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The WriteMove, Baby

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As the popularity of the Macintosh PowerBooks increases (Apple claims to have sold more than 300,000 PowerBooks in less than a year), more and more PowerBook-specific products arrive at the industry doorstep (if not ours :-)). Some seem to fade into obscurity, such as the SCSI-based Radius PowerView, whose lack of popularity may have helped slow the release of SuperMac's SuperView as well. Others seem destined to fare better, and from the initial sounds of it, GCC's new WriteMove II printer should find a nice niche for itself.

GCC specifically designed the WriteMove II to complement the PowerBook line. The printer weighs in at a mere 2.5 pounds, measures 11.7" x 3.5" x 2.0" (which puts it at about half the size of a closed PowerBook), features 360 x 360 dpi resolution, and can run on battery power (it recharges when it's plugged in). In the past, portable printers have traded quality for portability, but it appears that the WriteMove has solved that problem with its 360 x 360 dpi resolution and ATM and TrueType compatibility. Unfortunately, the WriteMove does not come completely without trade-offs.

The print engine differs from the common low-end printers these days since it uses thermal fusion to imprint characters with a wax-based ink from the ribbon. GCC has two types of ribbons, a multi-strike cloth ribbon that you can flip five or more times and a single-strike ribbon for absolutely final copies. The single-strike ribbon costs significantly more per page, not surprisingly, but the multi-strike ribbon's quality will suffice for most common printing jobs, although the quality decreases as you use up the ribbon. Interestingly for those who do presentations on the road, the WriteMove II prints on normal transparencies.

Needless to say, the WriteMove II uses QuickDraw, which means that you must use either ATM and PostScript fonts or TrueType to print at a full 360 dpi resolution. To help you along, GCC bundles ATM and Adobe Type 1 versions of Times, Courier, Helvetica, Helvetica Narrow, Symbol, and Palatino (six font families for a total of 21 fonts). Of course, you have a bunch of those as TrueType fonts included with System 7, but it's still useful.

The driver software offers most of the features commonly available such as background printing, but GCC has built in a couple of less common features as well. If you want to queue up a bunch of files to print later (say you're working on a plane and don't have the printer set up), you can use Print Later, and if you want to check your document before printing, GCC included a Preview mode. The driver has a Color/Grayscale mode like Apple's LaserWriter driver, and for those five people who still use bitmap fonts, the GCC driver does font smoothing.

The WriteMove's major drawback (and the reason why you wouldn't use it as your main printer) is that you must feed each sheet to it personally. That's certainly not a problem for a new presentation transparency, or for printing out a quick memo, but it would pale as entertainment after the first 15 or 20 pages of a long document. In addition, the WriteMove II is no speed demon at about a half page per minute, but you can't expect blinding speed from something that weighs 2.5 pounds and can run on battery power. The batteries last for about 12 to 15 pages per charge, and you can recharge the batteries (it will take about six hours for a full charge, although the batteries charge whenever the printer is plugged in, even if it's printing) about 600 times before you need new ones. Like the PowerBooks, the WriteMove II has a power-conserving sleep mode that it enters after one minute of idle time. After three minutes it shuts itself off to save even more power.

Aside from the paper handling and slow speed, the only other problem I see is that you have to get ribbons directly from GCC or a GCC dealer, which may make them hard to find when you're on the road and the ribbon wears out (as it no doubt will). GCC will deliver a ribbon overnight for $9, which is expensive, but in an emergency.... Otherwise, the WriteMove II sounds perfect for those people who live and die by their PowerBooks in hotel rooms.

Particularly when combined with a 170 with an internal PowerPort/Gold modem (which sends and receives faxes), the WriteMove II offers some impressive features in a small and light package. If GCC could add an optional paper tray, they'd have a definite winner on their hands. As it stands now, the WriteMove II should be a popular printer for portable users, but purchasers might compare it to the Kodak Diconix 150 (the printer on which GCC based its now-discontinued WriteMove printer) in order to determine which feature set and trade-off set best meets their specific needs.

The WriteMove II has a one year warranty and will retail for $599, but dealers set their own prices, so I'd expect it to run around $500 at first, perhaps dropping a bit after the novelty has worn off.

GCC -- 800/422-7777

Information from:
Ken Hancock -- kenh@world.std.com
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