The fearsome quartet of HP, Epson, Canon and Lexmark may appear to have had the inkjets market sewn up between them over the last few years. But Kodak has been quietly and efficently digging its way in.

Kodak’s ESP range was warmly received earlier this year, and it’s now followed up with the Hero range that ventures just that bit further into the future. Given that this, the Kodak Hero 5.1, is the entry-level model, and yet even this machine will set you back £100, the Hero range clearly isn’t aimed at the bottom of the market – the choice of models goes up to the £200 Hero 9.1.

Out of the box, the Hero immediately looks a little different from the ESPs. Gone is the low-slung wide design, and the Kodak seems narrower and more compact.

Gone too is the orange trim that has adorned almost every Kodak inkjet. Instead we have an understated red flash popping out from the casing. The Kodak Hero 5.1 doesn’t look as stylish and as polished as it appears in the promotional shots, but visually it still makes a pleasing (if less than startling) impression.

The 2.4in display is colourful, and can be flipped up for extra convenience. The interface of the Kodak Hero 5.1, though, is a little old-fashioned. There are no touch-sensitive controls, and no on-screen graphics to brighten up the proceedings. Instead you just use the cursor-pad to run up and down the menus.

The Home and Go-Back buttons make the process fairly straightforward, and the menu system felt quite straightforward given that the control panel contains at least three different buttons that, at first glance, could be needed to select options. Indeed, we’d like the Power Off button to be located a little further away from the main control panel.  

The Hero range fully embraces the rich pageant of interface options that today’s interconnected world has to offer. Not only is a Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) interface built-in as standard, but even this entry-level model allows you to use the Pic Flick app to directly hook up your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, BlackBerry or Android phone.

Even more futuristic is the support for cloud computing. Kodak does this through Google Cloud Print, which lets you send through office documents, PDFs, pictures and other files. We found this worked fairly well. Cloud Computing services still tend to be fairly clunky in their execution, and we’re not sure Google’s system is really slick enough or sophisticated enough to have users using it as a first-choice.

However, Cloud Computing is an idea that’s likely to become ever more popular as flesh is added to the bones.  PictBridge and memory card facilities are included as well.

Kodak Hero 5.1: features

The paper feed is basic but effective. There’s no dual-feed option here, but the printer can take 100 sheets of A4 (or 20 sheets of photo paper). This isn’t particularly ample, although it’ll probably be enough for a home/home office model like this one.

The tray itself is very easy to adjust, and we couldn’t trip up the printer’s feeding mechanism. The paper handling facilities aren’t the most sophisticated, but they do a good job nonetheless.

The Kodak also contains a very solid scanning component. The lid is a little flimsy, and doesn’t offer quite as much lift as we’d like – you’ll find it hard to use for thick material. But the lid itself is well padded underneath, and we found it took fairly accurate and fast scans.  

Kodak Hero 5.1: performance

The Kodak isn’t the best text printer. That’s no reflection on its quality, and in the middle and top modes it offers relatively clean and crisp text. But draft mode is rather faint and poorly defined.

Printing speed is not great. Ignoring that unimpressive 12.2ppm draft text, the middle mode completes its tasks at the rate of 6.9ppm. This isn’t great given that Canon printers offer standard modes in excess of 10ppm. It does beat the Epson Stylus SX445W’s 5.7ppm mode on speed though (and very much on quality).

The top mode offers just 1.8ppm, although this is typical of inkjets at their highest settings. Surprisingly for a £100 inkjet, automatic duplexing facilities are included. These aren’t terribly fast – the 12.2ppm of draft text comes down to just 5.6ppm, while the 6.9ppm middle mode crumbles to 3.7ppm.

The Kodak matches its capable text quality with decent all-round graphics capabilities. Here, even in the 6.8ppm draft mode, results are reasonably colourful – even if there does appear to be a light mist slightly discolouring the picture. For a draft mode it’s very good.

The 3.1ppm middle mode is only marginally down on the 3.4ppm offered by the rather more expensive Canon MG5350, for instance, and the dark palette is rather eye-catching, and a notch up on the Epson SX445W.

The 1.5ppm top mode is particularly strong with photographic paper, and we found the 5.1’s photo reproduction to be extremely faithful.

The cartridges aren’t the easiest to fit, despite there being just two of them – colour and black – and we weren’t totally sure we had got them installed correctly until the printer was up and running.

Running costs are not extravagant. Indeed, the high-yield cartridges produce costs of just 1.8p and 3.3p for a page of black and a page of colour respectively. The figure for colour is particularly remarkable, given that the typical inkjet can be setting you back 6p or more.

We would expect the gap to narrow slightly in use, as the single colour cartridge design means you’ll have to replace it as soon as one of the colours runs out, so you’ll be swapping cartridges more regularly than with individual tank systems. But with running costs potentially this low, you might be able to afford to waste the odd bit of ink.

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With the Hero series, Kodak is trying to reinvent the all-in-one printer. The status quo has been that you pay peanuts for hardware and a packet for the ink. Kodak’s printers are a little more expensive, but running costs are refreshingly low.

The Hero 5.1 is a great entry point into the series. A combined printer and scanner that’s good for home use, with stylish contemporary looks and a compact footprint. From launch we were reassured by an easy set-up and installation process. There are just two cartridges - one colour and one black. That makes set-up easy, but it does mean you have to replace an entire cartridge if one colour runs out.

The quality of results is pretty consistent in printing, scanning and copying. It handles photographic imagery well, with strong blacks and no evidence of the banding that you sometimes find in other printers. It can even print on both sides of the paper. There’s some payback for this though. Printing’s a little slower than we’ve come to expect from modern inkjets.

While quality is important, one of the Hero 5.1’s main claims to greatness is the economical way it uses ink. An issue for many modern inkjets, Kodak’s Hero series are inexpensive to run - with low total replacement cost when you use Kodak 30 series cartridges. The cost per page is low too, thanks in part to Smart Sensor technology that cuts down wastage.

Of course, this is an all-in-one, not just a printer. The built-in 1200 dpi scanner turns out detailed results that maintain colour fidelity. As for copying, we were able to scan and print a test document in just under twenty seconds.

The Hero 5.1 does all the basics well so it’s a pleasure to report some features that set it apart from other all-in-ones. Wi-Fi printing means fewer cables cluttering up your study. The Heros are not the first printer range to do this, but there are lots of Wi-Fi enabled features.

With Google Cloud Printing, it goes a step further. You can print from anywhere that you have an Internet connection. That’s not all. With Kodak’s free Pic Flick app, you also print from your iOS device, Android phone or Blackberry. You can even email documents to your printer.

Modern printers need more than simple USB connectivity and the Hero 5.1 has all the ports you need to print pictures anytime. The front USB port is PictBridge compatible, enabling you to plug in your camera and just start printing without a computer. There’s a slot for memory cards too. It works with SD, SDHC, MMC and Memory Stick Pro formats. You will need an adaptor to plug in miniSD and microSD cards though.

At just under a hundred quid, the Kodak Hero 5.1 is an all-in-one printer, copier and scanner that’s a little pricier than similarly specified machines. With low running costs and excellent quality results though, it’s the perfect choice as a family printer.

Karl Hodge

Kodak Hero 5.1: Specs

  • Inkjet Multifunction Scan/Copy
  • Number of Colours: 4
  • Maximum sheet capacity with standard tray 100 sheets or 20 sheets photo paper
  • Standard Number of Input Trays 1
  • LCD Type: Colour
  • Touchscreen: no
  • Interfaces: WiFi, USB, PictBridge, USB thumb drive, Wi-Fi, SD, SDHC, MMC, MS, PRO
  • Dimensions: 17.5 × 17.0 × 7.5 in
  • Weight: 7.5 kgs
  • Monochrome print speed 8 ppm
  • Colour print speed 6 ppm
  • Colour 4x6 photo speed 34 seconds
  • Scanner Type: Flatbed
  • Maximum Scan Size: 216 × 297 mm (A4)
  • Horizontal Optical Scan Resolution 1200
  • Vertical Optical Scan Resolution 1200
  • Inkjet Multifunction Scan/Copy
  • Number of Colours: 4
  • Maximum sheet capacity with standard tray 100 sheets or 20 sheets photo paper
  • Standard Number of Input Trays 1
  • LCD Type: Colour
  • Touchscreen: no
  • Interfaces: WiFi, USB, PictBridge, USB thumb drive, Wi-Fi, SD, SDHC, MMC, MS, PRO
  • Dimensions: 17.5 × 17.0 × 7.5 in
  • Weight: 7.5 kgs
  • Monochrome print speed 8 ppm
  • Colour print speed 6 ppm
  • Colour 4x6 photo speed 34 seconds
  • Scanner Type: Flatbed
  • Maximum Scan Size: 216 × 297 mm (A4)
  • Horizontal Optical Scan Resolution 1200
  • Vertical Optical Scan Resolution 1200

OUR VERDICT

The Kodak Hero 5.1 isn’t the slickest or most stylish printer we’ve seen. And its speed is slightly uninspiring in places. But it proved reliable in our tests, comes with a multitude of connectivity options, and its running costs are remarkable. It gets a thumbs-up from us.

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