The shiny, silvery HP PSC 1610 all-in-one printer, scanner, and copier looks good enough to sit in a Tiffany shop, but some of its other attributes are less than stellar. Designed for use in the home, the 1610 all-in-one lacks a fax machine but features a full set of built-in media slots to keep the family photographer happy. Other members of your tribe who need good scans or quick photocopies might be impatient and less satisfied. Still, patience has its rewards, and though not fast, the 1610 is a perfectly capable text printer that excels at color graphics and makes photo printing easy. Anyone looking for a personal photo inkjet with a few extra skills should consider the HP 1610, but try the Brother MFC-420CN if you demand networking and an automatic document feeder (ADF). If you have a bigger budget, the Dell 962 gives you faxing and an ADF without built-in camera card slots, and the HP Photosmart 2710 has all that with photo card slots, too. Just when you expect every computer peripheral to be black and gray, the HP PSC 1610 all-in-one enters the market with an all-silver, gleaming suit of plastic armor. The light, polished exterior well suits this device's 12-pound daintiness and slim, 17.2-by-14.3-by-8.1-inch (W,D,H) size. The top slopes forward like the hood of a car, so you can easily open the scanner lid or inspect the control panel from your desk chair. The 1610's control panel has a pop-up, two-line, 32-character backlit LCD, so if you must preview and print photos without bothering with your computer, you'll want a different multifunction; check out the color LCD on the HP PSC 2355 all-in-one or the Lexmark P6250 instead.
Four tiers of buttons on the HP PSC 1610 cover standalone tasks, so you can print photos or proofs from your digital camera or media cards, scan, and make reductions or enlargements to color or black-and-white copies. In front of the machine, the media card slots and the PictBridge port, which plug into enabled digital cameras, are helpfully labeled.
The flatbed scanner lid easily disengages from its hinges in case you want to scan books, photo albums, or thick magazines. Pull it up below the front of the lid to reach the ink cartridges. The 1610 holds two cartridges at a time, and though they slide in and out of the machine stiffly, you don't have to open levers or push buttons to access them. You'll have to buy your own photo ink and swap it out with the black tank when you print photos, an annoying yet common hassle on all-in-ones lately.
At its base, the 1610's paper tray holds 100 sheets of incoming paper and 50 sheets of completed prints. However, as the two trays are really just one tray divided by two plastic separators and an extender, you should empty the output frequently to avoid paper jams. You can adjust the input tray to fit 10 envelopes, postcards, or label sheets or 15 transparencies or sheets of photo paper, but all media travels through the same curved paper path. The rear clean-out cover in the back opens for paper jams only, so as with other cheap inkjets, you'll have to live without the straight exit path that would prevent unusual media from bending.The HP PSC 1610 all-in-one comes with most features that home users desire in a do-it-all photo machine, minus one: you can't preview images on its text LCD. Still, you can use this printer without a computer for some functions: just lift the lid and drop a document onto the 8.5-by-11.7-inch glass bed to make photocopies or to scan images at 1,200x4,800dpi to a memory card. Sans your PC, you can also print from PictBridge or HP digital cameras or straight from digital cards, including CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, Secure Digital, and xD.
The HP 1610 hooks up to Mac OS 9.1 and up and works with Windows 98 through XP. It took us less than 10 minutes, using Windows XP, to load the drivers and the software. You can choose between two installation types: Full, which loads 780MB worth of programs on your hard drive, and Express, which demands 365MB. If you already have photo organizing or editing software and don't want to load the 266MB ImageZone, you can't reject this program without also giving up the OCR (optical character recognition) scanning software--though you can uninstall ImageZone later.
If you're using a computer with the 1610, just plug in your camera card or cable to summon ImageZone to enhance the powers of the 1610: you can even use it to transform your images into stickers, posters, calendars, iron-on transfers, and more once you buy the creative materials. If you're online, you can send photos to friends through HP's Instant Share e-mail program--but you might prefer to use a personal e-mail program than to bother with HP's cluttered, self-promotional template.
For printing and copying, the HP 1610 comes with one black and one three-color ink cartridge, but you'll have to buy your own photo tank for $24.99. Color ink estimated to last 260 pages costs the same, and a black cartridge for 450 text pages runs $19.99. According to these numbers, the price of an 8x10 page is 4 cents for black and nearly 10 cents for color, more than the vendor estimates for, say, the penny-per-page black and 2-cents-per-page color of the Canon MP780, which uses individual inks. You can also buy a pair of tricolor HP cartridges for $79.99 with 280 sheets of 4x6 photo paper, which the company estimates will average about 29 cents per snapshot.For its affordable price, no one should expect the HP PSC 1610 all-in-one to be a speed demon, and it's not. On text, the HP 1610 printed a below-average 4.79 pages per minute (ppm), quite behind the Dell 962's nimble 7.46ppm. The 1610 printed out an 8x10 photo at the rate of 0.29ppm, or one every 3.45 minutes, faster than the Dell 962, but by no means quick. The HP 1610's scanning speed was lethargic, ditto for its copying pace.
The HP PSC 1610 all-in-one turned in a decent performance in CNET Labs' tests. With inkjet paper, the HP 1610 created good-quality, dark black bold text that was easy to read, though less than crisp around the edges up close--typical for an inkjet. Color graphics on inkjet paper were good, with smooth gradients, well-detailed graphical elements, and pale but otherwise accurate colors.
Printed on HP's glossy photo paper, the 1610 re-created our test photo well, though skin tones were slightly cool due to an overdose of cyan. An overall pale and fuzzy appearance detracted from its score. Upon close inspection, a faint area of horizontal banding could be seen at the very bottom of the 8x10-inch photo. None of the suggestions on HP's Web site remedied this for us, but you can avoid this potential glitch by printing photos with a 0.75-inch border. Scans were only fair; both color and black-and-white test files suffered from paleness, a dearth of crisp details, and incompletely rendered gradients.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
If that's not enough, there's a vast array of help at HP's Web site, including troubleshooting tips, answers to FAQs, setup and installation procedures, product information, and opportunities to chat online with a technician or to e-mail tech support.
HP also has a free HP inkjet cartridge recycling program.