HP Photosmart C4180 review
Our photo-printing Labs have often seen HP coming top for image quality, and with the range of media card slots and the handy 2.75in LCD clearly aimed at home enthusiasts we were curious to see whether the budget C4180 continued the trend. And with the flatbed scanner and respectable running costs, we were equally curious to see whether it could stretch to business tasks.
The start wasn’t promising. To print photos, you first need to flip out the photo paper cartridge from the left of the printer’s body and insert up to 20 sheets. Then, remove the A4 paper from the input tray and insert the whole photo paper cartridge. Only then can you install a Photo ink cartridge (number 348, £12 from www.oyyy.co.uk). With the supplied Black ink cartridge swapped out and put away safely, you’re ready to go.
Your patience will be rewarded, as the resulting photos will be near perfect. Colours were reproduced accurately and with vibrancy, while we were pleased to see more fine detail in the photos than we saw with either of the other two MFDs on test. Costs are reasonable too, with a6 x 4in print costing an acceptable 9.2p. Avoid printing photos with the Black ink cartridge, as the tri-colour cartridge must lay down all the colour and will run out quickly – in this case, print costs soar to 16.8p per 6 x 4in photo. While there’s no PictBridge compatibility, the 5-in-1 media card reader supports most formats, while the LCD screen is clear and the menu system intuitive.
You’ll need to swap back to the black cartridge for a decent rendition of mono prints, but speeds are disappointing at 4ppm. Draft mode offers some relief, with pages being hurled out at 20ppm, but text appears blurred. At least costs are low, with 4.6p per page using the standard-sized cartridge and 2p per page using the high-yield 336 cartridge. We prefer the Lexmark for office-based work, though, as it’s faster and offers nearly as low running costs.
We’d choose the Lexmark for scanning too, as the HP (and the Canon MP180, see opposite) proved poor. At 200dpi, large black text on a cherry-red background was almost illegible, and moving up to 600dpi saw little improvement for the extra two minutes’ wait. It was still horribly grainy, with severe banding – nowhere near as good as even the Lexmark’s 200dpi scan. HP’s powerful and intuitive OCR software coped with the poor scanner, though. We lost more formatting than with the Lexmark, but plain text appeared in Word faultlessly.
Despite its near flawless photo performances, the C4180 misses out on an award thanks to the constant swapping in and out of the Photo and Black ink cartridges. You need one to play to the C4180’s great strength of photo printing, and the other to make it economical to run. And the wait for print-outs can be tedious. If you want a cheap MFD for the office, go for the Lexmark; if you want a machine that will cope with mono and photo printing, opt for the A-Listed HP Photosmart 3210 instead.
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