I REMEMBER the first inkjet printer I ever used. It belonged to my uncle and it was big, slow, noisy and cumbersome. Colour printing meant opening up the case and swapping the black ink cartridge for a three colour one. Colours were dingy and you couldn't reproduce colour and black on the same page. Photographs you say? Forget it. Printing a low resolution, full page colour photo took so long that we used to start printing just before lunch time. That way when we came back, we only had to wait another 15 or 20 minutes for something that looked like a enlargement of a Polaroid. Things have changed since my uncle's clunker was state of the art. The two new printers, the Lexmark Color Jetprinter 1020 and the Hewlett-Packard 850c prove the point. The Lexmark is a PC compatible machine which prints in colour or black and white at a rate of 2ppm for black and 2-4 mpp for colour. The local price, $1,880, includes a copy of Corel Draw 3. The first thing I noticed about the Lexmark was the box. It was small and light; so was the printer inside. In fact, the Lexmark looks more like something that your die-hard road warrior might pack than something that one might use at home or office. Lexmark weighs four kilos, but seemed lighter. Connection of the printer and installation of the driver were accomplished in under five minutes with no fuss or problems. The printer came with one colour cartridge. Strangely enough, no black cartridge was included. The Lexmark's driver quickly drew my attention to its most interesting feature. It seems that I had not installed the ink cartridge properly and suddenly a female voice erupted from the computer asking me to read the error message on the computer screen. Yup, it talks. Another neat thing about the driver is an ink level indicator which tells how much ink is left in the cartridges. The print quality is about what you would expect from a printer of this price range. Yellows, cyans and magentas were bright and vivid and blacks were surprisingly neutral considering that they were generated using a colour cartridge. However, the dot patterns in most graphics were rather obvious and colours were not very accurate. Resolution and sharpness were adequate for text. The Hewlett-Packard is quite a bit bulkier than the Lexmark. At a local price of about $4,200, it's more than twice the price. But the HP gives quite a bang for the buck. The HP is both Mac and PC compatible and includes drivers for both types of machines. Speed is rated at 6ppm for black and white and 2ppm for colour. The machine holds one black ink cartridge and one colour cartridge. Also included are a dozen fonts, one colour and one black ink cartridge. An extra diskette contains a program which gives audio visual introduction to the printer's functions. Setup was simple and took less than five minutes. Printing speeds were roughly what HP claims and printing of photographs was surprisingly fast. A full page 28.5 megabyte photo popped out before I could finish my entree with an average print time of about 25 minutes. Text was sharp, although not laser printer quality. Graphics were reproduced with vivid colours that showed little or no dot pattern. Colour matching was handled by HP's ColorSmart software which automatically selects dither patterns and colour matching modes. Although modes can be selected manually, I found no situation where the ColorSmart software failed to chose the best modes. Colour matching software can go a long way towards reproducing better colour, but when you get down to it, colour on a printed page is a matter of blending inks. If the inks in your printer can't be blended to create the colours you see on the monitor, no amount of high tech software is going to put an end to the one question that has existed since the dawn of desk top publishing. Why doesn't the colour on the printed page look like what I see on my monitor? Between the ColorSmart and HP choice of inks, colour fidelity was very good. The printer's only shortcoming is the reproduction quality of photographs on plain paper. The black ink is actually a bit lighter than the colour inks. This means that the shadow area of the photos is actually lighter than the surrounding areas of colour, giving the images an odd solarised look.