Although HP and Lexmark both released touch-screen printers at the same time, we have to credit HP for being the first to bring one to the consumer space, with the Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web. The printer connects directly to the Web through a wired or wireless connection without the need for a PC, and you can customize the LCD's home screen with shortcut apps designed for productivity, fun, and utility. Additionally, the printer itself continues HP's legacy of excellent-quality document and photo prints at snappy speeds. These all make for a superb multifunction printer, but the $399 price tag is just too much of a premium for a touch screen that actually takes away from the printer's usability. We might feel differently if HP had included additional hard buttons to complement the screen, but as it stands, you can get a better touch screen, similar performance scores, and a more forgiving price tag on the HP Officejet Pro 8500 Wireless.
Design and Features
There's no doubt that HP went to great lengths to improve on the design of its newest Photosmart. The Premium TouchSmart Web looks drastically different from the older models, with a streamlined flair and rounded edges all the way around the printer. The smooth lines, matte-black and silver finish, and lattice design on the top cover all complement the bright 4.33-inch touch-screen control panel, and the main body is compact (18 inches wide by 19.3 inches long by 7.7 inches deep) to easily fit into any work space. The rear sticks out a bit, because of the removable autoduplexer, which lets you save money and help out the environment by printing on both sides of a single sheet of paper. The printer is also short compared with other multifunction devices since it lacks an autodocument feeder (ADF), meaning you have to manually load each individual document into the scanner by hand. We're not sure why HP decided to omit this standard all-in-one feature, especially since all the other multifunction printers in its Photosmart line have one built in.
The front of the printer is bare except for a silver cutout in the center console that houses the 4.33-inch touch screen. The lone power button sits by itself on the right side and to the left you'll find two small LEDs that indicate the status of your wireless and Bluetooth connections. There's also a small media card reader and Pictbridge USB port protected by a clear plastic sliding cover directly underneath the swivel display. The back of the printer features the autoduplexer, power port, Ethernet port, a USB port, and two phone jacks for the fax machine (the functionality of which also takes a hit at the hands of the disappearing ADF).
We've been begging HP to reinstate the dual paper input tray we first saw featured on last year's Photosmart C8180, and HP finally delivered on the Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web. The input feeder has two separate trays: one for up to 20 sheets of 4-inch-by-6-inch photo paper and another underneath for 100 sheets of standard 8.5-inch-by-11-inch letter-size paper. A small plastic arm also extends out from the tray to corral outbound prints. The printer handles the paper well, and we didn't experience any jams, but we do take issue with the clear plastic photo tray cover that inevitably hits the bottom of the display every time you replenish the stack. On top of that, the flimsy piece that holds the cover open is too weak to support the weight, forcing you to use two hands just to refill paper. It's a minor annoyance, but a mechanical error on HP's part nonetheless.
The printer uses five standard HP model No. 564 ink cartridges for black, photo black, cyan, magenta, and yellow, each with its own dedicated slot under the hood. The standard cartridges cost $10, but we'll use the XL high-capacity option for our cost-per-page calculation to measure the best deal you can get from HP. The XL colored inks cost $18 apiece and, according to HP, they'll yield 750 color pages, while the XL black replacement cartridge costs $35 for 800 yields. By our calculations, a page of color will cost you 2.4 cents, and a page of black strangely costs double at 4.3 cents. Again, you can save more money on consumables with the HP Officejet Pro 8500 Wireless, which will cost you 1.6 cents per page for black-only ink and 1.9 cents per color.
The touch screen looks unsurprisingly similar to the face of an iPhone in a landscape orientation. The screen is roughly the same size (iPhone is 4.5 inches; this one is 4.3 inches), and you can also adjust the display up and down to find your best viewing angle. The home screen is the first thing you'll see when the printer is on. It consists of a set of scrollable icons for your favorite applications as well as four shortcut buttons at the bottom for photo printing, copy, scan, and fax. You can drag your finger across the list of apps, delete ones you don't use, or download any apps from the growing list in the HP App Studio. The screen itself works well, but it's just not as quick or responsive as the Apple iPhone. We noticed a significant lag in between the time we hit a button and when it actually registered and took action, which becomes an exercise in patience, especially when you have to comb through several submenus to get to the desired function.
All of the extra applications are free and broken down into categories within the App Store: entertainment, home, kids, news/blogs, photo, and tickets. Each one promises to streamline the printing experience by offering shortcuts to your favorite coupons, news articles, weather reports, recipes, etc. Another convenient feature is that you don't need to pair your printer up with a base computer to access these features; you can connect it to the Internet via a wired Ethernet connection or a wireless 802.11n and download all the apps you want directly from the display. All of the apps are free, and HP tells us that it plans to release a Software Development Kit (SDK) in the near future so that software engineers can design their own shortcut apps for the store. Again, we applaud HP for forging new ground, but we remain skeptical for now, considering the lack of enthusiasm for its desktop TouchSmart SDK efforts.