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HP Deskjet 5550 review: HP Deskjet 5550

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MSRP: $123.00

The Good Excellent graphics output; affordable price; extremely easy setup.

The Bad Unexciting photo print quality; slow print speeds.

The Bottom Line This easy, low-cost, printer will appeal to families and students. If you prefer a speedy model, however, keep searching.

Visit for details.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Support 7

Over the summer, the Deskjet 5550 kicked off Hewlett-Packard's latest line of home inkjet printers. Since then, a few more Deskjets and several Photosmarts have made their debuts, with varying results. With its curvaceous design and some high-tech extras, the Deskjet 5550 certainly looks as slick as the new inkjets on the block. And although its average speeds sit in the middle of those of the new pack, its output quality stands the test of time. For pure speed, try the similarly priced Canon i550. But for truly superior photos, go for the Photosmart 7550. The Photosmart 5550's sleek design makes it look like one of those little rolling repair robots from just about any science fiction movie. But you won't find this printer spinning down corridors, whistling at Wookiees. This desk-friendly inkjet fits into a notebook-sized area on your desktop, which means you don't have to sacrifice much space to accommodate it. Plus, the printer doesn't change size when you open the paper trays. Rather than slide out two long plastic trays, you simply slide up a dark plastic shield (like the visor on a helmet) to reveal a cove within the printer itself; the paper trays hide in there.

Space-age design.

Parallel and USB connections.

As with all HP printers, setting up the Deskjet 5550 is incredibly easy. A big, colorful Quick Start poster arrives in the box to show you how to plug in the printer, load the paper and the cartridges, and even troubleshoot basic problems. When you pop the included installation CD into your PC, an animated setup program launches and walks you through an expanded version of the same process. On the CD, you'll also find a comprehensive user guide.

It's just as easy to connect the Deskjet 5550 to your computer. This printer hooks up via both parallel and USB ports--though neither cable comes with the printer--and with Microsoft Windows 95 and above, as well as Macintosh OS 8.6 or later.

Dual input/output tray saves space.

Paper trays hide within printer itself.

If you've ever used an HP printer, you'll quickly recognize the 5550's paper-handling capabilities: input on the bottom and output on the top. The 50-sheet output tray, for example, rests on top of the 100-sheet input tray and has a plastic floor that lifts up to help you easily insert more paper and adjust the paper guides. A handy envelope-feeder slot integrated into the output tray makes it easy to print addresses.

Printing is also easy with the Deskjet 5550, thanks to its user-friendly drivers. From the simple driver interface, you can specify your basic settings, including paper type and print mode (Best, Normal, and Draft), or refine your print jobs with advanced poster printing, ink volume, and dry-time settings. The Deskjet 5550 also lets you adjust five photo-printing presets: Smart Focus, Contrast Enhancement, Digital Flash, Sharpness, and Smoothing. These settings will work for most digital-photography enthusiasts, but professional users will want finer calibration capabilities.

For quick printing, however, you needn't fiddling much with settings. Once you load up the paper, the printer's automatic sensor detects the paper's weight and texture, then adjusts its driver settings accordingly. This slick feature means you don't even have to adjust the drivers to do photo-quality printing on glossy paper. You can even set the Deskjet 5550 to print from edge to edge, without leaving a margin, for borderless photos and cards.

Photo ink cartridge not included.

Automatic sensor detects paper weight and texture.

Like other HP printers, particularly Photosmarts such as the 7550, the Deskjet 5550 gives you the option to print photos either with one black and one tri-color ink cartridge or, for higher-quality photo printing, with one tri-color cartridge and one photo cartridge. Unlike with the photo printers, however, you must buy the photo cartridge separately for $24.99. Need to print on both sides of a page (say, to save paper on long docs)? The 5550 gives you that option, but you'll have to purchase the duplexer module (at $79.99).

In CNET Labs' tests, the Deskjet 5550 printed 4.2 pages per minute (ppm), about average for text printing. Its photo-print speeds fared worse, at a slow 4.3 minutes for an 8x10 photograph. By comparison, the similarly priced Canon S520 delivers text at a rate of 6.9ppm and printed our test photograph in 1.7 minutes. (Note: You may get faster print speeds if you turn off the automatic paper sensor in the driver.)

Ink costs you can live with.
With the included black and color ink cartridges, the Deskjet 5550 averages ink costs of 5.6 cents per page of text and 29 cents per page of color. Both of these costs are reasonable, if not the cheapest on the market; the Canon i550, for example, costs 3.2 cents for text and 19 cents for color.

Thankfully, the HP Deskjet 5550 prints solid-quality text. On plain copy paper, text is dark and legible down to 2-point type, although we noticed some stray hairs and dots in our tests. On HP's Bright White paper, text shows up much crisper and blacker, but we noticed slight streaking along the up- and downstrokes of the letters, as well as blurry, hard-to-read small-sized type.

The Deskjet 5550 performs much better with graphics. On plain paper, it shows off its excellent color-matching capabilities. Line drawings are accurate, and photos look quite good. Bright White paper yields similar results, though in our tests, the brightness of the paper exaggerated the few flaws we did notice. In both cases, the printer had trouble rendering smooth, even gradients and shading. On the whole, we suggest that you stick with plain paper, where you'll get impressive results.

However, we've seen better-looking photographs. Photo backgrounds and colors looked smooth in our tests, but skin tones showed noticeable yellow patches, and the printer struggled with more complex jobs such as differentiating between shades of red. Even so, this ordinary inkjet's pictures look much better than those of the similarly priced HP Photosmart 7150.

Inkjet printer text speed
Pages per minute (longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon i550
HP Deskjet 5550
HP DeskJet 3820
HP Photosmart 7150

Inkjet printer color photo speed
Minutes to print a color photograph (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Canon i550
HP DeskJet 3820
HP Deskjet 5550
HP Photosmart 7150

Inkjet printer quality
•Poor ••Fair •••Good ••••Excellent
Printer Text Graphics Photo
Plain paper Coated paper Plain paper Coated paper Photo paper
Canon i550 • ••• ••• •• ••
HP Deskjet 3820 •• ••• •• •• ••••
HP Deskjet 5550 ••• ••• •••• •••• •••
HP Photosmart 7150 • • ••• ••• ••
If you encounter other problems with the Deskjet 5550, help is at hand. HP backs the printer with a standard one-year warranty, complete with free, toll-call phone support (from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. MT for Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday) for the length of the coverage plan. Automated help is available via a toll-free phone call, and HP's Web site provides software updates, printing tips, and manuals.

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