HP Officejet 4630 review: A practical Web-connected printer for the home office

Ink cartridges

The chassis of the 4630 lifts up to reveal the dual-cartridge input -- one for black ink and the other that combines cyan, magenta and yellow into a single tricolor cartridge. The disadvantage of this system is that you eventually have to replace the whole tricolor cartridge, even if only one color is depleted.

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Keep in mind that print quality also takes a hit using tricolor cartridges, so it's worth checking out the Epson Expression XP-420 if you think you'll be printing a high volume of full color photos or presentations. The XP-420 is another sub-$100 multifunction inkjet that uses separate color cartridges, but the trade-off is that it doesn't carry a dedicated fax line. To get both a fax machine and separate color cartridges, you need to step up to a more expensive multifunction like the HP Officejet Pro series.

As usual, HP offsets the price of refill cartridges by selling XL capacity models with larger ink reservoirs for a discounted price. Using the cost of these XL cartridges and HP's own page yields, you'll pay just over six cents per page of black ink and 17 cents per color. Those prices are high compared to those of the Epson XP-420 and the Canon Pixma MG5620 , which both work out to 3.5 cents and 5 cents for black and color pages, respectively.

HP Instant Ink

One reason that HP decided to go with a tricolor ink bay is to encourage users to opt into its new 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.

Subscribers that can accurately estimate their monthly print volume can save up to 50 percent on cartridge replacements, and of course there's the big benefit of never finding yourself at a loss for ink. The downside, however, is that the Instant Ink cartridges aren't backward compatible, so existing owners of HP printers need to upgrade to a compatible model to use them. The Instant Ink cartridges that HP sells right now are the Envy 4500, Envy 5530, Officejet 4630, Officejet Pro 8610 and Officejet Pro 8620.

Performance

If print speed is high on your list of demands, you may be dissatisfied with the Officejet 4630's sluggish throughput performance. Using CNET's own test documents, the printer clocked in at only 4 pages of black text per minute and 2.5 pages of a color graphics page per minute -- the former is especially slow for industry standards compared with the Epson XP-420, which registered more than twice as many pages using the same performance test.

The printer's single tricolor ink cartridge comes up short in output quality performance as well, but you won't likely notice unless you're a professional photographer and can recognize the subtleties of image gradation and dithering relative to the color spectrum.

I printed a variety of full-color snapshot photos in my anecdotal quality tests, and while it certainly doesn't compare to the Canon Pixma MG5620's full six-color reproduction, I wouldn't hesitate to use the HP 4630 to output professional documents like resumes, slideshows and graphics.

Conclusion

The HP Officejet 4630 won't blow you away with its average print speed and quality, but I'm impressed with its variety of connectivity features and ink options you can tailor to your printing habits. It works well as both a small office printer and a home base device for outputting photos from the cloud, and you can stand to save a decent amount of cash on consumables by registering for the company's Instant Ink program.

The Epson Expression XP-420 is a better option if a compact footprint and high-quality photos are more appealing to you, but keep in mind that you'll sacrifice the 4630's auto-document feeder, duplexer, and the dedicated fax machine for it. As always with printers, it comes down to how you're going to use it and what you plan to print.