Over the last couple of years, all-in-one inkjet printer/scanner/copiers have pushed single-function inkjet printers virtually out of the market, save for top-quality photo printers and for consumer toy printers priced below their replacement ink cartridges. A multifunction peripheral offers more convenience in less desk space than a separate copier, printer and scanner, not to mention costing less.
The question is how much less. At one extreme, we've raved about full-featured models such as HP's Officejet Pro L7680, which offers everything an office needs except a desk, chair, PC and maybe a potted plant ‑- for $350.
At the other, a trip to your nearest electronics superstore will reveal loss-leader three-in-one inkjets from all the major manufacturers available for $80, $60, even $50...but if you think those are suitable for daily office as opposed to occasional home use, you're not thinking straight.
So let's split the difference. How does $130 sound?
The new HP Officejet J4680 -- not to be confused with, well, actually, guaranteed to be confused with the Officejet J6480 ($200) -- has some features you might not expect for that price. For instance, it's not a three- but a four-in-one, adding the business staple of faxing to the expected printing, copying and flatbed scanning capabilities. The color or monochrome fax isn't a bare-bones affair, either, with 99 speed-dial numbers, enough memory to store 140 incoming pages and Caller ID junk-fax blocking.
Equally noteworthy, the J4680 is ready to join a small office network -- not a wired one, since there's no Ethernet port alongside its single USB 2.0 port, but a wireless one, with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi built in.
The HP's designers also avoided a mistake that usually has us reaching for our REJECTED rubber stamp: they included an automatic document feeder (ADF), so you needn't stand around opening and closing the lid, placing and replacing pages on the scanner glass, when copying or faxing multipage documents.
True, the ADF is a tiny one, with room for at most 20 sheets. But the Officejet itself is fairly tiny, measuring a cute-as-a-button 16- by 17- by 9-inches and weighing 13 pounds. Its paper tray holds just 100 sheets, and its output tray is just a plastic flap that props printed pages slightly above the input tray. Pages perform a backflip to exit the printer face up; we finished our testing without experiencing a paper jam.
|The HP Officejet J4680 All-in-One.|
Have a Little Patience
What do you sacrifice for this desktop pal's bargain price? Well, while its output quality is good, the J4680 won't set any speed records. Our one-page business letter with spot-color company logo printed in 23 seconds; a 20-page Microsoft Word document kept us waiting for just over three minutes. Making five black-and-white copies of a one-page contract took two minutes.
Also, though the HP can print borderless photos in sizes including 4- by 6- and 8.5- by 11-inches, it's built for generating letters and marketing materials rather than replacing a drugstore photo kiosk. It's one of the few inkjets we've seen lately that doesn't have flash-card slots for reading digital cameras' memory cards, and its one-line LCD for control-panel captions will never be mistaken for a big color LCD offering pre-print image editing or other adjustments.
Don't look for four-, five-, or six-ink photo printing, either. The J4680 is a good old-fashioned double-barreled inkjet, with black and tricolor (cyan, magenta, and yellow) ink cartridges. There's not even the ability to swap the black one for an optional, wider-palette photo cartridge as with many low-priced printers.
Replacements are priced at $25 for a tricolor and $28 for a black cartridge with estimated lives of 360 and 700 pages, respectively. Using these (and ignoring a less efficient 200-page black cartridge offered for $15), we calculated an estimate of around 4 cents per monochrome and 11 cents per color page.
That's not sensational, but it's a better deal than numerous inkjets and even some entry-level color laser printers we've sampled. So ownership shouldn't be too painful even if you come close to the Officejet's rated duty cycle of 3,000 pages each month.