I’ve now built up quite a collection of old computers. I’m also a big fan of typewriters, so it was interesting to read about an interesting range of hybrid devices produced by Brother in the early eighties. They marketed a range of portable, battery-powered devices referred to as “personal electronic printers”, and these were effectively dot-matrix printers with keyboards attached. They could be used as portable typewriters, and could also function as printers for any computer with an RS-232 port.
I recently picked up an EP-22 on eBay. This is one of the more basic and early models in the range, but it didn’t take me long to fall in love with it. It has some fairly serious limitations as both a printer and a typewriter – mainly the rather terrible font and decidedly mediocre print quality – but it’s an incredibly flexible little device, and one that is surprisingly easy to use nearly 40 years after it hit the market.
First of all, there’s no big problems trying to find ribbons for it, like most dot-matrix printers. It has a thermal print head, and finding thermal paper is much easier than finding obscure ribbons. Brother still market packs of A4 thermal paper, although each sheet costs a rather steep 13p. However, the print is beautifully contrasty, and there’s no worry about having to re-ink ribbons, or track them down. The machine can take a ribbon that allows the use of plain paper, but they’re very hard to find, so I won’t bother most of the time. I’ve used it as both a typewriter and a printer. As the former, it’s lots of fun, with a sixteen-character correction memory and a decent little keyboard that allows pretty quick touch-typing (although various characters aren’t where you’d expect them). Altering margins and setting up various things is quite easy, and many different sizes and types of paper can be used. It has bit of a downside in that it’s quite tricky to spot the bottom of the page when using cut sheets, so it’s easy to keep typing off the end.
As a printer, this is the main drawback if the computer you’re using expects the end of the page to beautomatically detected. You need to ensure the computer you’re using is set to stop printing at a suitable point – right now, I’m using my Spectrum with Tasword Plus Two, which comfortably fits 58 lines on a page. The device works at a rather glacial 300 baud, which can make it take forever to print long documents, but it’s quiet and very easy to use. Once I have suitable leads, and once I’m allowed to live a normal life again, I’m very much looking forward to trying this machine out with either my Amstrad NC-100 or Cambridge Z88 portable computers, in a coffee shop. Yeah. I’m that much of a hipster!
It’s a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, as it can’t print graphics and the quality is far worse than you’d expect from a decent typewriter, but this thing is serious fun, and it brings me a lot of pleasure every time I use it. 🙂