HP Photosmart C5280 Multifunction Printer review: HP Photosmart C5280 Multifunction Printer

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MSRP: $185.00

The Good Inexpensive; great graphics and photo print quality; excellent color scan quality; can print on specially coated optical discs; dedicated photo paper tray; low print costs; Roxio Express Labeler software is easy to use; print quality on discs is good.

The Bad Text quality needs significant improvement; photo menus need to be reorganized to be more intuitive; can't produce scannable proof sheet; can't sort memory card contents by date; lacks a PictBridge port.

The Bottom Line Its features set is oddly unbalanced, and better all-in-one inkjet options cost just a bit more, but the HP Photosmart C5280 is a good bet for casual home users on a tight budget.

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

The HP Photosmart C5280 is a bargain of an inkjet multifunction at $150. Its task speeds aren't stellar, but they are acceptable for the average home user. It's better suited for graphics and photo printing than for text printing, though, so look elsewhere if you need a lot of high-quality text prints. Its photo-printing feature set is fairly well fleshed out, though some of its menu organization doesn't make sense. Additionally, the CD/DVD print feature is easy to use and produces good-quality prints. The slightly more expensive Canon Pixma MP600 offers faster speeds and slightly better quality (though not with scans), but the Photosmart C5280 will keep average home users happy.

The HP Photosmart C5280 uses a body design similar to what we've seen with the Photosmart C5180. It stands 17.8 inches wide, 15.2 inches deep, and 8 inches tall, and weighs a mere 15.7 pounds.

The 2.4-inch color LCD is top-mounted on a panel that swivels through about 90 degrees, so you can easily see it whether you're sitting or standing. The onboard buttons include task buttons, menu buttons for photos, scan, and copy, a red-eye removal button, and start buttons. Additionally, there are the usual menu navigation buttons, including a four-way rocker, OK, and back.

Four memory card slots are mounted on the front of the unit and take all the major card types, though some require adapters. Unfortunately, this model lacks a USB PictBridge port, so you can't print from a PictBridge-enabled camera or a flash thumbdrive, as you can with the Dell Photo 966. Paper handling is simple: the input and output trays are combined into a single cassette, with the output tray on top. The main input tray can hold up to 125 sheets of plain paper. Additionally, a dedicated photo paper tray is mounted into the output tray and can hold up to 20 sheets of 4x6 photo paper. One new feature on this printer is the ability to print directly onto the back of specially coated CDs and DVDs. The disc feeding mechanism folds down sit to atop the output tray and a disc tray is hidden under the input tray.

The Photosmart C5280 uses a two-tank ink system: one black and one tricolor tank, though you can swap out the black for an optional tricolor photo tank for six-color photo printing. Both black and regular tricolor tanks come in regular and XL (or high-capacity) versions. The regular black costs $15 and prints roughly 200 pages, while the XL version costs $30 and is good for about 750 pages. The regular color cartridge costs $18 for about 170 pages, and the XL version costs $35 for about 520 pages. Using the XL versions for best value, we calculate that black text costs about 4 cents per page and a full color print costs about 10.7 cents per page--both numbers are low for an inexpensive inkjet printer. The monthly duty cycle is 3,000 prints.

The Photosmart C5280 is a USB-only printer that works with both Windows and Mac operating systems. The scan and copy features are standard. When copying, you can resize within a range of 50 to 400 percent, change the output quality, and make up to 50 copies at once. A couple of unexpected features include the ability to crop the original document and preview the copy before printing it. We really like the latter option because it prevents wasted paper from errors such as incorrect positioning. When scanning, your three target options are reprint (basically, a copy), a memory card, and the attached PC. When scanning to your PC, you can have the scan opened in a number of programs including MS Word, Paint, and HP Photosmart Essentials 2.01; save it to a file; or attach it to an e-mail. File options include JPEG, TIFF, BMP, RTF, HTML, and PDF, among others. The editable formats are created using optical character recognition.

The Photosmart C5280 lets you reprint photos via the flatbed scanner and the onboard control panel. You can apply color effects (antique, sepia, or B&W), crop, adjust brightness, and so on. When you insert a memory card, the Photosmart Express menu pops up on the LCD. Your options are: View, Print, Create, Share, and Save. The Print menu lets you select photos to be printed and apply tweaks, such as color treatment, brightness, red-eye removal, and so on. Oddly, the Print All option is buried a few levels down. You have to select an individual photo, choose Options, then Preview All, and then you can select Print All. It makes much more sense to put the Print All option at the top level of the menu, such that the first choice you make is to print all or select individual photos. You also can't just click through the photos to choose them and then do editing at the end. The Photosmart Express software forces you to click on a photo, do a print preview, and then select Add More to choose additional photos. This procedure is slow and clunky.

View lets you step through the images singly or in groups of six thumbnails. From this menu, you can also select photos to print and the procedure is the same as if you'd started from the Print menu. It's not clear why both options are offered. The Create menu allows you to print panoramic photos, wallet photos, and passport-size photos. The Share option lets you select one, some, or all photos to be shared. After you select photos, the printer triggers the HP Photosmart Essential software on your PC. Here you can choose whether to send the photos as an attachment to an e-mail or upload them to HP's Snapfish service. The latter will send an e-mail with a link back to Snapfish. Finally, the Save option copies over the images to your PC. Again, you can select all or just a few to be copied, though you can't specify where you want the files saved. The program defaults to the My Pictures folder within My Documents. You can also print an index of the contents of your card, but it serves as a reference only, as you can't perform a scan-and-print with it, as you can with the Kodak EasyShare 5300. We noticed, too, that you can't sort the card contents by date or print just last X photos, as you can with the Canon Pixma MP600, which is useful if you tend to add to a card without first offloading older images.

In order to print discs, you'll need to install the Roxio Express Labeler software that comes with the C5280 (on a separate disc from the one that contains the printer's drivers). To start the process, engage the disc-print mechanism by flipping down the disc feed tray. Doing so will start a video on the LCD that demonstrates how to insert a disc, and the Roxio software will start up on your PC. Express Labeler includes templates for a regular-sized CD/DVD, a mini disc (80mm), a DVD case insert, and a jewel case insert. For discs, you can add text or images and customize both. Express Labeler offers various preset layouts that you can customize by adjusting the size and placement of text and image boxes. Additionally, you can choose one of the 50 or so thematic backgrounds that fill the surface of the disc, or import an image for a custom background. The downside of doing the latter is that you can't resize or move the image; the program will automatically center the image on the disc. Another option is to drag-and-drop images onto the template and move and resize them as desired. You can even layer images over a background. We found the program very intuitively designed and easy to use. We also liked the resulting quality of the print--it didn't look like it came from a commercial printing facility, but was good enough to be impressive. HP recommends burning the data to the disc before printing on the back surface. As for printable media prices, HP's own branded media shows about a 20-cent difference between the printable discs versus plain discs.