The HP Photosmart B109a is a basic multifunction printer for the home.
It has four ink cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) and a built-in scanner, so you can use the HP Photosmart B109a for copying documents in addition to printing them out. However, you shouldn't expect a highly refined machine for your money: it only costs £59 and once you print out a couple of photos or use the scanner, you can see why.
The most suitable tasks for the HP Photosmart B109a are printing text documents and graphics, and quickly scanning in text documents. Its printed text output is clear and easy on the eye as it offers a well-toned black and smooth-edged lettering.
If anything, its black is a little too strong in normal print mode, but you can always print in economy mode if you want it lighter, and you'll save ink, too. Now we won't go as far as saying that the HP Photosmart B109a is good enough to be used for professional presentations, but for printing out school reports, web pages, Google Maps and other bits and bobs on plain paper, it will serve you well.
Before you start printing though, you have to set up the HP Photosmart B109a. As it's an HP product, it will take you a while. The setup process installs the driver as well as all the software and services that HP bundles with it, and it's not clear that you can actually customise this installation and leave off all the options you don't want.
The extra software is for creating print projects, printing more easily from Internet Explorer, and there are also some service and support programs that actually send back information to HP regarding your printer usage. One program will even allow you to fill out a survey, and then, as it tracks your printer usage over time, will make you special offers on consumables based on that usage.
The entire setup procedure, including the hardware installation, can be performed by running the supplied disc. There are videos and diagrams to show you how to install the cartridges and align the print heads and, all up, the installation should take 15-20min. The print cartridges (HP Ink 564) are easy to install, but the black is a little fiddly as it doesn't have cartridges sitting directly either side of it to help guide it in.
You get a standard set of ink cartridges when you buy the HP Photosmart B109a. Toner costs are reasonable. There are XL cartridges available, too, which have a higher yield.
A nice touch is the inclusion of a sticker that has the ink cartridge model printed on it. There is actually a step in the installation process that tells you to place this sticker under the lid so that you can refer to it and easily know which cartridges to buy when it's time to replenish the ink.
The mechanics of the HP Photosmart B109a are a little clunky, which is to be expected of a printer in this price range. It makes a lot of loud noises that will leave you a little concerned, but it's all normal. It has a curved paper path and a single input/output tray that can accommodate 80 sheets in the input tray and 15 sheets in the output tray. We managed to print 20 pages without them spilling all over the floor. There is a slight awkwardness in the handling of 4x6in paper, as there is no real guide as to how far you need to place the paper in the tray, but you soon figure it out.
Because of the curved paper path, the HP Photosmart B109a uses space efficiently — you can place it as close to a wall as its protruding rear cables will allow.
While the HP Photosmart B109a is capable of printing photos, it doesn't do a stellar job. There is noticeable streaking and a lack of detail. Photos will look okay from afar, but once you get up close you will notice plenty of streaky lines and colour bleeding, leading to an overall messy image. But the good thing is that if you want a photo printed out quickly, the Photosmart B109a will do a 4x6in photo at its best quality on glossy photo paper in only 21sec! By contrast, a text document with plenty of graphics, tables and some photos interspersed, will average around 3.6 pages per minute.
Scanning is simple and fast, and you have the ability to quickly scan to a PC or memory card directly from the unit itself, so no need to go hunting for your imaging program. However, the scanner driver has only basic functions. You can tell it what type of document to scan (colour, greyscale or black and white) and the resolution you want, and you can adjust the contrast and brightness.
There are no options to get rid of moire patterning from magazines, for example, and this means you'll have to do extra editing work if you'll be scanning in this type of document. The overall scan quality is good; it captures fine details accurately and with the proper contrast level, but it doesn't always get the colour saturation right. Scanning books will be a chore, as the lid doesn't have a raiseable hinge.
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