A single-function inkjet photo printer simply can't satisfy the daily needs of today's amateur photo enthusiast. As users discover more creative ways to get their photos on and off the screen, so too must their printers evolve to match these changing trends. HP is fully aware of the transition, and recently rolled out the HP Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One, a device that combines an inkjet printer, fax machine, scanner, and copier into one $270 workhorse. Designed with the casual photographer and the work-at-home professional in mind, the All-in-One covers all its bases with an integrated auto-document feeder, double-sided printing, wireless networked printing, and an interactive control panel for direct editing that lets the printer function independently with your digital camera. There isn't much missing from this all-in-one, and despite the higher than average cost to refill its black ink cartridge, we fully recommend the Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One for photographers, students, professionals, or anyone else looking for a printer that can do it all.
Design and features
Rounded corners and smooth indentations make the Photosmart Premium Fax AIO look as if it were cut from a single block of plastic. The design defies the typical boxy shape of other inkjet printers like the Kodak ESP 5 and features a glossy white-and-gray palette with subtle touches of blue on the side handles. The chassis weighs 23 pounds and measures 19 inches tall by 18 inches wide by 23 inches deep including the built-in duplexer--altogether, the device is small enough to fit comfortably in a home office, but it's definitely got more heft than the Kodak, which retains a much slimmer footprint.
The top of the HP printer features a built-in auto-document feeder that lets you load up to 50 sheets of paper in varying sizes to be scanned or copied to the memory and transferred to your computer. The cover also lifts open to reveal the scanner bay, but we're disappointed that there's no hinge built into the scanner to help you scan thick books and documents.
The main control panel sits underneath the scanner at a fixed angle that requires you to look down at the controls. Thankfully, you can adjust the position of the 2.4-inch color LCD screen. Even though the size of the heads-up display is dwarfed by the Epson Artisan 800's massive 3.5-inch monster, the HP's comprehensive panel features almost everything you need to operate it independently from your computer.
You can transfer photos or print directly off your MS, SD, xD, CF, or USB key using the HP's onboard card reader, and the USB port is also PictBridge compatible for easy one-touch printing with compatible digital cameras. A collection of other buttons on the panel controls commonly used settings (two-sided print, photo reprints, auto answer, and so on), fax dialing, red-eye removal, and photo zoom with touchups. The only thing missing is a set of auto-dial buttons for favorite faxing recipients. In the center of the control panel, you'll find a "Quick Forms" button that comes unique to HP printers--from here, you can choose between a number of blank documents to print including calendars, to-do lists, fax coversheets, and lined paper.
In our experience, no other printers come close to HP's full service Photosmart Essential software. The user-friendly software takes seconds to install during the initial setup, guiding you along the photo printing process with both text and videos that clearly illustrate the directions. Photosmart Essential is exactly what casual users need as a much simpler way to edit and alter their photos, especially if they don't want to dive directly into dedicated (read: complicated) editing software. Finally, two color LEDs sit on the far right side of the panel and glow green to indicate wireless 802.11g and Bluetooth connectivity.
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.