checked in, still no card had arrived. But Amex emailed me DHL’s new tracking number that said the replacement card would be delivered to the hotel fours days after my checkout date.

Another call to Amex; they told me that if the card didn’t arrive before I left Italy, they would send a third replacement card to me when I returned home.

The DHL tracking information proved to be incorrect, because the card arrived the next day. I called the number on the card to validate it and was assured it could now be used.

I made a charge with it that day and it worked fine. The following day I flew to London and went to pick up a rental car, but when I tried using the new card, it was rejected! A call to Amex and the agent said that card was invalidated because they were going to send me a card to my home. The new card that worked the day before could no longer be used, in spite of assurances I was given earlier.

(Just as background, I try to use a single card for all my expenses, so it’s easier to keep track of at tax season. The Amex Platinum has proved best for this. I carry a couple of other cards for backup, but use them much less often.)

I have rarely encountered an incident with such confusion and conflicting information, resulting in Amex being unable to get me a card I could use during my two weeks of travel.

The usually helpful customer service agents showed little knowledge of the replacement process and the time it would take for International delivery. Each time I called, they needed to connect me with their security department, and even on the same call, each person I spoke with asked me a slew of questions to confirm my identity.

While fraud is a big issue, Amex seemed to have shifted their balance away from providing the best customer service to protecting themselves against fraud, and that’s resulted in a less than stellar experience they are know for with this product.

I’ve used an American Express Platinum card for fifteen years. While its $450 annual cost may seem excessive, the excellent benefits actually net out at much less. Its benefits include free entrance to a network of airport clubs, payment for a Global Entry card, free Wi-Fi from Boingo and payment of up to $200 each year for airline charges such as baggage fees and seating upgrades each year.

They also do a great job in resolving merchant disputes, usually in the cardholder’s favor. But these perks are not useful if you can’t use the card for its primary purpose.

To the company’s credit, one of the customer service agents offered to credit the account for $150 for phone calls and the inconvenience of it all.

I asked American Express to comment, and they were very apologetic. They will be looking into DHL’s inaccurate tracking information and try to improve delivery reliability. They did note that overnight replacement is provided in the United States, but they need to do better outside the country.

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