The $799 HP Officejet Pro X576dw multifunction inkjet printer defies established industry logic that says laser printers are better for small businesses requiring speedy text output at a budget cost without a primary concern for print output quality. HP's new PageWide technology deserves the credit for this crossover -- it's featured in all of the company's new "X" series printers and uses a fixed print head instead of a traditional motorized assembly and belt system.
The application of this new feeder combines the speed of a laser printer with the color printing acumen and low cost of consumables that attracts small workgroups to an inkjet. HP also pushes the X576dw into a new generation of print services through a large touch-screen display that works sublimely with the company's collection of ad hoc mobile printing services, like ePrint, Google Cloud Print, and the HP ePrintCenter apps.
If you can look past the omission of a tactile control panel to see the benefits of "print anywhere" versatility, the Officejet Pro X576dw's advancements in printing technology will make it an easy to use, cost efficient partner for small businesses and larger work groups.
Design and features
The HP X576dw is the top-of-the-line model in the "X" series, and its size certainly communicates that stature. Its dimensions (20.3 inches tall and 20.3 inches wide) put it in the same weight class as larger workgroup laser printers, but it's surprisingly portable around the office, thanks to two handles that sit just underneath the scanner to save your lower back from heavy lifting. Since this is considered a "professional" class device (hence the moniker), the relative size of the X576dw is due to the dual paper trays that feed media into the printer.
In terms of paper handling, you have a choice of three locations to access: there's the main input tray on the bottom that can hold 500 sheets of paper, a 50-sheet auto-document feeder on top for scanning and copying a stack of documents, and an additional 50-sheet multipurpose feed tray that folds down from a door on the left side of the printer.
If you find yourself constantly refilling paper in all three, you can also purchase another 500-sheet input tray from HP that fits on the bottom and adds a few extra inches of height to the overall measurements.
Completed prints exit through a parking bay in the middle of the device that can hold up to 300 sheets, but keep in mind that the recommended monthly page output of this printer is 65,000 pages. That's a lot of printing, and should be more than enough for any small business from real-estate agents to small law offices and anything in between.
The printer also features an automatic duplexer that saves you money on paper costs by automatically flipping the page over for double-sided prints. The left side also has a large panel that gives quick access to the paper feed assembly and duplexer, should you need to mitigate a paper jam. It also gives a peek at the jewel of HP's new PageWide technology: an 8.5-inch print head that stays static inside the machine, so the sheets of paper do the work as they move back and forth past the nozzles to apply the ink.
So what are the benefits of this new page array over traditional inkjet print heads that rely on a stepper motor, a belt, and a stabilizer bar to control its precise movements? Well, the new system means big improvements to print quality with less horizontal stripes marring graphics and text on the output page -- imaging geeks call that "printhead banding," and it's caused by a clogged nozzle or a misaligned bidirectional print head. Without a moving print head, you'll notice more solid, densely formed prints and even shading throughout.
The PageWide array also gives a dramatic speed boost to outbound prints, with HP blasting out up to 70 pages of color text per minute in its new "general office mode." The elimination of the moveable head also means an end to the printer jiggle -- a name given to the "dance" that occurs when the head vigorously passes over a sheet of paper and causes the whole device to move around on a table.
The X576dw uses four pigment inks: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Using HP's prices for the compatible HP 970 (black) and 971 (color) cartridges on the Web site, a page of black text alone costs 2.5 cents and a page of color is 3.2 cents per page -- both prices are fair compared with the average cost of toner cartridges in laser printers. You can also save a little more money by paying up front for HP's high-capacity inks.
HP extends its trend of touch-compatible printer displays to the X576dw with a 4.3-inch color screen positioned on the left of the device. The color graphic display (CGD) takes on the familiar shape of the original iPhone with a rectangular screen fit inside a rounded edge, with virtual buttons that illuminate to help with navigation and selection.
Though the sensitivity of the display is indeed a large improvement on some of HP's earlier touch-screen models, it's still prone to precision missteps when it comes to scrolling through the landscape menu pane. Unless you start a finger swipe on the outside of the display, the menu has a tendency to continue moving even after your finger lifts off the screen -- frustrating if you're trying to quickly parse through a lot of apps. The quirks of the display add time to the learning curve, but you'll have an easier time once you train your finger to unlearn the familiar iPhone gestures you might be used to.
In addition to a direct USB connection (like most vendors, HP does not include a USB cable with the printer), you can set up the Officejet on your home network through Ethernet or Wi-Fi, which also lets Apple users make an easy connection through AirPrint on a compatible iOS device. Using AirPrint, you can print out a photo from your iPhoto library by simply choosing the connected printer and hitting Print. Browser printing through Google Cloud Print is also supported by the X576dw and available for personal registration through the ePrintCenter hub online.
I tested the Wi-Fi connection process and found it simple to navigate through the initial setup screens with help from the instructions on the driver disc. HP's latest Auto Wireless Connect reduces the set up time to less than two minutes (if you make your network visible, that is). If network privacy from intrusive leeches is your concern, you can also manually input your network username and password details on the virtual QWERTY keyboard and the printer should immediately connect. Macs and PCs alike on CNET's lab network were able to see the printer without the need to install any additional software.
In addition to Apple AirPrint, this printer also features HP's ePrint technology that lets you send jobs from any connected device to the printer using the uniquely assigned e-mail address. You can even navigate through the settings and change the e-mail address to an easier designation to give out to friends and family that you deem responsible enough to take control of your printer -- you can take ownership of that in the control panel (Wireless > Web Services > Display E-mail) and it's very easy to set up, but does come with a few restrictions.
For one, the printer must be on and also connected to your network. For another, it can't print Web pages, although you can simply copy and paste the text into a document as a workaround and even create your own customized e-mail address.
The ePrintCenter is an online hub where you can view job history, change settings, add printers to your account, browse and install apps, and cancel print jobs. All the extra applications are free and open to user reviews. HP breaks them down into categories within the App Store: entertainment, home, kids, news/blogs, photo, and tickets. Each one promises to streamline the printing experience by offering shortcuts to your favorite coupons, news articles, weather reports, recipes, and so on.
HP tells me that it plans to release a Software Development Kit (SDK) in the near future so software engineers can design their own shortcut apps for the store. Adding apps to the X576dw's home screen is as simple as hitting the Get More button that takes you directly to the store to download new apps, rate them, and even add your own comments. The apps have potential, but prepare to battle long load times that require you to navigate through several submenu layers.
The X576dw's affixed print head system lends itself to a boost in print speeds compared with its traditional competitors, though keep in mind that these comparison units are relative to the fact that CNET doesn't typically review printers for the SMB market. Tested using the new "General Office Mode" as the default quality setting, the X576dw fared almost as well as the
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Black Text (PPM)||Color Graphics (PPM)||Photo (PPM)||Presentation (PPM)|
You could just as easily mistake the excellent print quality of the HP Officejet Pro X576dw for output from a laser printer. With solid lines in both color and black and white, and especially darkened grayscale prints, the documents are of high enough quality that I wouldn't hesitate to hand them out at a client meeting. The print also exhibits equally impressively photo output quality with crisp, vivid colors and minimum blurring even in finer text sizes. As previously stated, my testing also revealed output immunity from color banding, a graphics printing affliction commonly attributed to a maladjusted print head. In this case, the lack of a traditional moving printhead works to the X576dw's advantage.
Service and support
HP backs the Officejet Pro X576dw with a standard one-year warranty that includes 24-7 toll-free phone support and live Web chat during weekdays. HP's Web site also contains downloadable drivers, software, and manuals; e-mail tech support; FAQs; and a troubleshooting guide. You can return the product within 21 days of delivery.
HP changed the face of printing when it introduced Cloud printing and the ePrintCenter back in 2010, and the company once again demonstrates its commitment to innovation with its first page-wide array product. With zippy new print mechanics, a streamlined design, and the added bonus of mobile printing through onboard apps and mobile features, the X576dw is an ideal companion for small workgroups and businesses that want a taste of the future of printing.