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The Photosmart C7180 sits near the top of HP's consumer all-in-one photo printer line (only the 3310 all-in-one is more expensive). For $400, you get a machine that prints, scans, copies, and surprisingly, faxes. It's also network ready and wireless enabled, and it features a PictBridge port, a media card reader, built-in Bluetooth functionality, and generous support options. So what's the drawback? Unfortunately, the Photosmart C7180 is relatively slow at all of its tasks, and its text and graphics print quality leave a lot to be desired. It performs its primary task of printing photos with aplomb, however. The Canon Pixma MP950 costs the same and boasts faster performance with all tasks but photo printing, and it has superior print quality. On the downside, you'll lose the fax and networking features with the Canon, but you can easily network a USB printer through a router. If you require both office-oriented functions and great photos, consider getting a mono laser all-in-one, such as the Dell 1815dn and supplementing it with a stand-alone photo printer. You'll likely pay more than $400, but you'll have the best of both worlds.
The HP Photosmart C7180 is a big machine, and it requires a big chunk of desktop real estate. It measures 18.3 inches wide, 15.4 inches deep, and 8.5 inches tall, and it weighs a hefty 26 pounds. The scanner can accommodate up to A4-size originals. The printer lacks an automatic document feeder, more commonly found on office-oriented machines, so you won't be able to scan legal-size documents, nor can you perform batch copies or scans. The scanner lid detaches entirely so that you can scan or copy very thick originals. On the underside of the scanner lid, there's an attachment that holds slides and negatives for scanning. The padded platen protector detaches from the scanner lid to allow for slide and negative scanning.
On the front of the printer live four media card slots and a USB PictBridge port, which allow for PC-free printing. The media card slots accept most of the major card types--such as CompactFlash (Types I and II), Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, and Secure MultiMedia Card--though you'll need an adapter (not included) for a few cards. The Photosmart C7180 also has built-in Bluetooth, so you can print wirelessly from a Bluetooth-enabled PDA, phone, or camera. (Most printers allow you to plug in only a Bluetooth adapter to the PictBridge port.)
The Photosmart C7180 has a three-in-one paper-handling system. The very bottom of the paper cartridge is the paper input tray, which can hold up to 100 sheets of plain paper. Adjustable paper guides help you keep different sizes of paper in order, and the guides extend to hold legal-size paper. Sitting atop the regular paper tray is a dedicated 4x6-photo paper tray, which can hold up to 20 sheets. Finally, the top of the cassette serves as the output tray, and an extension flap helps corral longer prints. Both input trays pull out partially for filling, and the output tray flips up to allow easier access to the input trays. We wish the printer had a second input option in the rear so that you could keep plain paper in the cassette, even while you were printing on specialty papers.
The printer's control panel is front mounted on a shelf that swivels through about 45 degrees, starting from a complete vertical (flush with the front side of the printer). Situated in the center of the panel is a gorgeous, 3.6-inch color LCD. On the left is an alphanumeric keypad; menu-launch buttons for copy, scan, and fax; and start buttons for each task. To the right of the LCD are menu-navigation buttons, including a back button, and zoom buttons for viewing an individual photo vs. an index view. Additional photo-centric buttons allow you turn photo fix on and off, make reprints, e-mail photos from a media card, and initiate film/slide scans.
Accessing the ink tanks on the Photosmart C7180 couldn't be easier. Simply lift the scanner portion of the printer, and you'll find six front-mounted tanks. In most printers, the tanks are directly attached to the printhead, meaning the printer must be powered on to access them. Not so with the C7180. The C7180 employs a six-ink system: black, yellow, light cyan, cyan, light magenta, and magenta. Each tank has its own labeled spot so that you know where they go. The 10mL black tank costs $17.99 to replace, while the 4mL color tanks cost $9.99 each. HP estimates that it costs 2.5 cents per page to print black text, about the same as for Canon's top photo all-in-ones. HP's color prints are more expensive than Canon's, though, at about 7.1 cents per page.
Setting up the Photosmart C7180 is an exercise in patience. The process is simple enough--just insert the CD to install drivers and software--but it takes a long time, requiring nearly 20 minutes to install on our machine. The printer supports both Mac and Windows operating systems and is networkable, so everyone on your network can share. Even better, it has built-in 802.11g wireless capability, a rarity for non-office-oriented printers. The setup menu makes it easy to find available networks and to enter a password if the network you want to access is secured.
One of the surprising features of the HP Photosmart C7180 is the inclusion of fax capability, which is normally reserved for office-oriented printers. The included user guide helps you set up the fax according to your equipment type--DSL, regular phone line, and so forth--and the way you want to handle incoming faxes with regard to answering machines and the like. Using the fax menu, you can change the resolution of your faxes, send a broadcast fax to multiple numbers, and set up a delayed fax. One feature we didn't see was the ability to hold and print incoming faxes at a later time, though this feature is more common on office-oriented all-in-ones.