Price for HP’s SOHO is So Low

Good quality, easy-to-use multi-function printers (MFPs) that combine printer, fax, scanner and copier functions have never been cheaper. Hewlett-Packard‘s new OfficeJet 4315, which sells for $99.99, is a good case in point.

The 4315, a compact unit that can fit on a book shelf, is a long way from HP’s top of the line MFP, but for a micro business or home office — the target market for this product — it is perfectly adequate. It uses HP’s color inkjet technology; this is not a laser printer. Note also that the scanner is sheet-fed, not flat bed — you cannot scan book or magazine pages. But it’s capable of scanning, copying and printing color originals, including photographs, and it can even send and receive color faxes.

The rated print and copy speed is 20 pages per minute for black only and “up to” 14 pages per minute in color. This is based on standardized testing, and the results you get will no doubt vary. But based on our testing it’s still adequate as long as you’re not doing a lot of big print jobs or a large volume of printing. HP says the 4315 can easily handle up to 1,500 pages a month. You can load up to 100 sheets of letter-size paper in the sheet feeder for printing and up to 20 sheets in the automatic document feeder (ADF) for scanning or copying.

The product specs rate the print resolution in best mode at up to 1200 x 1200 dots per inch (dpi) and up to 4800 x 1200 dpi color in color. To give you an idea how little such specifications mean, HP’s top-of-the-line inkjet MFP, the $1,000 OfficeJet 9130, has very similar printer resolution specs.

The better number to look at is theoptical scan resolution — the capability of the scanning hardware as opposed to the resolution the scanner can simulate using software tricks. The 4315’s optical resolution is 600 dpi. Compare that to the 9130’s optical scan resolution — it surges ahead at 2400 dpi.

The 4315 boasts a few premium fax functions. It can store up to 200 pages in fax memory before printing. This unit also lets you do fax broadcasting — send the same stored fax message to multiple recipients. It offers a junk fax feature which should help conserve paper and ink supplies. You can specify numbers of known junk faxers and the machine will block their calls.

Compact and Techno-Friendly
The 4315’s physical design makes it ideal for small offices with limited space. When you’re not scanning or copying, the automatic document feeder’s (ADF) paper guide and receiving tray fold back on to the top surface, hiding all but the controls essential for printing — the LCD and power, OK and Cancel buttons. This reduces the unit’s foot print to about 17- x 10-inches, with the printer paper tray extending about 4.5 inches out at the bottom front.

With the ADF folded out for copying or scanning, the vertical clearance required at the back extends from about eight inches to 13 inches, the horizontal clearance by another two inches, and the receiving tray extends out another few inches at the front beyond the printer paper tray. Still, the 4315 could easily be set up on a 12-inch or even 10-inch deep book shelf with 14 inches of vertical clearance.

Since the 4315 is designed for very small businesses that often don’t have much IT expertise, we asked my a friend, who is somewhat technology averse, to install the 4315 for me. She followed the excellent quick installation guide with few problems. The only confusion she reported was over setting up the fax connection and configuring the device for faxing. The manual presents several different set-up options, including the one we needed for phone lines with distinctive ringing service. She was able to work it out on her own in the end.

The only other complaint about setup: installing the software for the 4315, which includes more than 300 MB of program code, and going through the hardware installation process that follows, takes a good half hour — which seems too long.

Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet 4315
Good Deal: Designed for the smallest of businesses or for home office use, HP’s OfficeJet 4315 delivers good performance and quality for a low price.

The software is very good, however. The HP Solution Center offers an intuitive interface with buttons for each major activity — scan a picture, scan a document, send a fax and make copies — as well as for user and trouble-shooting guides. The PC functions work much the same as the controls on the printer itself. We found them very easy to follow.

Print Performance
We tested print speed by printing the 11-page reviewer’s guide that HP sent us. It includes a big color picture and and a large block of color on the first page, at least one colored bar on each of the rest of the pages and several smaller photos — a fairly typical business document.

We printed in Normal mode on plain paper and timed the printing with a stop watch from the moment we clicked the OK button to when the last page finished printing. It took three minutes and 50 seconds. This is a long way from the 14 pages per minute mentioned in the specifications for color printing, but the specs do say “up to” 14 pages per minute. And the real-world results are still good enough for most small businesses and home offices.

The print quality, even in Normal mode on plain paper, was surprisingly good. The color was remarkably close to what we saw on our PC screen. The photographs were clear and sharp, though not particularly vivid, and the text was solidly black with nice crisp edges. The only immediately noticeable flaw was some banding in the block of color on the first page.

When we printed at Best quality, the print time ballooned to over 18 minutes. The print quality was better, easily good enough to use in documents you’re going to present to a customer. The text was blacker and photos were a little more vivid. We could still see some banding in large blocks of color, though it was barely noticeable. And the ink was still wet and vulnerable to smudging. For all but the highest-priority print jobs, Best quality is not enough better to warrant the extra time and ink.

As a photo printer, the 4315 is just okay. Print quality was good when we printed in Best mode on 4×6-inch HP Premium Photo Paper — sharp, with reasonably good color fidelity. But it took two minutes and 35 seconds to print one image (the best dedicated portable photo printers print about three times faster) and the prints come out with ink still wet.

Fax Performance
We don’t fax much, but we’re generally impressed with this machine’s fax capabilities. Sending a fax is easy, using either the HP Solution Center utility or the controls on the device. If you use the Solution Center, you can review a fax before sending. The 4315 scans the pages in the automatic document feeder, then shows you on the PC screen what the fax will look like.

The 4315 is just as slow at sending as any dedicated fax machine, but no slower. The specs claim it takes three seconds to send each typical letter-size page in a text document. In our tests, it took considerably longer.

Our other complaint is that you can’t fax a document from your computer. Since you can store received faxes on the device, send documents from a PC for printing and fax from the device, why can’t you put it all together and fax a document from your PC?

Scanner/Copier Performance
The 4315’s document scanning functions are also impressively slick. You can tell the unit to scan and optical character read (OCR) a document with a single command and store it as a text or rich-text document.

It took 40 seconds to scan a single text page using default settings and another 10 to OCR. With a clean original printed on the 4315, the OCR accuracy was virtually perfect. As a photo scanner, the product is considerably less impressive, but the output quality is probably adequate for small images to be incorporated in documents or for use on a Web site.

Bottom Line
The OfficeJet 4315 offers excellent value, but don’t get this one if you do a lot of printing and, in particular, a lot of photo printing. Otherwise, it’s a good bet for any small business or home office.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s. Just for fun, he also authors features and columns on digital photography for Here’s How, a spiffy Canadian consumer technology magazine.

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