The HP PhotoSmart C4280 lives up to its moniker being both a smartly designed model in its clean-looking grey and white casing, as well as an adept photo printer.

It was also the most compact and easy-to-carry multifunction photo printer we've tested. The PhotoSmart C4280's paper tray caused us a few problems, however. Paper often became jammed and creased as it was fed through. It was also tricky to load and the PhotoSmart C4280 often sucked in several sheets at once.

Printing was itself a noisy process, but the PhotoSmart C4280's prints were of a high quality and produced faster than any other model we've tested recently. However, the bundled software could have been easier to use and we found it difficult to select the format in which each scan was to be saved.

Replacing inks was a simple task and we liked the PhotoSmart C4280's dedicated buttons for resizing, rotating and altering the quality, as well as to print multiple copies and resize to fit the page. The labels for each are far from clear, however, and you must consult the Photosmart's 3.8cm LCD after each press to discover a button's function. We also appreciated the memory card slots included at the front of the unit.

The PhotoSmart C4280 produced a colour copy in 1 minute 20 seconds and, most importantly, produced the closest copy to the original documents out of all the MFDs here. Its mono-copying performance couldn't live up to this performance, but the results were still pretty faithful.

Quicker than any other model here at printing text at low-quality settings, we were amazed at the excellent quality of the PhotoSmart C4280's draft prints. There was little distinction between Normal and Fine quality settings: text appeared crisp and clear in both cases.

Buying advice - August 2007

Buying advice - August 2007

Multifunction devices - also known as all-in-ones, MFDs or multifunction printers - have a reputation as a dull but functional computing essential. Being saddled with such a pedestrian, practical moniker has hardly helped; neither has the fact they used to have a reputation as a compromise product. You'd buy an MFD only if you had neither the space, nor the financial means, to have a separate printer, scanner and copier (some also have fax facilities).

More recently, these less-than-glamorous devices have grown in popularity. You no longer have to jeopardise print quality and, with improved resolutions and some canny marketing ploys, multifunction photo printers have caught the attention of digital photo enthusiasts.

For home use, a combined unit makes sense. Not only is it far less expensive to purchase an MFD than it is to buy separate devices, but it's a good way of saving space in an increasingly gadget-strewn home. The MFD is ideal for students in cramped lodgings, or for family environments where you need to print, scan and copy documents quickly and cheaply. Many manufacturers have even begun integrating wireless capabilities into their MFDs, enabling family members to access the printer from anywhere in the house - rather than having to use a PC to print and scan.

In most cases, a printer manufacturer's range of MFDs starts with printing, scanning and copying features; step-up models offer wireless and/or Bluetooth, networking and fax functions. As well as increased resolutions, the pricier products may offer useful document collating, duplex printing and transparency adaptor support - so you can scan in slides and negatives.

Choosing a multifunction photo printer

Print resolutions in the increasingly competitive photo MFDs market are impressive, with most of the models in our round-up boasting 4,800x1,200dpi (dots per inch) and some offering 6,000x1,200dpi.

But as so many all-in-ones today offer high print quality, it can be hard to choose between them. With specifications so similar, your choice may rest with the extra options that each offers. But, as with any other sort of printer, running costs should be a major consideration when choosing an MFD. There's no point buying a cheap model if it costs a lot to replace the inks when they run out. And it's worth checking whether the printer comes with inks or photo paper, as this can influence the initial setup price.

Although most all-in-one printers are compatible with Apple Macs and Windows PCs, check on this if it's to be used in a cross-platform network. And Linux users need to be wary, too. Somewhat surprisingly, not all multifunction printers (or PCs, for that matter) support USB 2.0, so check on connectivity too.

Your photo printer's dimensions and weight may be important too. You'll want something neat and compact if space-saving is a priority, but should consider the trade-off between a lightweight model that can easily be repositioned and the unit's robustness.

Also, check what paper weights and finishes the printer is willing to accept. Most multifunction devices can print on various different sizes of photo paper, while some can also print on specialised media such as envelopes.

Bundled software

The quality of printing, scanning, copying and image-enhancing software that comes with multifunction photo printers varies. Epson's comprehensive Creativity Suite enables you to produce some professional results, but others, such Lexmark's Imaging Studio, sell themselves on one-touch enhancements and fixes. Some bundled applications even have special capabilities that can apply effects such as sepia or black and white to your photos. Whether these effects are of value to you depends on your needs, of course.

Models usually come with basic software to enhance, crop and rotate images. Features such as autostraightening slanted images, or cropping at a document's edges, can be invaluable time-savers and are common inclusions since it's tricky to align a document to scan perfectly first time.

One piece of software we recommend you look out for with your printer bundle is an OCR (optical character recognition) program. Scan in a report or a book you want to quote from and the OCR application will translate the page into editable text.

Canny connections

Many all-in-one printers have ethernet cards. Ethernet is used to connect to a network, but for home environments you may prefer a Wi-Fi setup. Built-in wireless printing sends photos straight to print from the PC, with no cables required.

PictBridge is worth looking out for. Cameras and printers that support PictBridge are able to 'talk' to one another, allowing you to print directly from the camera without needing to copy images to your PC. You can select the print size, number of copies, layout and even the type of paper from your printer's onscreen menu.

Even if your multifunction printer doesn't support PictBridge, it may offer useful features such as borderless printing, index proof sheets - where thumbnails of all your images are printed out on a single sheet - as well as scaling, all from dedicated buttons on the device itself. HP's models even offer document filing, where scanned images are sent to specific folders and locations. If your PC has memory card slots, you may not need to print from your computer at all - provided the photos you've taken don't need editing.

HP PhotoSmart C4280: Specs

  • Max printer resolution: 4,800x1,200dpi
  • optical scanner resolution: 1,200x4,800dpi
  • print speed (quoted/actual): 30/15.4 (mono), 23/8.1 (colour)
  • photo print time: 109 secs
  • copy time (mono/colour): 49 secs/53 secs
  • scan speeds (300dpi/1,200dpi): 44 secs/7 mins, 48 secs
  • USB 2.0, Wi-Fi
  • ink cost B=£11 C=£13
  • cost per page (mono/colour) 5.5p/7.9p
  • memory card support: CF, MS, MS Duo, SD, MMC, xD
  • 434x394x162mm, 5.1kg
  • Max printer resolution: 4,800x1,200dpi
  • optical scanner resolution: 1,200x4,800dpi
  • print speed (quoted/actual): 30/15.4 (mono), 23/8.1 (colour)
  • photo print time: 109 secs
  • copy time (mono/colour): 49 secs/53 secs
  • scan speeds (300dpi/1,200dpi): 44 secs/7 mins, 48 secs
  • USB 2.0, Wi-Fi
  • ink cost B=£11 C=£13
  • cost per page (mono/colour) 5.5p/7.9p
  • memory card support: CF, MS, MS Duo, SD, MMC, xD
  • 434x394x162mm, 5.1kg

OUR VERDICT

The PhotoSmart C4280 is slow to scan at 300dpi and 1,200dpi, but the quality of colour is most impressive. Only the lack of a PictBridge port made it just miss out on the Best Buy award.

Find the best price