When you look at a value-priced all-in-one photo printer/copier/scanner like the Hewlett-Packard Envy 4500 ($99), it’s easy to criticize it for not having this feature or missing that feature. To do so would be unfair, as some tradeoffs are to be expected in exchange for a cost-savings. Still, a low price doesn’t exempt a product from things like performance.
There are customers that benefit from a printer like the Envy 4500. If you’re a household that rarely goes through a ream of paper, prints color once in a while, and isn’t too concerned about print quality, the Envy 4500 does the job. But if you run out of paper often and you expect quality color prints and photos, the Envy 4500 is going to cost you more in the long run; you’re better off with a more expensive model that offers better yields and good quality on a variety of paper.
Features and design
HP segregates its printer lineups according to user type. The Envy line is relatively new, and is designed and priced for a user who wants a great looking device that is low-cost, and is willing to put up with some compromises to obtain it.
Performance is good for a printer at this price point.
With the front paper tray panel raised, the Envy 4500 is a fairly innocuous black box. Measuring 17.5 x 13.2 inches (width and depth) and 4.7 inches high, it’s not tall but it does take up some desk space. At 12.3 pounds, it’s not back breaking.
Minimalist in design it may be, the Envy 4500 actually has a complete set of controls surrounding a 2-inch monochrome display, which includes buttons for navigation, wireless status check, HP Web Services, and a help button.
The front drop-down panel is where you access the pullout paper drawer, which has a maximum capacity of 100 sheets. Under this is a swing-out support for paper output. This capacity, at 30 pages, is way less than the amount of paper the input drawer can hold, and in our testing, the printed sheets tended to skew on this support after printing about 10 pages, so keep an eye out to make sure that modestly long print runs don’t wind up on the floor or desk.
While there’s no automatic document feeder, the Envy 4500 does offer duplex printing, which is a value-added feature to have in a multifunction printer (MFP) at this price point. Not only does it save paper, it produces a more professional-looking report or school paper.
The Envy 4500 uses two ink cartridges, a black cartridge and a tri-color cartridge that contains magenta, cyan, and yellow. A tri-color cartridge provides much lower ink yields, as once you run out of one color, you need to change the cartridge even if there’s plenty of ink left for the other two – a waste.
Cartridges for the Envy 4500 come in two capacities – standard and high yield. The standard cartridges are rated at 180 pages for monochrome and 150 pages for color. The XL cartridges are rated to yield approximately 455 monochrome pages and 310 color pages. These yields are calculated using an ISO (International Standards Organization) protocol and suite of test pages. We do not perform yield tests, but we had to replace the color cartridge after printing considerably few pages for our print quality tests. To be fair, the ink coverage of our test images is much higher than that of the pages used in ISO yield testing. But if you are printing a lot of 8 x 10 photos, the printer is going to suck down ink fast.
The good news is that the cartridges themselves aren’t too expensive – about $15 (black) and $21 (tri-color) for standard capacity, and $30 (black) and $32 (tri-color) for the higher-capacity cartridges. That’s great if you’re not a heavy user, but even if you do achieve those ISO-rated yields, that’s still almost 11 cents for a color page using a high-yield cartridge, so it’s going to cost you. If you’re printing photos (and HP does consider the Envy 4500 to be a photo printer), the cost-per-page shoots up considerably, which is true of any printer when outputting color photos.
One interesting feature that the Envy 4500 and several other new HP printers offer is the “Instant Ink” plan. Signing up for this plan means that you are billed a monthly fee that includes a set number of pages, and when you start to run out of ink, the printer notifies HP over the Internet and HP sends out a new cartridge. The least expensive plan costs $2.99 a month for up to 50 pages. If you print more than that in a particular month, you are charged per-page-printed over the number of pages offered at the plan level you choose. If you don’t print all of the pages for a month, the unused pages roll over and can be used for print overages in following months. HP claims that the Instant Ink plan can save you as much as 50 percent on ink costs. If a lot of your printing consists of photos, which gulps down a lot of ink, Instant Ink could be a good value.
What’s in the box
The Envy 4500 comes with a setup poster, a user’s guide, a power cord, and a CD containing print drivers for Windows and Mac, a scanner driver, and HP’s Photo Creations software for creating things like cards, photo cubes, calendars, etc.
Setup and performance
Setting up the Envy 4500 is easy – the installation wizard on the CD takes you through the process, asking first if you want to check the Internet for updated drivers. The Envy 4500 does not have an Ethernet port – network connection is solely through Wi-Fi. There’s a USB port for direct connection.
There’s one annoying thing that the Envy 4500 does and it’s the constant badgering. It seems every time you’re on your computer the printer software is asking you for something. “Do you want to join the Instant Ink plan? How about the Rewards program?” Change cartridges and you get asked about the Rewards program again. If you answer no to any of this, you get asked, “Are you sure?” This gets on one’s nerves real fast.
The Envy 4500 is capable of photographic quality – with the right paper, that is.
Performance is good for a printer at this price point. HP rates the print speed as up to 8.8 pages-per-minute (ppm) in black and 5.2 ppm in color. We achieved about 8 ppm using our Word-based test document with mostly black text and a small color logo.
The Envy’s print driver is rather sparse, offering limited defaults and very limited paper choices. You can choose “Photo Printing” with or without borders, “Fast Economical,” “Factory Defaults” (which defaults to “Normal” quality and plain paper), or “User Specified,” which actually only gives you a choice of paper type, print quality (draft, normal, or best), and duplex printing. All of our image quality tests were done with the output quality set to “best.”
We tested using a variety of different papers: HP Office Paper, Hammermill Premium Inkjet and Laser, HP Bright White (the paper HP sent with the printer), HP Premium Presentation Paper, and HP Premium Plus Photo Paper High Gloss.
Image quality was abysmal on all but the Premium Presentation Paper and Photo Paper, with dull washed-out colors and slight color shift. This was true even on the Bright White paper HP supplied.
It was a completely different story with HP’s Premium Presentation Paper and Photo Paper, with great saturation, accurate color, and excellent detail. HP does state that the Envy 4500 is capable of photographic quality, and with the right paper, it is.
The Envy 4500 has missing features and limitations that would have made it a well-rounded photo MFP, but given that it can be found for less than the retail price, it’s unreasonable to expect it to offer the same degree of functionality as a more expensive MFP. As we reviewed the printer, we kept this all in perspective.
Still, the paper tray has limited capacity (the output support offering even less), and the use of a tri-color ink cartridge means you’ll be replacing it when just one of the colors runs out, which happened pretty quickly during our tests. You also need to keep in mind that if you need good-quality output or are printing photos, you are going to have to spring for premium (expensive) paper. With that said, the Envy 4500 is a capable photo printer.
But the old adage states, “You get what you pay for.” If what you want is an inexpensive MFP that does a good job in monochrome, that’s certainly true of the Envy 4500. But if you need high-quality color and photo printing, you are going to wind up wondering if the initial purchase price was that good of a buy.
- Good speed performance
- Wireless connectivity in addition to USB
- Duplexer is standard
- Small capacity paper tray
- Does not use individual color cartridges
- Photo-quality printing can be expensive