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HP Deskjet 3420 review: HP Deskjet 3420

HP Deskjet 3420

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
5 min read
Does Mom need a simple, friendly printer for family newsletters? Or do the kids want a printer for homework and colorful reports? The HP Deskjet 3420 will make a great holiday gift. This entry-level printer offers quality text and speedy performance. Plus, its sleek and compact design fit easily on our Labs' crowded testing desk and will do the same for yours. At only $80, it's affordable too. The catch: it doesn't print graphics or photos very well, and it burns through ink quickly. But for that price, who's complaining? The HP Deskjet 3420 is as simple as a printer can be. It's one of the only inkjets we've tested that has just one control button: the power switch. In case of paper outage or a paper jam, this button can also be used to reload or eject the sheet manually. Housed in a compact, Duraflame-log-shaped shell that measures only 16.6 by 5.6 by by 7.2 inches, the 3420 looks sleek and tidy, and it fits virtually everywhere. If you need to move it, no sweat--the machine weighs only 4.5 pounds.
The printer connects to your PC via a USB port. Like most other printers, however, the 3420 doesn't include a USB cable, so you'll have to pick one up at your local computer supplier.

Compact and looks like a neck roll.

USB port for PC connection.

Setting up the 3420 is extremely easy with Windows PCs (Windows 98, Me, 2000, and XP). Just pop the included CD into CD-ROM drive, and a program will automatically walk you through the whole process, from turning on the printer to inking the first page. If you have any trouble, consult the included setup poster or manual. The software CD includes Mac drivers, but the printer works with OS 9.x or later.

Though lightweight and simple, the 3420 can perform most of the tasks that more sophisticated inkjet printers can. It supports resolutions up to 2,400x1,200dpi for photos and 600x600dpi for text. It also prints envelopes and any standard-sized paper, including A4 and smaller.
The 3420's printhead uses two ink tanks: black (tank number 27) and color (tank number 28), which contains the standard cyan, magenta, and yellow inks. To enhance your output, the 3420 automatically employs HP's PhotoREt III, a technology that delivers up to 29 drops of ink to each pixel, providing as many as 3,500 different colors per dot. However, with only 768K of built-in RAM, the printer's spooling (the process of loading the document into the printer's memory) is slow; if you print a big load, your system may freeze for a few seconds.

Standard two-ink system.

No separate tray for printouts.

The 3420's intake tray can hold up to 100 sheets of plain paper, but there's no separate tray for the finished product. Instead, the sheets come out on top of the intake tray, where a thin cover, which serves as an output tray, prevents it from falling directly onto the blank paper. We found it was not wise to print a lot of pages without removing previously printed material from the output tray, as paper jams might occur.
Otherwise, this no-frills printer travels light. You'll neither get the HP Imaging software that ships with more expensive printers, nor will you find slots for printing from digital media cards. Still, we think budget-conscious consumers may be willing to sacrifice a few goodies to get such an inexpensive machine.

The 3420 is a speedy text performer. In CNET Labs' tests, it scored almost 5 pages per minutes. However, with more-demanding jobs, such as printing high-quality photos, the printer did not impress us much. It took more than 4 minutes to finish a 7x10 photo--an average score.

Ink costs add up in the long run.
Need to print a school report? The 3420 produces great text printouts on plain paper and HP's recommended Bright White paper. In our tests, letters looked clear and well formed. But because HP's Bright White paper isn't as high in quality as other vendors' recommended paper, we tried using Canon's high-resolution papers on the 3420. Voilà! Text quality looked even better.
Graphics and photos are a different story, however. Our jury rated the 3420 fair overall in these categories. Graphics printouts looked OK but light, grainy, and somewhat banded, while the photos appeared soft and reddish. However, considering the simplicity and the price of the printer, the results met our expectations.
Unfortunately, according to our Labs' calculations, the 3420's ink costs almost more than that of any of the other inkjets we've seen (including photo printers). Its black ink will run you about 11.5 cents per page of text and color ink about 56 cents per page of graphics. In contrast, the $350 Epson Stylus Photo 960 costs only 3 cents for black and 33 cents for color--prices we consider average.

Inkjet printer text speed
Pages per minute (longer bars indicate better performance)
Lexmark Z55
Epson Stylus C60
HP Deskjet 3420
Canon i320
Inkjet printer color photo speed
Minutes to print a color photograph (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lexmark Z55
Canon i320
HP Deskjet 3420
Epson Stylus C60
Inkjet printer quality
Poor   ••Fair   •••Good   ••••Excellent
 Printer Text Graphics Photo
Plain paper  Coated paper  Plain paper  Coated paper  Photo paper 
 Canon i320 •• ••• ••• •• ••
 Epson Stylus C60 ••• ••• ••• ••• ••••
 HP Deskjet 3420 ••• ••• •• •• ••
 Lexmark Z55se ••• ••• •• ••
HP backs the 3420 with one-year standard warranty. If you have problems with your printer, you can reach phone help Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT. HP's toll-free, 24/7, automated phone menu understands speech quite well, so you can actually interact with it. Also, when we tried live phone support, we got hold of a capable technical assistant within a few minutes.
But before you resort to phone calls, study the included 19-page manual, which gives insightful instructions of the printer's usage and troubleshooting. Or head to the HP Web site for downloads and troubleshooting advice.

HP Deskjet 3420

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 5Performance 7Support 8