HP Officejet 5110 Review: Not Your Father’s Fax Machine

We have to confess a prejudice: Just as we cheered when affordable flatbed scanners shoved aside the crummy hand scanners used years ago, we’ve been glad to see flatbed designs largely replace sheetfed models in multifunction printer/scanner/copier peripherals. Putting a photo or magazine page (let alone a book) down on a glass flatbed is easier and yields sharper results than feeding it through a slot.

On the other hand, there’s a stodgy old technology that’s still rather popular in most offices, yet missing from most of today’s low-priced combos: fax. And a fax machine is almost by definition sheetfed, with an automatic document feeder for multipage jobs — another feature, come to think of it, that you won’t find on most under-$300 multifunctions.

Hmm. Could you be a home office worker who needs to send a fax more often than your kid needs to scan a book page for a school report? Could you use a compact printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine with document feeder that delivers crisp output for $200? Maybe sheetfed scanning still has a place. Maybe it’s called the HP Officejet 5110.

Four Functions Are Better Than Three
Setting up the Officejet is simple, although the two ink cartridges required a fraction more wiggling and shoving into place than the drop-in cartridges of the last few inkjet printers we’ve tested. The AC adapter uses a notebook-style external power brick, and the required USB cable (no parallel or network port) is not included.

Paper loads easily into the 150-sheet tray at the base of the unit, performing a U-turn in the printer to rest face up on a 50-sheet catch tray above. Sliding guides and a snap-on extension help you feed fax or scan sheets into the 20-page feeder atop the machine; a protruding wire loop catches pages after they’re scanned.

The HP has a telephone keypad and speed dial buttons (it stores up to 70 numbers) like the fax machine it is, as well as two phone jacks in the rear — one for the wall, one to plug in a phone, since the 5110 doesn’t have a handset of its own for voice calls. We think that’s just as well, since — although it’s petite enough for desktop placement, at 18 by 15 by 9 inches — the printer whirs and twangs a bit too loudly for close conversations.

Placed near instead of on your desk, however, the Officejet is a thoroughly capable black-and-white or color 33.6Kbps fax machine. The front-panel Options and Enter buttons and LCD menu — or, more easily, the supplied software control panel — give you ample options for delayed sending, forwarding, or broadcasting faxes, as well as resolution (standard, fine, or photo), volume and distinctive-ring detection, header and cover-page information, and even an attractive selection of cover-page designs. The fax has enough memory to store up to 70 pages.

You don’t need to attach a PC to use the 5110’s fax or copy features; you can just press the big Fax or Copy and then Start (black or color) buttons. There’s even a Photo Fit To Page button to copy a photo to fill whichever size of paper is loaded (though again, specifying things like media size and type is easier with on-screen software than the LCD menus).

The Officejet can make up to 99 copies of an original, scaling it from 25 to 200 percent of its normal size and letting you choose lighter or darker contrast (we found our test unit’s middle or default setting made slightly dark copies). After sticking a laser-printed page into the feeder, pressing the Copy button and 10 on the keypad, and Start, we got 10 crisp copies.

That job took a leisurely 3 minutes and 20 seconds, half again as long as the Canon MultiPass F20 we tested last month. But unlike that feederless flatbed unit, the 5110 let us put not just a one- but a five-page document in the hopper, press Copy, and walk away, without having to hang around to place pages on the glass one at a time.

Versatility, Not Velocity
Against that faxing and copying convenience, naturally, you’ll need to weigh the inherent disadvantage of a sheetfed scanner for photographic or artistic work. The Officejet’s scanner has an optical resolution of 600 by 1,200 dpi with 36-bit color (8-bit or 256 grayscales), and can scan documents up to 8.5 by 14 inches — a plus compared to some compact flatbeds that stop at letter- rather than legal-size pages.

Sliding the fax-paper guides toward the center and feeding a photo into the unit is a slightly fussier process than laying a picture on a flatbed’s glass, but the HP proved reasonably sharp and quick (28 seconds when set to 300 dpi) when scanning a 4 by 6-inch image. (Oddly, however, it took several tries to get a scan of one photo that didn’t show a sort of scratch or vertical line not present in the original.) To scan a fragile or torn page, you’ll need to insert it into a clear plastic sleeve (not included with the Officejet) for feeding.

The 5110 lacks the one-button “scan to e-mail” feature of many scanners and multifunctions nowadays, though the function’s only one extra step away: scanned images (or others on your PC) appear in folders in a “photo view center,” from which you can create new, blank e-mail messages with image attachments or choose among fancy printing options ranging from wallet-size prints to (if you splurge for various HP specialty papers) stickers or iron-on transfers.

Merely Good Print Quality
While it has photo-printing software, the Officejet won’t be confused with a dedicated photo printer, although it did a nice if not exceptional job with our 8 by 10-inch, 2-megapixel test image in best mode on glossy paper (4 minutes and 40 seconds).

It can’t make borderless prints, and it doesn’t have digital-camera memory-card slots or a deluxe six-color ink system — just the trusty HP 15 black and HP 78 tricolor ink cartridges found in a dozen other Deskjet and Officejet models. Refills will cost a pretty penny if you come anywhere near the multifunction’s 3,000-page monthly duty cycle: The $30 black cartridge is rated for about 325 and the $35 color cartridge for about 450 pages.

The 5110’s print engine is officially rated for up to 12 pages per minute in black and up to 10 ppm in color, though that’s for its low-resolution draft modes — slightly faint and scratchy but legible for word processing documents (our five-page, mixed-font Word document took 1 minute and 17 seconds), but too pale with too much banding in colored areas for any kind of graphics output.

Switching to normal mode with plain paper, our five-page Word file took just under two minutes and looked just shy of truly dark black, but very crisp, as did a one-page letter with colorful company logo (38 seconds). A six-page Adobe Acrobat text-and-graphics document took three and a half minutes and still showed traces of banding, however; to get really fine results on plain paper, we had to switch to best mode (600 by 600 dpi for black and 1,200 by 1,200 dpi for color) and wait nine and a half minutes for the six-page PDF or 50 seconds for the one-page letter.

Trying coated inkjet paper, the Acrobat document showed vivid colors but slightly thin text (and took over 11 minutes in best mode), while Word files had the opposite problem — text looked a little thick or heavy, with no discernible difference between normal and best mode (respectively, two and a half and nine minutes for our five-page file). Overall, the Officejet’s output proved perfectly adequate for everyday use, but slightly disappointing — a notch slower, and a notch less laser-like, than other business-worthy inkjets we’ve tested lately.

That said, we like the 5110 more than we thought we would, given the prejudice we mentioned earlier — while flatbeds are still tops for photos, books, and magazines, you shouldn’t discount the convenience of an automatic document feeder for copying as well as faxing, or the fact that neither an automatic feeder nor fax capabilities are present in most of today’s popular crop of flatbed all-in-one peripherals. If you’re on a tight budget and do almost as much faxing as e-mailing, the Officejet is a $200 bargain.

Adapted from HardwareCentral.com.

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