HP gives you a variety of options to hook the Photosmart up to your computer. The most idiot-proof way to connect is obviously a wired USB 2.0 setup, so we tried that method first, with pleasing results. As expect, the setup CD provided simple videos and text that hold your hand through the installation. Thanks to the built-in print server, you can also connect the printer to a network router and print wirelessly from any computer in your house. Unlike other printers that require you to set up an ad-hoc network connection, the C309a automatically acquires all the information it needs from your computer to establish a direct connection with the access point. We were able to successfully establish a secured 802.11g connection within five minutes on both a PC and a Mac with no documentation necessary. The back of the printer also houses an Ethernet port for more direct networking, and a Bluetooth receiver lets you connect your cell phone and/or PDA up to the printer for quick photo prints.
The input and output trays protrude out from the bottom of the printer and take a bit of time to learn because of all the drawers that lift up and out of the body. All the prints eject out onto the single output tray that sits on top. An arm also extends out of this tray to catch rogue prints attempting to flee the scene. Part of the output tray lifts up to reveal the photo input tray--we first applauded HP for incorporating separate inputs for photo and document paper in their Photosmart C8180, and we're happy to see HP continuing to set itself apart from its competitors once again. Like the C8180 before it, you can either set the C309a to automatically spool the correct paper size for your project or choose it yourself in the driver. The main input tray lives at the very bottom of the printer, forcing you to awkwardly lift up the other trays in order to refill the paper. Although we didn't have a chance to test it out, the Photosmart also has dedicated input and output trays for customized printing on CDs and DVDs.
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.
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.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Color Scanning (PPM)||Photo Speed (1 sheet)||Color Graphics Speed (PPM)||Presentation Speed (PPM)||Color Text Speed (PPM)|
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.
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