“We dig this printer’s touchscreen and its tie-in to some very cool web applications...”
HP already builds awesome all-in-one PCs featuring integrated touchscreens and custom programs designed to take advantage of that user interface. Now, the company is bringing that same expertise to its printer business with the Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web.
As with HP’s TouchSmart computers, the touch-screen on this multi-function printer goes far beyond simple menu navigation. The device comes preloaded with a dozen Web-based applications that enable you to print everything from digital photos to maps, weather forecasts, and movie tickets without ever touching a computer. Too bad this product’s photo-printing prowess isn’t on par with its excellent text-print quality, deep feature set, and exciting innovation.
HP’s innovations are on display the moment you open the box: The Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web’s power supply and cables come in a reusable zippered pouch instead of a throw-away plastic bag, and the printer itself is stashed inside an oversized nylon shopping bag. The larger bag’s handles make it very easy to pull the printer up and out of the box. The packaging isn’t entirely green, though: HP still uses enough Styrofoam, tape, plastic, and shrink wrap to choke a whale. We suppose this is a necessary evil to protect the printer during shipping, and the plastic bits can be recycled, but you’ll still end up tossing a lot of material in the trash.
The printer itself is very attractive. HP’s designers did a great job of making it not look like an office machine. But they accomplished that trick in part by leaving out a sheet feeder, a major shortcoming you’ll curse every time you need to scan or fax multi-page documents. Epson’s Artisan 800 doesn’t look like an office machine either, but that company’s designers didn’t sacrifice the sheet feeder, they just found a clever way of hiding it. On the other hand, the Epson’s paper tray and many of its moving plastic components feel cheap and fragile, while every component on the HP feels sturdy and rugged.
The printer is equipped with both wired and wireless Ethernet capabilities, and it’s a snap to add to a network either way. It also supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup, which renders a network connection as simple as five taps on the touch-screen and one button press on the router (most late-model Wi-Fi routers support WPS, but there are other ways to establish a wireless connection if yours doesn’t). The printer also supports Bluetooth networking for easy printing from digital cameras and mobile phones sporting that technology.
The large 4.33-inch touch-screen is the star of the show. Instead of repeatedly touching icons to drill deeper into menus, and waiting for the screen to refresh after each action, all the printer’s web-based applications are presented in a virtual Möbius strip on a single screen. Drag your finger across the screen and the strip rotates, flick your finger and it spins, hold your finger on a particular icon and the application launches.
HP currently offers about a dozen print-oriented applications, developed on its own and in conjunction with partners such as USA Today, Fandango, Coupons.com, Weathernews, and Nickleodeon. There’s also a direct link to HP’s own Snapfish online photo service that enables you to send digital photos from your camera or portable storage devices to Snapfish, as well as download, edit, and print photos already stored there.
The rest of the apps are something of mixed bag, which is to be expected of something this new. The Fandango app, for example, is very cool. You can access your local theater’s show times and purchase and print tickets right from the touch screen. And discount hunters will dig the Coupons.com app, which calls up a plethora of manufacturer coupons for groceries and other consumer goods.
We found the USA Today app, on the other hand, to be relatively useless. It enables you to download and print sections of the day’s edition for easy reading while you’re riding the bus or subway. But if you consider the conventional version of that paper shallow, you’ll find this one borderline vacuous. HP’s own Tabbloid service is a little better: It takes your RSS feeds and composites them into a customized newspaper.
In our experience, with a 2.5Mb/sec DSL connection, it took about 15 seconds for the customized USA Today website to appear. Printing the three-page sports section required two minutes and 11 seconds. The built-in duplexer adds a little extra time to that process because it pauses to let the ink dry before it pulls the paper back in to print on the opposite side, but the duplexer does save a lot of paper. The Coupons.com app required 33 seconds to download 129 coupons. You can then browse through these offers using the touch-screen, choose the ones you’re interested in, and print them in a single batch in either color or black and white.
Text and Photo Print Quality
The Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web produces great-looking text documents on the quick and without a lot of fuss, compared to many of the inkjet printers we’ve tested that sound like threshing machines at harvest time. The printer produced a page filled with single-spaced text using a 12-point Times New Roman font (759 words or 3,300 characters, not including spaces) in 15 seconds. This was equally as fast as the Epson Artisan 800 we used for comparison, but the HP’s print quality was vastly superior.
The Photosmart Premium’s photographic prints look pretty good, too – at least until you compare them with those produced by the Epson. The latter printer produced prints that were a very close match to what we saw on the screen; the former infused skin tones with an unpleasant bluish pallor. The printer has a two-tiered paper tray that accommodates either 4×6 or 5×7 photo paper on top and any type of paper (up to 8.5×11) on the bottom. Unless you enjoy performing the paper-change polka, you’ll really appreciate this feature.
Unfortunately, every 4×6 print we made was marred by scuff marks across the top of the print (these marks appeared on the left side when printing in landscape mode). The marks aren’t immediately noticeable – you have to examine the photo under a light while holding it at an angle – but that doesn’t render the damage any less irritating. We didn’t encounter this problem with any of the 8.5×11 prints we made.
We dig this printer’s touchscreen and its tie-in to some very cool web applications. HP’s innovation on this front is inspiring. We also appreciate this printer’s awesome text print quality, its built-in duplexer, and its very thorough wireless networking support.
The omission of a sheet feeder is puzzling, though, and we don’t like the fact that we can’t initiate, preview, or manage scanning operations from the PC, this can only be done from the touch-screen. Finally, we can’t recommend this printer to anyone looking to produce the type of high-quality prints you’d want to frame and display. The scuff marks on prints made from the upper photo tray are just plain unacceptable and significantly reduce our overall opinion of this product.
If HP can fix these flaws in the next generation without introducing any new problems, they’ll have a fantastic product. Until then, let someone else ride the bleeding edge.
- Cool touchscreen
- Can access Web applications without a PC
- Strong wireless networking support, including Bluetooth
- Great text print quality
- Built-in duplexer
- Attractive industrial design
- Not a great photo printer
- Damaged 4 x 6 prints made from upper paper tray
- No sheet feeder
- Can’t print on CDs