Sunday, April 10, 2011

HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One C310a

Review:

The HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One C310a is a pared-down version of the HP Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web with similar features like a dual-access paper tray and a bright 4.3-inch touch-screen control panel. The C310a also provides ePrint e-mail access plus wireless Internet to access downloadable content from Hewlett-Packard's ePrintCenter. Unfortunately, the unresponsive touch screen distracts the user from these convenient features and makes using the printer a hassle. Stay away from this device until HP fixes these crucial design errors.

Design
The C310a is a drastic departure from the older HP printers, with new streamlined flair and rounded ... Expand full review

The HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One C310a is a pared-down version of the HP Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web with similar features like a dual-access paper tray and a bright 4.3-inch touch-screen control panel. The C310a also provides ePrint e-mail access plus wireless Internet to access downloadable content from Hewlett-Packard's ePrintCenter. Unfortunately, the unresponsive touch screen distracts the user from these convenient features and makes using the printer a hassle. Stay away from this device until HP fixes these crucial design errors.

Design
The C310a is a drastic departure from the older HP printers, with new streamlined flair and rounded edges all around the printer. The smooth lines and black finish exude executive appeal and complement the 4.33-inch touch screen set in the center of the console. The display is the main focal point of the printer, with no more than a small power button to the right to complete the front panel. There's also a small ePrint wireless LCD next to it that blinks to notify you of connection status, and a small media card reader down on the lower left side of the printer. Unlike its higher-end linemate, this particular model is missing a PictBridge-compatible USB port for direct photo imports.

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. Unfortunately, this printer falls short of other multifunction devices since it lacks an auto-document feeder (ADF), meaning you have to manually load each individual document into the scanner. We're unsure why HP omitted this feature that typically comes standard on competing $150 all-in-ones, like the Canon Pixma MX410.

The input feeder has two separate trays: one for up to 20 sheets of 4x6-inch photo paper and another underneath for 100 sheets of standard 8.5x11-inch letter-size paper. A small plastic arm 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 of plastic holding 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 touch screen looks unsurprisingly similar to the face of an iPhone in landscape mode. The screen is roughly the same size (the iPhone's 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 shows a set of scrollable icons for your favorite applications with four shortcut buttons at the bottom for photo prints, 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 ePrintCenter.

Unfortunately, the C310a's screen isn't in the same league as the iPhone's--the front of the touch screen is covered by a thin layer of plastic that flexes before the device activates your command, and the entire process suffers from a severe lag between the time you hit a button and when it actually registers. Using the screen becomes an exercise in patience, especially when you have to comb through several submenus to get to your desired function.

On top of that, the screen on our test unit wasn't calibrated properly and we had to aim our fingers slightly lower than the desired virtual button to achieve our intended process. We imagine anyone having to deal with a similar glitch day in and day out would be highly irritated.

HP ePrintCenter
HP requires the printer and the host computer to access the Internet on the same wireless router to take advantage of the ePrintCenter apps, so you get no wired Ethernet port option. You do get the option to install the printer via a USB port on the back, but you'll be limited to only the printing functions.

All of the extra applications are free and HP breaks them 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, and so on. 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.

Using the onscreen Wireless Setup Wizard, we were able to connect the printer through CNET's protected network and took off browsing in less than 10 minutes. The Get More button took us directly to the store, where you can rate each app and even add comments for other potential users. The apps have potential, but their utility is marred by long load times that require you to navigate too many submenu layers. For example, the Google Maps app is an intriguing idea that could save time, but the touch-screen delays and irritatingly small virtual keyboard kept us in hunt-and-peck purgatory for so long that we began longing for the convenience of a simple keyboard and mouse for navigation.

Another example is the Fandango Ticket function. We assumed that the process would be as simple as using the kiosks offered in actual theaters, but we grew impatient again; searching for movies and the corresponding show times in the proper theater is hard enough to do online without waiting for a tiny map and listing to show up on a 4.33-inch screen. As we've thought in regard to other touch-screen devices, it seems like this technology should have been kept as a proof of concept for now instead of a pragmatic addition to the home printer. To HP, we pose this question: why should we suffer through all that hunting and pecking on a 4.33-inch screen when we have a 20-inch monitor, a full keyboard, and a mouse taunting us immediately next to the printer itself?

To prove our point, we performed an anecdotal field test, pitting the printer against a standard desktop computer in a race to see which device could locate and issue the command to print out a Google map faster. Not surprisingly, it took only 21.4 seconds to pull up a browser on our desktop, head over to Google Maps, type in the address, and click "print." On the other hand, getting the same map directly on the Photosmart printer took 1.27 minutes from the home screen, to wait for the printer to connect to the Internet, type in the address using the virtual keyboard, hit print, choose between landscape, portrait, or square, and hit print again. On top of all that, the input lag we mentioned earlier resulted in duplicate letters and mistakes that required correction and, consequently, more time.

The applications are further marred by missing features. For example, the Google Maps app can't show driving directions or location history, or autocomplete words, all of which would save time. Our final complaint is that the applications have a tendency to freeze up midfunction, similar to on the iPhone. When this happens, the only way to get things running again is to restart the printer, which usually takes a few minutes to connect to the Internet and reload the homepage, depending on how many favorite applications you added.

ePrint
The third prong of HP's connected printer strategy is ePrint. The C310a works with any modern Windows or Mac computer, but ePrint also lets you print from mobile devices like tablets or smartphones that don't have a USB port to connect with a traditional printer. ePrint bypasses this issue by letting you send jobs directly to the printer using a unique e-mail address. With that address, you can use the printer to print from virtually any device that can send out messages.

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It's important to take note of your networking situation at home prior to buying the C310a, as you absolutely need a wireless network to take advantage of ePrint and the multitude of apps available for download--remember, it has no Ethernet port.

The first part of the ePrint setup process is to connect the C310a to your wireless network. After that's finished, the printer will attempt to connect to the same network and link the two devices together, at which point the printer will release a printout with the unique e-mail address that you can use to print from the cloud.

The ePrint system can print e-mail message attachments in the form of images, document files, PDFs, and photos, and it will send a separate job for any text that appears in the body of the e-mail. The default preferences let anyone with the address print wirelessly, but you can also set up a list of verified senders to allow on a private network.

We confirmed in testing that the ePrint functionality works with a wide variety of Web clients: we used Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, and Microsoft Outlook with positive results, and you can even e-mail articles directly from an RSS feed like Google Reader as well.

You can track the progress of print jobs sent to the assigned address using the HP ePrint Center, the online hub where you can view job history, change settings, add printers to your account, browse and install apps, and cancel ePrints. The printer recognizes and begins printing a job immediately after it receives an e-mail, and we like that you can queue up several jobs and track them all just as you would using a desktop client. Still, we'd also like to find some of this functionality on the printer itself.

Performance
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. The standard cartridges cost $10, but we used 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. High-volume users can save more money on consumables with the HP Officejet Pro 8500 Wireless, a CNET Editors' Choice that will cost you only 1.6 cents per page for black-only ink and 1.9 cents per color.

On the other hand, we're impressed with the print speeds of the C310a, at least through the wired USB connection. Our tests show the C310a printing all four test documents faster than the competition, aside from the Epson WorkForce 310's fast 12.51 pages per minute.

Print speeds (in pages per minute)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

We're also pleased with the output quality of the C310a. We printed a number of photos from the desktop client and in all cases the printer lived up to HP's standard for sharp, clear photo and text prints. We were able to read decreased font sizes down to 8 points with few noticeable jagged edges. Text quality is also suitable for professional documents, and we wouldn't think twice about presenting documents produced by the C310a at a professional business meeting or a school report.

Service and support
The HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One C310a is backed by HP's exclusive enhanced support services, which offer a dedicated toll-free number, troubleshooting over online chat with an HP expert, and a one-year warranty that guarantees repairs with "Next-Day Business Turn Around," offering brand-new replacement units for the first 30 days after purchase.

In addition, HP offers added Accidental Damage Protection and a Pick-Up-and-Return program that sends an authorized courier to pick up your failed equipment and deliver it directly to an HP-designated repair facility.

You can find more warranty information by visiting the HP Support Web site, which also features online classes, FAQs, driver downloads, troubleshooting tips, and a new shopping buddy that puts you in a chat room with an HP sales rep in an effort to answer your questions before you buy.

Find out more about how we test printers.

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