HP Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One (C309a) review: HP Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One (C309a)

The printer uses five standard HP model No. 564 ink cartridges for black, photo black, cyan, magenta, and yellow, each with its own dedicated slot under the hood. The standard cartridges cost $10, but we'll use the XL high-capacity option for our cost-per-page calculation to measure the best deal you can get from HP. The XL colored inks cost $18 apiece and, according to HP, they'll yield 750 color pages, while the XL black replacement cartridge costs $35 for 800 yields. By our calculations, a page of color will cost you 2.4 cents, and a page of black strangely costs double at 4.3 cents. HP justifies the price, claiming the black XL cartridge "contains much more ink in the cartridge than the color XL cartridges do, and that's why it costs more," which has us wondering why both cartridges for the HP Photosmart C8180 factor out to almost the exact same price. At this price range, we're disappointed that HP forces the consumer to reinvest in printer ink at every cartridge refill.

Performance
We're impressed by the printer's capability to outperform the competition in our output speed tests. With the exception of the Epson Artisan 800, the HP finished almost one page faster per minute than the competition, beating out the Kodak EP5 and the Canon MX700. We're also happy to see that the C309a wound up faster than the HP Photosmart C8180, most notably in the color text speed benchmark, where the C309a gains almost four more pages per minute than its more expensive older sibling. The Epson Artisan 800 continues to remain one of the fastest inkjets, pumping out three photos per minute.

Speed test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Color Scanning (PPM)  
Photo Speed (1 sheet)  
Color Graphics Speed (PPM)  
Presentation Speed (PPM)  
Color Text Speed (PPM)  
HP Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One
3.8 
1.33 
3.85 
3.82 
7.57 
Canon MX700
5.03 
1.05 
2.08 
2.3 
7.41 
Epson Artisan 800
4.82 
2.82 
6.06 
6.6 
6.43 
Kodak ESP5
4.32 
1.37 
2.13 
2.21 
4.39 
HP Photosmart C8180
3.73 
0.66 
2.12 
2.47 
4.37 

Luckily, we're just as impressed with the print quality as we are with its speed. We tested the printer using our standard text, graphics, and photos and the HP Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One delivered crisp lines and smooth transitions between varying colors. We did notice some light quality degradation in letters smaller than four point, but the overall gradients of color in photos appear evenly shaded with the appropriate level of saturation and accuracy. Since this is a photo-specific printer, we also focused on its capability to produce a dynamic range of contrast between colors. While most photo printers seem to suffer from chronic line banding and a lack of sharpness, the HP Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One consistently produces very pleasing images with hardly any trace of jagged or muddy graphics.

Service and support
HP backs the Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One with its standard one-year warranty that includes 24-hour toll-free phone support with the option to upgrade to an additional two years for a small fee. In addition, HP offers an added Accidental Damage Protection and a Pick Up and Return program that sends an authorized courier to pick up your failed equipment and deliver it directly to an HP-designated repair facility. The HP Web site also features online classes, FAQs, driver downloads, troubleshooting tips, as well as a new shopping buddy that puts you in a chat room with a HP sales rep to answer your questions before you buy.

Find out more about how we test printers.

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