The HP Photosmart eStation C510 is an extension of HP's efforts to include Web-connectivity across its line of printers. With a detachable 7-inch Android-powered tablet that lets you surf the Web, browse Facebook, and access the Barnes & Noble eBook store, the device is clearly targeted at the home user who values the printed page and instant-on Internet access for what HP calls "snacked-on" content: things like e-mail, RSS feeds, quick snapshot photo edits, and more. While we value HP's effort to untether the printer from a computer, the C510 is pricey at $399 and the device is marred by a cumbersome connection process, and a finicky, underwhelming tablet. With Google and other services offering their own cloud-based printing solutions, you'll enjoy better functionality and more entertainment with a dedicated tablet PC and a standalone all-in-one printer.
The C510 comprises a base unit and the corresponding 7-inch touch-screen monitor HP calls the Zeen that acts as a control panel for the printing functions. The Zeen sits in a dock that doubles as a recharging station, and the right side of the printer is blank except for a small power button and two Wi-Fi status LEDs on the right side.
The printer alone is similar to HP's other multifunction models, with a scanner lid on top, a five-ink cartridge bay hidden inside, and a dual paper tray below with separate drawers for full-size paper and smaller sheets of photo paper.
Amateur photographers and small businesses may be disappointed that the C510 doesn't have an auto-document feeder, but HP includes a removable auto-duplexer on the back that can flip a sheet for double-sided printing. On the other hand, we should note that although you save resources by printing on both sides, the duplexer is slow to operate and will increase the amount of time it takes to finish a print job.
Since there's no auto-document feeder to scan multipage documents, HP's Scan software on the driver CD bundles all the tools you need to scan up to 1,200 dots per inch. You can also save scans directly to the Zeen tablet using the SD card reader on top. Again, digital photographers should continue their hunt for a printer elsewhere, as both the printer and the Zeen lack a PictBridge-compatible USB port.
The only USB connection is on the back and used to pair the printer to a host computer, but that's if you only want to use the printer directly. To take advantage of ePrint and the Zeen, you have to connect your computer, the Zeen's Wi-Fi server, and the embedded server in the printer itself to the same wireless network, and in the proper order (Zeen, printer, computer) or they won't communicate over the Web.
There's also no wired Ethernet port, so sharing the C510 across several computers can get complicated, and we're surprised at the lack of instructional documentation that comes with the printer. Most of the HP devices we test include a booklet with detailed instructions on how to establish a wireless connection, but the C510 redirects that responsibility to a series of virtual tutorials on the Zeen that don't offer troubleshooting tips if you cross a speed bump.
Once you connect the three devices to the same wireless network, you can take the Zeen off the C510 and use it autonomously from the printer. At the time of its debut, we assumed that the Zeen would use HP WebOS, a proprietary interface developed first by Palm and purchased by HP in 2010, but the Zeen is actually powered by Google's Android 2.0 operating system. HP tells us that timing made a big difference in the decision, but the open-source nature of Android was also a factor, offering the capability and reach that a proprietary OS like WebOS couldn't deliver.
Our main issue with the Zeen isn't the Android OS, but rather the limited nature of its services. With the source code openly available to developers at no charge, people with Android smartphones can enjoy more than 100,000 apps in the Android Market, but HP Zeen users have no access to the store since most of the apps require hardware and features missing from the limited Zeen, like embedded GPS, a compass, and Bluetooth connectivity.
HP gives you a small handful of preinstalled apps like Yahoo News, the Barnes & Noble eBook store, Snapfish, MSNBC, Disney, Dreamworks, and Facebook. You can also install more printer-friendly apps in the HP app store, but the constraint gets harder to ignore when you access the Web browser and run into a mobile site prompting you to download its free app for faster access. This printer-and-table package costs only $399, so it's understandable that the Zeen is not a full-fledged Android tablet. Still, given its size, its touch screen, and the Android OS, we were still disappointed to find that the Zeen can't do more.
The user experience on the Zeen is optimized for printing, so all the of the apps feature a print button at the bottom that lets you push content directly to the printer. But since the Zeen and the printer have their own internal wireless servers, sending a job over the network takes time, and our test e-mail refused to print until it finished combing the network for connected printers before finally rediscovering the C510.
The Zeen also shows very little information about the print job in progress. The system notification bar you drag down from the top of the home page shows a "now printing..." message, but we're hoping the next version of the C510 will pull pertinent data from the cloud to show the exact file being printed, a print preview, the URL, time printed, address, and more.
We're also filing the same touch-screen complaint we lodged with the HP Photosmart Premium Touchsmart Web, reviewed back in 2009. A year later, the Photosmart Premium Touchsmart Web is being phased out of production, but the Zeen suffers the same lag in touch response, and scrolling through pages and menus too often results in selection errors that make you not want to use the Zeen at all.
We also took this issue to HP with our review of the HP Envy 100, and we're told that a forthcoming firmware upgrade will mitigate the problem with an adjustable sensitivity slider accessible through the system preferences menu.
As with most ambitious devices, the C510's Wi-Fi connectivity introduces a new set of error messages to deal with that we've never seen on a printer. The weeks we spent testing the Zeen were marked by a reappearing error message while browsing the Web that said "Sorry! The Internet application (process.com.android.browser) has stopped unexpectedly. Please Try again." with an option to force close the browser.
For all the user interface snags and wishing it could do more, we enjoyed browsing RSS feeds in Google Reader and stalking friends on Facebook with the Zeen. We also liked that you can view and print photos directly from a Facebook member's profile. A small preview window opens and lets you select the number of prints, view a slideshow of a member's pictures, make small image edits like cropping and resizing, and the printer will self-constrain an image to various sizes including 4 inches by 6 inches all the way up to 8.5 inches by 11 inches. On the other hand, the app's News Feed doesn't update as quickly with new content on the actual Web site. Our overall impression of the Zeen is that the onboard apps are useful, but they don't offset the frustrating screen sensitivity issues and the network bugs, not to mention the lockout of the Android Marketplace.
The second prong of HP's connected printer strategy is ePrint. The C510 will work with any modern Windows or Mac computer, but ePrint also lets you print from mobile devices like tablets or smartphones that don't have a USB port to connect with a traditional printer. ePrint bypasses this issue by letting you send jobs directly to the printer using a unique e-mail address. With that address, you can use the printer to print from virtually any device that can send out messages.
It's important to take note of your networking situation at home prior to buying the C510, as you absolutely need a wireless network to take advantage of ePrint and the multitude of apps available for download--remember, it has no Ethernet port.