The $130 HP Officejet J4680 is an all-in-one, which means it can also fax, copy, and scan in addition to print beautifully rendered documents and pictures. We rarely see sub-$150 printers with the extra features you get in the J4680: 802.11g Wi-Fi connectivity, convert-to-text, and a 20-sheet auto document feeder. Unfortunately, the printer suffers from painfully slow print speeds across all documents including simple black text and photos, in addition to mechanical hiccups that limit its efficiency. If you can somehow get past these limitations, you'll be satisfied with the J4680's features and output quality, but you can spend an extra $90 and get the HP Officejet J6480 that's faster and offers the same features without sacrificing any hardware.
The Officejet J4680 looks similar to the J6480 and the rest of the printers in HP's current lineup. The majority of the chassis is a dark slate grey with muted shades of white and silver coating the sides and the control panel. Standing in at 17 inches long by 15.81 inches wide by 8.53 inches deep and weighing a manageable 13 pounds, the printer itself takes up very little space. The main reason why its footprint is so small is because the output tray is removable, but the catch is that the output tray doubles as the input tray, meaning that all the outbound prints rest almost directly on top of the blank paper, with only a two small plastic tabs separating the two "trays." In addition, the input tray can only hold 100 sheets of plain white paper (the Officejet J6480 can hold 250 sheets by comparison), but you can get another 20 sheets into the ADF on top of the printer. Another gripe we have with the paper handling is that the adjustable arms that shrink to support 4x6 inch photo paper sit all the way inside the mouth of the printer, which could pose a loading problem.
The control panel takes up a majority of the front side of the J4680, comprised of a numerical keypad for inputting fax numbers, a small two line LCD, a directional pad, a Wi-Fi toggle key, and a variety of access buttons including power, cancel, back, and OK. Also, a pass-through light blinks green or red to indicate the status of the printer. Navigating the menus on the LCD is a little tricky because of the horizontal layout of the screen, but accessing the different functions (fax, copy, scan, print) becomes intuitive after a few hours of playing around with the buttons. We also like the helpful instructions that pop up on the LCD if you hover over an item for a while, but HP once again trips up and doesn't include a media card reader or even a USB port, so you can forget about direct printing from a digital camera.
The top of the printer lifts open to reveal the 1200dpi flatbed scanner, measuring 8.5 inches by 11.7 inches to fit a variety of media sizes, but you'll run into trouble if the document you're scanning is too thick or uneven to sit flush on the scanner--we wish HP had built hinges onto the door. Scanning destination options include scanning directly to a file, a Word document, an e-mail, or a PDF file. Again, since there's no reader, transferring directly to a memory card is impossible. The copy function is straightforward as well--you can fit the copy to a single page or enlarge/decrease the size, alter the quality of the reprint to save ink, and make the copy lighter or darker in contrast to the original image. You can make up to 100 copies at once, although you'll obviously need to refill the paper tray somewhere in the middle of the job.
We're pleased that HP is starting to include wireless access on almost all of their newer printers, and the J4680 is no different, although it separates itself from others on the market with the capability to turn it on and off using a button on the front panel. Setting up the 802.11g print server to connect to a computer is incredibly easy--using the network preferences utility on the driver, it's simply a matter of waiting for the printer to sniff out your network and entering your password--the printer will do the rest of the pairing automatically. The whole process, from start to wireless printing, took less than 10 minutes of tangle-free installation.
Another way that HP keeps size and cost down is by incorporating the two-ink cartridge bay into the middle section of the printer, as opposed to adding a completely separate drawer just for ink. Unfortunately, the printer pulls all of its color ink from a single cartridge--you don't get the cost-savings that individually replaceable inks provide. The driver keeps a rough estimate of the remaining ink left in each cartridge and displays it within the HP Solution Center included with the driver. In our testing experience, we found that the HP-901 model of black ink was barely large enough to accommodate our test prints, and we suspect that HP is guilty of bundling a "starter-pack" cartridge size in the box, since our tests don't demand a large amount of black ink. We're also surprised to see that the color cartridge remained almost full at the end of our sampling, despite printing a large amount of color photos.
As stated on the HP Web store, black cartridges cost $15 to replace and will yield approximately 200 pages, and tricolor cartridges costs $29 for 360 pages. You can also purchase an XL black cartridge for $32 that should last about 700; unfortunately, no XL tricolor cartridge is offered at the time of this review. By our cost-per-page calculations, you're looking at 7.5 cents for a page of standard black ink and 4.6 cents per color page, which is higher than the typical home office printer. To put it in context, we recently reviewed another HP printer, the HP Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One that came out to 2.4 cents per page of color and 4.3 cents per page of black--the J4680 will run you double to replace each. We won't go as far to suggest that HP is trying to pull a bait-and-switch tactic with the low price tag, but potential buyers should know that the more they print, the higher the ultimate cost of this printer.
We wish we could tell you that the output speed chart you see below for HP Officejet J4680 is a big mistake, that we messed up and will retest, but the fact of the matter is that the benchmarks are as painfully accurate as they are painfully slow. HP advertises the approximate page per minute speed is 28 pages per minute of black and 22 pages per minute of color, but none of the documents that we tested came even close to those numbers. The other printers on the comparison bench blew the J4680 out of the water, especially when printing photos--the J4680 didn't even break one 4x6 photo per minute, while the Epson Artisan 800 topped out at 2.82 pages in a minute. At this level, it's difficult to imagine an office that could afford to keep a printer this slow in-house.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Photo Speed (1 sheet)
|Color Graphics Speed
|Color Text Speed
The print quality is definitely the Officejet J6480's saving grace, especially considering the sluggish output speeds. The black text prints came out a rich, bold black with clear readability all the way down to 2-point text. Color text and graphics on standard 20-pound white paper look equally pleasing: equal saturation, sharp detail in fine lines, and accurate color representations especially in facial tones. Although some of the 4x6 photos could use a little warmth, most of the graphics we printed required no tweaking to produce a realistic feeling. In addition, the graphics preferences located on the driver can assist you in slight adjustments to saturation and hue, as well as eliminate red eye.
Service and support
The HP Officejet J4680 is backed by a limited one-year warranty. Troubleshooting is available by phone 24 hours a day and seven days a week; e-mails are typically answered within an hour, as well. The printer is also protected by HP's Total Care program that makes it easy to extend the limited warranty, report a problem, schedule a next-day exchange, and access an HP "SmartFriend" that can answer questions not covered by the manual or Web site.
Find out more about how we test printers.