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HP Deskjet 3820 review: HP Deskjet 3820

HP Deskjet 3820

Kristina Blachere
5 min read
One look at its flimsy plastic, and you'll see the HP Deskjet 3820 for what it really is: one of the bargain offerings in HP's new, redesigned line of inkjet printers. In this case, you can judge the printer by its casing; the HP 3820's unremarkable, somewhat disappointing output quality for text and graphics won't suit anyone who needs to print legible, crisp text for reports or presentations. On the bright side, the printer's dirt-cheap price (less than $100) and beautifully rendered photos will please all but professional photographers. Thus, the HP Deskjet 3820 makes a perfect family photo printer--as long as you don't mind that its ink cartridges cost almost half as much as the printer itself. If you must print sharp text and graphics as well as photos, try the similarly priced Epson Stylus C60 instead. Although HP has supposedly revamped its inkjet line, we found little corroborating evidence in terms of appearance; the HP 3820 resembles previous Deskjet incarnations. Its compact, rectangular shape looks like a big box of facial tissue, and its paper trays are flimsier versions of the standard HP configuration: a 100-sheet input tray on the bottom and a 50-sheet output guide on top. The retractable input tray, while perfectly usable, is made of cheaper-looking plastic than that of costlier printers, and the output guide, which extends only halfway out over the input tray and is more of a shelf than a tray, looks really low-budget. The printer is both Mac and PC compatible and connects via the USB or parallel ports (cable not included).

Tissue-box design.

Multiple ports, cables not included.

HP's inkjet setup protocol is one of the easiest we've seen, and the Deskjet 3820 gets the same treatment. A colorful Quick Start poster walks you through setting up the printer, installing the ink cartridges, and troubleshooting basic installation glitches. If you need more help, just insert the included CD-ROM into your computer, and a series of animated screens helps you figure out what type of connection you're using, how to install the cartridge, and how to print your first test page.

Costly cartridges.
With a printer this inexpensive, you won't find any software extras in the box, such as image-editing or management programs. Rather, the included CD-ROM installs the HP Printer Assistance icon, which sits on your desktop. When you click it, up comes a user guide with comprehensive printing, maintenance, and troubleshooting information. It includes printing ideas, such as how to get the best digital-photo prints, and links to supplies and driver downloads.
Manufacturers often try to recoup profits on cheap printers by way of replacement ink sales. The HP Deskjet 3820's standard two-cartridge system, one black and one tricolor, means that when one color runs out, you have to replace the whole cartridge to the tune of $53.99 for a 38-milliliter color cartridge (or $35 for a 19-milliliter one) and $30 for black ink. By contrast, it costs just $11.99 to replace one of Canon's single-color ink cartridges, and by replacing one color at a time, you don't have to throw away other still-full color cartridges.

When it comes to everyday print jobs, the HP 3820's print quality failed to impress our jury. In CNET Labs' tests, text on plain copy paper appeared very light and blotchy, with visible feathering at the edges of the letters. This lack of crispness made text hard to read at smaller point sizes, but the quality improved significantly when we printed our test document on HP's Bright White paper. The letters were much darker and crisper around the edges, and they were more evenly saturated. When it came to printing graphics on both plain and Bright White paper, the 3820's printouts exhibited accurate color matching (an important feature for photo enthusiasts), but graphical elements looked grainy and dithered. We noticed significant horizontal banding throughout our test document, and the printer missed most of the finer details in the document, such as diagonal lines and curved elements.
Inkjet printer quality
Poor   ••Fair   •••Good   ••••Excellent
 Printer Text Graphics Photo
Plain paper  Coated paper  Plain paper  Coated paper  Photo paper 
 Epson Stylus C60 ••• ••• ••• ••• ••••
 Lexmark Z55 ••• ••• •• ••
 Canon S330 Color Bubble Jet •• ••• ••• •• •••
 HP Deskjet 3820 •• ••• •• •• ••••

Fortunately, the HP 3820 does a wonderful job with photo printing. On our 8x10-inch test photo, the colors were subtle but very natural, and skin tones looked smooth and true, with none of the usual yellowish or reddish patches that we often see in photo printers. Jurors noted a bit of fuzziness around the edges of the test subjects, and some of the finer details didn't show up, but the overall effect was very good--especially for the price.
In terms of speed, the HP Deskjet 3820 doesn't break any records, but it performs adequately for a printer in its price range. It averages 3.79 pages per minute (ppm) on printed text and 4.1ppm on an 8x10 photo. If speed is your main concern, check out the Lexmark Z55 (6.2ppm for text and 1.4ppm for photos).

Finely feathered text.

Glutton for ink.

According to our drain tests, the HP 3820 uses quite a lot of ink, so be aware that your consumable costs will add significantly to the low initial cost of purchase. Black ink costs per page were fairly high at 13.6 cents per page; at 44 cents per page, color print costs were also higher than average. The costs for the Canon S330 Color Bubble Jet, by contrast, were merely 5 cents for black and 21 cents for color pages.

Inkjet printer text speed
Pages per minute (longer bars indicate better performance)
Lexmark Z55
Canon S330 Color Bubble Jet
Epson Stylus C60
HP Deskjet 3820
Inkjet printer color photo speed
Minutes to print a color photograph (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Canon S330 Color Bubble Jet
Lexmark Z55
HP Deskjet 3820
Epson Stylus C60

Search for drivers by model number.
The HP Deskjet 3820's bargain-basement roots show in its support package. Instead of the usual one-year warranty, HP offers only 90 days of free phone support via a toll number. You can reach phone help Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. MT. HP also offers a number of useful nonhuman support options, such as toll-free, automated phone support, along with a plethora of software updates, printing tips, and manuals via HP's Web site.

HP Deskjet 3820

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6Support 5