We love the utility of multi-function printers, but trade-offs seem inevitable—especially when you’re talking about an all-in-one that claims photo-printing prowess. When we reviewed Epson’s Artisan 800 a few months back, we concluded that it was a better photo printer than productivity machine. HP’s Photosmart Premium C309a settles on the opposite side of the spectrum, competently cranking out office documents, but underperforming on photos.
Features and Design
Not to judge a book by its cover, but the Photosmart C309a even looks more like an office machine than something you’d use for arts and crafts projects. Where the Artisan 800 is done up in glossy black plastic and features a fancy touch-screen user interface, the HP sports an eggshell white exterior and more than two dozen buttons. Assuming you edit your photos on your PC before printing them, you won’t need to push most of these buttons unless you’re copying or faxing. If you do prefer to print straight from your camera, you can preview your photos using the integrated 2.4-inch display and make rudimentary edits—including automatic red-eye removal—without ever firing up your computer.
Both printers boast USB, wired Ethernet, and Wi-Fi connectivity, but the HP goes one step further to support Bluetooth networking, too. Adding the printer to a home network was very easy—in marked contrast to the Epson, which requires a hard-wired connection to your router before you can switch over to Wi-Fi. Like the Artisan 800, the Photosmart has both a PictBridge interface and an integrated media-card reader that can accommodate any of the common formats, including CompactFlash, MMC, SD, XD, and Memory Stick. The Photosmart can print on plain paper (up to legal size), up to 110-pound card stock, envelopes, labels, photo paper, and CDs. It also has a built-in duplexer for two-sided printing, a feature that’s an added-cost option on the Artisan 800.
Testing and Usage
The machine uses HP’s Vivera-series ink, which comes in cyan, magenta, yellow, and two types of black cartridges (photo black and black, the latter of which holds a larger quantity of ink. That’s a big plus if you find you print more documents than photos.) Color and photo black replacement cartridges sell for $10, while the regular black costs $12. HP also offers multi-packs and XL cartridges at a discount (on a cost-per-page basis).
HP recommends using its own photo paper, which offers a feature that HP calls Auto Sense. Special symbols on the back of the paper inform the printer of the type of paper being used, the size of the paper (up to 8.5 x 11 inches—but not the more picture-frame-friendly 8×10), and the print quality settings the printer should use. The paper can even warn the printer if it’s been loaded upside down in the paper tray. HP provides a few sheets of this paper with the printer, but we found that we achieved much better results tweaking the printer settings on our own.
Using the printer’s default settings (600 DPI) with HP’s Photosmart software and Advanced Photo Paper, the HP produced prints that were considerably grainier than the same photos printed on the Artisan 800. The resulting loss of detail wasn’t noticeable with a casual glance, but it showed up strongly when we examined the print with a magnifying loop. We had the same experience when we switched to Epson’s Ultra Premium Glossy Photo Paper.
We produced far superior prints using both HP’s and Epson’s photo paper after loading our sample photo into Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 and forcing the printer to print using its higher-quality settings (1,200 DPI). These prints exhibited much less grain when examined with the loop, but the colors in HP’s prints using both quality settings were much less saturated than the ones we produced with the Artisan 800. The HP was much slower, too, producing a 4×6-inch print in two minutes and 20 seconds, compared to the Epson’s one minute and 34 seconds. If your primary printing needs revolve around documents, however, there’s no contest: The HP is vastly superior in this regard. It not only produced better print quality text, but it printed multi-page documents in reverse order, eliminating the need to collate.
We like Epson’s push-button CD-printing solution much better than HP’s, which requires you to pull a tray out of the bottom of the printer, drop in the CD, open a drawer up top, and then slide the tray in. On the other hand, HP’s paper tray seems less prone to breakage, thanks to its heavier plastic construction.
HP’s Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One C309a makes a great document printer that produces very good – but not fabulous – photos. It uses cheaper ink than the Artisan 800, has a duplex feature that Epson charges extra for, and supports Bluetooth out of the box (Bluetooth is optional on the Artisan 800). But it can’t match that printer’s photo-printing capabilities.
- Great text print quality
- Strong connectivity options
- Rugged construction
- Built-in duplexer
- Slow, slightly grainy photo printing
- Clumsy CD-printing mechanics
- Blah industrial design