* Prices may differ from that shown
The HP Photosmart C6280 is a multi-function device combining a printer, scanner and photocopier (although for simplicity's sake I'm going to refer to it as a printer). I use mostly it for printing, so that is what this review will concentrate on, but I'll have a quick look at the other functions too.
The first thing that struck me was how small and compact this is. The Canon MP370 this replaced was like a small house and left room for nothing under my computer desk; the HP takes up far less room. Measuring just 44 cm wide and deep and 19 cm high, most people should be able to find a space for it. Made out of sturdy, light grey plastic that can withstand the odd accidental kick (trust me, I know from experience!) it doesn't look particularly sexy but it does blend in unobtrusively which is surely a good thing - a printer is there to print, not be admired!
The printers overall controls are pretty straightforward and intuitive. It benefits from a small LCD panel which displays helpful messages or prompts you which buttons to press if you're unsure, so rather than having to wade through an instruction manual, you can simply read the relevant instructions off the screen. Unlike some machines, the front of the printer doesn't look like a NASA control panel. There are quite a lot of buttons, but they are all clearly labelled and it's pretty obvious what each of them does. The buttons do feel a little tacky and I was initially a little concerned that they might break easily. In fact, they are all still working fine after over 2 years of use.
Set-up and Maintenance
Set-up of the printer was an absolute dream. It can operate either as a networked printer connected to your broadband router or via a USB cable to a single machine. I've used it as both and each time, the set-up and operation was incredibly straightforward. The printer comes with a CD containing the installation software and if you follow the on-screen prompts and connect everything up when told to, you should experience no problems. The installation pretty much takes care of itself and within around 10 minutes, your new printer is up and running.
As part of this process, the HP software is also installed onto your PC and this is where we encounter the first minor issue. The software monitors your printer, making sure everything is working, as well as giving you quick access to some common functions. However, I find it a little "noisy", as it frequently badgers you to update the software, replace cartridges etc. and brings up little pop-up boxes that need to clicked on to make them go away.
Whilst we are on the subject of changing cartridges, this is also straightforward. Simply pop open the front panel to reveal six different colour-coded cartridges. Pull the relevant cartridge gently towards you to remove it, then clip the replacement into the empty slot. It's one of the easiest, most efficient cartridge replacement systems I've ever experienced.
Before we move on to look at the specific components, a quick word about the speed with which it starts up and shuts down. My old Canon used to take an eternity to do this - a good 2-3 minutes of whirrings, clankings and flashing lights. The HP is ready within 20 seconds of hitting the power button.
As noted above, this is the bit I use most and I am very happy with it. As with most printers, print speed and quality varies depending on which settings you use; the higher the quality, the lower the speed. The headline figures are 34 pages a minute in black and white and an impressive 33 pages a minute in colour with a print resolution of up to 1200 dpi in black and white and 4800dpi in best quality colour mode.
In fact, these figures are somewhat misleading. When it comes to my everyday printing needs, I find that the lower resolution Draft print setting is more than adequate. At this setting, the pages per minute rate is far, far more impressive and the machine is incredibly fast, spitting a sheet of A4 almost before you've told it to print!. Using this setting will also make your ink last longer as you are using less per sheet.
On the flip side, printing something like a photograph in best quality colour mode is a far slower process. The first time I ever printed a photograph, I thought the paper had actually got stuck, as there seemed to be no progress for an awfully long time! A standard 6x4 colour photograph will probably take around 8-10 minutes in Best mode, so be prepared to wait!
Still, it is worth the wait because the quality is excellent. Even using non-glossy paper, you can get some pretty good results, but if you add in special photo paper, then it truly is impressive; indeed, it can be hard to tell the difference from a proper photograph. Mrs SWSt and I used it to create "thank you" notes after our wedding with a photo of the two of us on the front, and several people commented on the quality of them. Colours are bright and vivid and there's no smudging or colour overlap. Of course, it does eat up the ink, but as long as you only use it occasionally, then it's not too bad.
Speaking of ink, the C6280 is both good and bad. On the good side, the ink is contained 6 separate cartridges containing different coloured inks. This is more efficient than just having one black and white and one colour cartridge, since you don't end up throwing a half full cartridge away, just because you've used more of one colour than another - you simply replace the one that's run out and leave the others.
The downside is that (as with most printers) the ink is expensive (around £8-15 per tiny cartridge depending on which colour you need to replace). The printer's in-built monitoring software also tries to con you into buying cartridges more frequently than you need to and issues dire warnings about what might happen if you don't. For example, my printer has now been telling me for over a year that I need new yellow, black and blue cartridges (a total cost of £40-50). I've been ignoring it and everything is still working fine. This is where printer manufacturers make their real money, so they have a vested interest in getting you to change your cartridges as often as possible. My advice? Only change them when they stop working!
The paper handling of this machine is a positive feature. It comes fitted with a 50 page sheet feeder and also has an in-built option for duplex (double-sided) printing. This effectively means that you can print out up to 100 pages at once before you need to add paper. Whilst this might not be sufficient in an office, it's more than adequate for most home users. Add in the fact that the paper feeding mechanism is very reliable (I have probably experiences fewer than 10 paper jams in over 2 years of moderate use) and you've got a pretty reliable printer that you can trust to get on with its job.
I don't use the scanner particularly often, but have found it just as good as the printer. The one annoyance is that, because I use it so infrequently, I can never quite remember what HP's scanning software is called (it's not at all obvious which bit of the installed HP software you should choose) and it usually takes me longer to track this down than to actually scan the document! The supplied HP software is so wonderfully simple and effective that I tend to just use this. Scanning and editing basic documents is really just a case of 3 simple steps and you're done and most of the time that's all I need. The scanner integrates fine with other packages (such as Word or Photoshop) for acquiring more complex documents, but if your needs are simple, the HP software will do the job.
The scanner can scan up to 4800 dpi, which again should be more than adequate for most home needs and in fact, I find that I rarely need to scan about above 400 dpi; even a lower resolution of 100 dpi gives good results. One again, images scanned have strong, vibrant colours and you usually end up with a pretty faithful reproduction of your original document. As with printing, of course, the speed of the scan varies depending on the resolution, but I tend to find a page of A4 at 200dpi takes less than a minute, which I'm happy with.
This is the function I use least, but it's handy to have and simple to use. Put your document face down on the glass and press the relevant button on the control panel to say whether you want a colour or black and white copy. Again, the photocopier is pretty fast - around the same sort of time as it takes to scan a sheet of A4 at one of the lower resolutions.
It's also helpful that both the photocopier and the scanner can be used without having to switch your computer on. Scans can be saved to a memory card (there is a card reader in the front of the printer; this can also be used to view thumbnails of images on the LCD panel before printing), whilst photocopies simply get scanned and printed straight out.
In terms of the basic specification, I'm sure you can get much better these days, but at the time mine was an absolute bargain. I bought it on offer from PC World for £80 on a one-day only deal when everyone else was selling for twice that. It's been so good and reliable that I feel like I've robbed PC World!
It's a little tricky to find someone selling this printer now as it's pretty old, but if you see one I'd still recommend buying it. It's a good quality, reliable machine that's efficient, offers good results and is (relatively) cost-effective to run. If your printing needs are fairly modest, then it's well worth taking a look at the C6280.
© Copyright SWSt 2010