The HP Envy 4520 truly deserves its "all-in-one" moniker, giving the user control over what to do with the machine, how to connect it to different devices, where to pull print materials from and how to refill depleted ink cartridges.
Its redesigned chassis sits low to the ground and easily disappears out of the way when you're not printing, and the minimal touchscreen design frees the control panel from button clutter and confusion. And at its price of $100 in the US at the time of this review (it sells for £59 UK and AU$99), it's an affordable option for people who don't want to spend too much on a printer that might only get used on scattered occasions. Even though it's not the smallest printer on the market in its price range, the HP 4520 is a dependable performer and worth the investment.
HP Envy 4520
|Price as reviewed||$100, £59, AU$99|
|Dimensions in inches (width x depth x height)||17.5 x 14.5 x 5 inches (44.5cm x 36.8cm x 12.7cm)|
|Inks||2-ink tank (black, tricolor)|
|Automatic 2-sided printing (duplexer)||No|
|Automatic document feeder||No|
|Memory card reader||No|
|Connectivity||USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, AirPrint, Google Cloud Print|
|Paper input tray capacity||100 sheets|
|Display||2.2-inch monochrome LCD|
HP's Envy series of printers always leans heavily toward a slim design, and the 4520 continues the legacy with a new, curved chassis that measures 17.5 inches wide, 14.5 inches deep and 5 inches tall. You can get a smaller all-in-one unit like the Epson XP-420 if your work area is really hurting for space, but as far as multifunction printers go, the 4520 is one of the sleekest I've seen.
This time around, the company went back to a matte black finish with a patterned scanner lid on top. The control panel rests on a lip just below it at a fixed angle, easily viewable unless you have the printer higher than eye level. Curiously enough, there are no physical function buttons on the panel aside from the power button on the left-- you can only interact with the printer through the 2.2-inch monochrome LCD display, so you shouldn't expect to be viewing and editing photos.
Others might have an easier time navigating through menus, but I wish there were a few shortcut buttons built into the hardware to quickly bring you directly to the print, copy and scan functions. The user experience on the tiny display makes you lift and drag a finger to scroll across all the menus, and the touch response isn't as snappy as on a smartphone, causing issues with latency and accidental presses. There's also no way to recalibrate or change the sensitivity of the screen.
A 100-sheet input tray pulls out of a drawer from the bottom of the machine and has adjustable sliders to accommodate popular media sizes including A4, A5 and A6. The tray itself also has designated size markers etched into it that act as a guide to make sure the paper fits properly into the feeder.
One cool feature here is that the 4520 automatically extends a plastic lip to corral prints when you start a job to keep things organized, though you still have to flip up the last piece to prevent sheets from flying onto the ground.
The output tray directly below the display can hold a maximum of 25 sheets of paper at a time, which makes sense for a printer designed to print up to 1,000 pages per month. That number is also known as the printer's "duty cycle."
Given the budget price tag, I'm not surprised to see that HP didn't build an auto-document feeder into this guy for batch scans. If you plan to do a lot of scanning, you'll be happier with the Epson XP-420.
Setup and networking
HP includes a manual for the initial setup and basic troubleshooting, but the driver CD you get in the package is really easy to follow with a clearly labeled guide to connecting the printer to your computer and your home network.
You can start printing in minutes with a simple USB connection, but you'll need to shake hands with a wireless network in order to take advantage of the print-sharing and cloud-printing features. If you subscribe to the Apple or Google ecosystems, the easiest way to do it is with Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print, services that let you send jobs to the printer from your iOS devices and Google Chrome Web browsers.
Alternatively, you can also input your SSID and network password directly into the printer to go wireless, and if your router features WiFi Protected Setup (or WPS), you can establish a connection with a single push of a button.
Unfortunately, you need a wireless network in your home to get the printer online, as there's no Ethernet port present on the device.
The ink delivery system rests underneath the scanner bay and incorporates a single tricolor cartridge for dye-based black and another for tricolor. The 4520 takes HP's upgraded #63 model ink cartridges, a new design for the company that integrates the print head alongside the tank while also making technical improvements to ink balancing as well as end-of-life monitoring.
In previous cartridge models, users would begin to see color banding, or malformed horizontal lines running across a print job, that would typically indicate a cartridge coming close to depletion. Oftentimes, the banding would disappear after a few more prints, then return again, confusing the user about the true level of ink remaining in the cartridge.
HP developed a technology with the new #63 cartridges called Active Ink Balancing that closely monitors ink levels throughout the cartridge's life cycle, making notes if one color starts to run out faster than the others. If that starts to happen, the system will automatically adjust the balance by mixing other colors to compensate for the depletion.
Color inaccuracy will inevitably occur in the process, but the company assures me that the changes are made gradually to prevent obvious inconsistencies. That being said, if you're planning to print full-color portraits where skin tone accuracy is essential, you can simply turn off the Active Ink Balancing feature within the printer settings.
The 4520 is compatible with HP's Instant Ink Service. Here's how it works: for a monthly fee, HP will keep track of your ink levels and automatically put a replacement in the mail when you're running low.
You start by choosing one of three payment levels based on how many pages you think you'll print per month: $2.99 per month for a 50-page cap, $4.99 for 100 pages, and $9.99 for 300 pages. You can always buy extra pages if you find yourself going over the allotment, and unused pages will roll over to the next month.
The #63 cartridges that ship with the printer are Instant Ink Ready, which represents a big change in how users can opt to enroll in the service. With previous Instant Ink printers, the customer would have to pick up an enrollment kit from a store that would contain an ID that would be used to register the device with Instant Ink and choose the preferred plan.
Now, HP cuts out the middleman and lets you do it all online. The cartridges are functionally capable of both service options: if you decide to enroll in Instant Ink, a microchip inside will engage andcommunicate with HP to send over your your ink levels and ship refills to your house when you need them. If you decide that Instant Ink doesn't work for your printing habits, you don't have to actually do anything; the cartridges will act as usual.
The HP Envy 4520 is a quick printer that registered high marks across the board for CNET's benchmarking tests for inkjets. Using our own test documents, the printer registered 8.9 pages per minute for a full (black only) text document and 2.6 pages per minute for a full-color graphics sheet. The 4520 actually beat our longstanding black-text print speed record, formerly held by the Epson XP-420.
The Envy 4520 also gave outstanding output quality results, producing black text of a quality that easily competes with the crispness of expensive laser printers, even at smaller sizes. Full-color graphics and presentations fared equally well, and quiet offices will certainly benefit from the whisper-quiet of the printer's operational sounds, which are easily drowned out by clicking keyboards and soft conversation.
If you're looking for the latest in printing technology in an all-in-one inkjet, the HP Envy 4520 is certainly worth checking out...as long as you don't mind operating the unit exclusively through the touchscreen.