There’s no question that today’s color inkjet printers are cheap (at least to purchase, though replacement ink cartridges remain shockingly expensive), or that they produce great-looking pages. Increasingly, however, the question is: Why would a family put just a printer next to the home PC, when a multifunction inkjet can give them a handy home-office copier and snapshot or magazine-page scanner as well? Especially when it’s as compact and friendly as the new HP PSC 1210?
The PSC 1210 is far from the first flatbed scanner/copier/printer to tempt consumers, nor even the first to reach the low price of $149. But the HP is the smallest, cutest all-in-one yet — with its front paper tray closed, it looks for all the world like a breadbox or toaster oven (16.8 by 10.2 by 6.7 inches), and a rear recess for its power and USB cables means you can place it almost flush against a wall. A combination of top-panel buttons and software drivers make it simple to use, and it’s quiet enough not to be a bother on your desktop.
To be sure, you shouldn’t expect the $149 HP to be as feature-packed as a $250 multifunction like the twice-as-big Canon MultiPass F20, let alone a $400 or $500 model or one with fax as well as printing, scanning, and copying capabilities. It’s a relatively slow, light-duty machine (as a printer, its duty cycle is a modest 1,000 pages per month), with a skimpy 100-sheet paper tray for input (and a mere 50 sheets of output, face up on the same tray).
It’s no match for a dedicated photo printer, with four- instead of six-color output, no digital-camera memory-card slots, and no borderless 4 by 6-inch prints. As a copier, it lets you press a button beside an LED counter to order 1 to 9 copies of a document, but you’ll need to use the software control panel if you want 10 or more.
But if you forgive its few compromises, you’ll find the PSC 1210 a real productivity tool instead of a toy — printing crisp text and surprisingly fine photo images, and handling scanning, copying, OCR, and image-management jobs with aplomb. If not for one minor copying glitch and a few missing printer-driver features, this would be 2003’s first five-star review.
Unpacking (you’ll find even the box is tiny, with the two print cartridges and power cable stuffed inside the printer) and setting up the PSC 1210 is a straightforward job, with the setup CD guiding you through the process and one USB cable (not included) the only connection to your PC. (Straightforward for Win XP users, anyway; the unit stumbled into the same frustrating “Found New Hardware — Access is denied” loop we’d encountered with two other HP consumer inkjets on our Windows 2000 desktop, though HP’s support pages now offer a fix involving Registry editing permissions.)
You must fold down the front flap/paper tray and reach into a recess to snap in the two print cartridges; the HP 56 black cartridge ($20) is rated for about 450 pages, and the HP 57 tricolor tank ($35) for about 400. The flatbed scanning glass measures 8.5 by 11.5 inches, so legal- as opposed to letter-size documents need not apply.
A stick-on label identifies the eight jelly-bean-colored buttons on the 1210’s top left edge, including black and color copy, scan, number of copies, normal or fit-to-page copy size, and paper type loaded. Where too many inkjet printer drivers baffle the user with a battery of over a dozen plain, coated, glossy, matte, semigloss, and other media types tailored to the manufacturer’s pricey house-brand papers, we were glad to see the HP simplifies the choice to plain — including both cheap copier and coated inkjet — or photo paper (OK, the driver adds an option for transparencies).
On the other hand, the bare-bones software driver also yields one of our two gripes about the PSC 1210: Apart from draft, normal, and best-quality printing and portrait or landscape orientation, it lacks the booklet, poster, or multipage-handout printing options that come in handy for family projects or school reports, or even a last-page-first checkbox that’d save you from having to reshuffle the printer’s face-up output. HP’s DeskJets offer these useful functions, so we can’t imagine why the 1210 driver doesn’t.
Our other complaint involved making copies with the “fit to page” button, which is supposed to scale an original to as much as 400 percent to fill the printed page.
The feature worked sometimes, making 8.5 by 11-inch blowups of items such as mailing labels and memo-pad pages, but had no effect about half the time — no matter how many times we mashed the button, a 4 by 6-inch photo (and sometimes the same pages that had been enlarged properly earlier) yielded just original- or actual-size copies. One of HP’s supplied software utilities did a good job of letting us mix and match various-size printouts, but we’re puzzled by the button’s erratic behavior.
Otherwise, the PSC 1210 is a not-very-fast but convenient copier. Five excellent-quality black copies of a laser-printed page took 2 minutes and 48 seconds, while five color copies of a wall-calendar page — less impressive, with some grainy banding, but adequate for handouts or team meetings — took seven minutes. In a nice touch, you can press the scan and copy buttons simultaneously for a rather faint but perfectly legible draft-mode “quick copy”: 17 seconds for a black or 34 for a color page.
The 36-bit, 600 by 2,400-dpi scanner proved fine for making copies of family photos or magazine articles, though we wouldn’t rely on it for detailed artistic work. (Actually, we thought scans looked cleaner when set for 300 rather than 600 dpi; software interpolation offers faux resolution up to 19,200 dpi.)
Other multifunctions may come with name-brand (if usually “lite”) optical character recognition programs or image editing packages, but we were pleasantly surprised by HP’s “Director” control toolbar and other software utilities, which offer everything from nicely organized image-catalog thumbnails to red-eye reduction and other simple photo-editing tools. Importing a page of text and graphics into an editable Microsoft Word document proved almost error-free.
Output To Be Proud Of
As a printer, the all-in-one boasts advertised speeds up to 12 ppm for black and 10 ppm for color, with 600 by 600 dpi black and 1,200 by 1,200 dpi color output — or “4,800 by 1,200 optimized dpi” when printing ultra-high-resolution images on premium photo paper, a snail’s-paced DeskJet option we’ve found considerably less impressive than relying on HP’s PhotoRET technology for ordinary or default printing.
In our real-world tests, draft text looked a little faint but acceptable on plain paper — a five-page Word document took 1 minute and 37 seconds — though draft-mode graphics or charts were both ghostly pale and packed with banding artifacts.
Normal-mode text looked quite good on plain paper (2 minutes and 20 seconds for the five-pager and 32 seconds for a one-page letter with two-color company logo), but actually worse — a bit dark or blotty — on the coated inkjet paper that low-cost printers usually demand. Switching to best mode and coated paper produced near-laser-quality but slow output — 69 seconds for the business letter, almost five and a half minutes for the five-page document.
Our six-page Adobe Acrobat text-and-graphics document took 4 minutes and 20 seconds in normal mode, still with plenty of banding on plain paper but OK on coated stock. Best mode on coated stock was very handsome, but took 7 minutes and 17 seconds.
Finally, an 8 by 10-inch digital camera photo looked quite nice on inkjet paper in normal mode (1 minute and 40 seconds); on glossy paper in best mode, it took just over five minutes but was downright impressive, with sharp details and vivid colors.
The HP PSC 1210 has its faults, but it’s a nifty little machine nonetheless. Its diminutive size and sleek design bring a breath of fresh air to the rapidly filling consumer-flatbed-multifunction market, and its performance is more than good enough to satisfy home PC users lured by its low price.
Adapted from HardwareCentral.