HP Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web printer

HP‘s Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web all-in-one printer is a colour inkjet multifunction printer with one truly new feature: the ability to access Web-based applications for viewing and printing items on the machine. It’s a cool concept, but it’s not quite polished: The initial apps have some frustrating limitations, and we found small bugs in the programs – and even in the device itself. Given the unit’s high purchase price ($400 as of Oct. 27, 2009), I was expecting a smoother start.

As a traditional MFP, the Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web performed competently in our tests. Using default settings, it printed plain text and graphics at better-than-average speeds of eight pages per minute and 3.7 ppm, respectively. (HP’s specs of 33 ppm for text and 32 ppm for graphics were derived from draft mode.) Print quality was fairly smooth and realistic, just a little grainy on plain paper.

The MFP includes a 100-sheet, letter/legal input tray and a 20-sheet photo tray, plus a 50-sheet output tray. The automatic duplexer is an especially nice feature. Connectivity is generous, including USB, ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Slots accommodate CompactFlash, Memory Stick, SD Card, and XD-Picture Card, and the unit also has a PictBridge port. Ink costs are average, running at 4.4 to 4.8 cents per text page and 12 to 15.5 cents per four-colour page, depending on whether you use the standard or high-yield inks.

The Web-based apps are underwhelming because they’re merely canned, limited versions of certain Web sites. For instance, in Google Maps, you can type in an address, view the location in map or satellite mode, and print the results in a few different layouts. (Driving directions? HP says that feature is coming.) USA Today’s app lets you select and print a type of news (such as sports or weather), but you can’t preview the contents beforehand. If you’re a Snapfish photo site user, you can view, print, and upload photos, but you can’t use the slideshow function – which would seem a natural fit for the MFP’s 4.33-inch, color LCD. HP says it’s considering this feature.Those apps and a handful of other home-oriented ones arrived preloaded on our unit; you can download more from the HP App Studio site. HP says that a software development kit will be available in early 2010 – now, that could be fun.

Note that the Web functions do not work unless the machine is connected directly to a network with Internet access. A typical installation via USB to your PC gets you nowhere (even if your PC has Internet access). This seems like an important point, but HP confirmed that it isn’t documented anywhere.

The LCD works intuitively as a touch interface. As a display, it has a few problems. On our unit, for instance, the preview feature for copies and scans kept stalling; HP says a fix is in progress. A message that appears after you change ink cartridges has oddly overlapping graphical elements, which HP acknowledges. The company is also checking on an error message that kept showing up in Google Maps displays even though nothing was wrong.

The Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web all-in-one printer definitely sets a new, if wobbly, direction for the category. I’ll be interested to see future apps, especially the SDK. I just wish that HP had worked out more of the kinks before shipping.

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