Canons at Twenty Paces: A Thermal Typewriter Shootout

all three

I wish I could say that this was a three-way comparison review between the three Canon Typestars that I own, but the truth is it’s a 2.5 way review at best. The Typestar 5 (1984) and Typestar 7 (1985) are both pretty good machines, but the Typestar 220 (1992) I found on Goodwill’s online auction site is just plain awful. As Marty McFly observed, in 1985, at least, all the best stuff was made in Japan.

The later 220 had the misfortune of being made in Taiwan, and the quality and construction really shows. Despite having more features on paper, this thing was obviously built down to a price, with corners cut at every opportunity. In fact, mine is totally dead, and I’m pretty sure the fault is in the power supply circuit where the magic smoke seems to have escaped from. But even without turning it on, I can tell that this thing is definitely the Cousin Eddie of the Griswold family. Instead of having its own injection-molded hard case, the 220 has an integrated flip-out handle and a separate keyboard cover. While this might seem like a size and weight-saving measure it is clearly more of a cost-saving measure, as the resulting construction is creaky and fragile feeling.

typestar7and5incases

The Typestar 5 is also a little creaky and fragile-feeling, but at least it comes in its own hardshell case. Every time you set the 220 down it’s essentially sitting on its “platen”. The shell of the typewriter itself is not at all reinforced despite sharing its function as half of the case. Forget dropping it on the sidewalk, I doubt the 220 would survive stubbing your toe on it in the middle of the night.

typestar7right

The Typestar 7, on the other hand, is pure class. Before I even looked inside, it was clear that everything about this one was better. It felt better, it was quieter and smoother, just all around well-sorted-out. While the 5 and the 7 look very similar, the 7 is actually about 1/4″ longer than the 5, and just a little bit thicker.

typestar5left

I picked up the Typestar 5 first, and since they look so similar I was certain that they shared the same case , but nope! They went and injection-molded a unique case for it, at no small expense I’m sure. And while they do have nearly identical SMK-built keyboards, about 95 percent of the plastic and electronic parts are different between the two Japanese models. Everything about the 7 is just a little better than the 5.

typestar5motors

The 7 has a matched pair of beefy Canon-branded stepper motors, one for the printhead movement and another for the paper feed, while the 5 has one tiny little motor for the printhead and a bigger but also generic one driving the paper.

typestar5fuse

The fuses are especially puzzling to me. The Typestar 7 has its fuse in a standard thru-hole-mounted fuse holder on the circuit board but the 5 has its fuse up on top of the battery compartment, with black electrical tape covering the wires. What?! Was the fuse an afterthought? They couldn’t find room for it anywhere else? I am confused.

typestar7capacitors

The 7 uses all top-shelf Japanese electrolytic capacitors (Nichicon, Rubycon, and NEC), while the 5 makes do with no-name generics.

typestar5screws

Even the screws holding the case together are miles ahead on the 7: it uses four identical screws, which are all accessible from the top of the machine, while the 5 has six screws in three different sizes, all of which are on the bottom, and one of which is in the battery compartment! The engineers obviously didn’t want the end user to get inside and see how badly they’d botched the fuse holder.

typestar220coveroff

In case you were wondering what the Taiwanese 220’s circuit board looks like, well, it’s bad. Despite being the newest of the three, it uses a cheap single-sided board with jumper wires in place of solder vias, and sprouts a thick tangle black wires making poorly-routed connections. Sigh.

typestar7circuitboardfull

Aah, that’s better! The Typestar 7’s circuit board is a beautiful thing. The big black housing on the left is the font card expansion port, while the optional printer port is hidden away on the right. And what’s that unpopulated IC spot on the bottom left? It’s for an additional ROM chip, most likely for fonts. Since it has one font on board, my guess is perhaps that they had initially planned to include more fonts, but either wanted to sell more font cartridges down the road, or realized that having more fonts onboard would make the expansion slot redundant since there were never that many cartridges available.

Speaking of font cartridges, I was curious as to what was in one. So I opened my Courier 12 card and had a look. What I found was a simple masked ROM chip on a double-sided flexible circuit board. Once I’ve traced and documented all the pinouts I hope to dump this ROM and roll my own custom font cartridges, which could theoretically work on the Typestar 6 also.

9 thoughts on “Canons at Twenty Paces: A Thermal Typewriter Shootout

  1. Great post – (as much as I disliked the Typestar 6 I briefly owned (the Casio CW-16 I recently bought being a little better but still very disappointing). Very interesting to hear the “inside” story on these thermals. 😉

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  2. Excellent interior examination! is it silly that I find circuit boards to be as beautiful as mechanical designs? Early boards especially are wonderfully self-explanatory and forthright as to purpose. Do typing samples next – I’m curious if the Typestar 7 can do justification and what fonts it has. Let’s see the deets! (:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      Yes, the Typestar 7 does justification. It has Courier 10 onboard and mine came with Courier 12 on a cartridge. The 5 has two fonts onboard, one of them proportionally spaced. Unfortunately, like an idiot I fouled the keyboard switch membranes with deoxit while cleaning it and there are only a handful of working keys on it at the moment. I’ve been dragging my feet on fixing it because it’s going to be such a pain. 🙂

      But for you, kind sir, and for posterity, I’ll dig into it and post some type samples when I’m done!

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  3. Just came into a TS 5. Haven’t quite figured it out – no manual. I do see that the paper advance is a bit dodgy though. Doesn’t grab the paper tight enough. Curious if you have any insight considering you surgical attempts on your units.

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    1. I really don’t know about the paper advance – it’s just like what you would expect to find on a normal typewriter, only flimsy-er. It looks like there’s a small rubber roller that grips against small nylon rollers. The little lever on the right brings them into alignment.

      I have an ugly photocopied manual, but I don’t have a scanner at the moment, and wonder if Ted Munk might have a better copy lying around somewhere. Ted? Calling the Reverend Ted Munk…..

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      1. Thanks. I may have to get brave and crack the case and take a look inside. This unit was more of a test to see how I would like one of these. Didn’t cost a lot, but, then there is that pesky postage.

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      2. No peep from the Rev. 🙂

        I figured it out. The left side knob was on crooked. I pulled it off and replaced it. All is well now.

        As for your photocopied manual, I’d be very appreciative of a scanned copy.

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