You've got to hand it to HP: when the company decides to rethink printing, it thinks big. Its HP Photosmart eStation weds a fast, capable colour inkjet multifunction with a unique extra: the Zeen, a removable touchscreen control panel running the Google Android 2.1 operating system and offering some limited, tablet PCs-like functionality, including web browsing and E-book reading.
At a time when both tablets and Google Android are hot topics, however, the Zeen seems to be drawing more attention than HP may have desired. Whether the Zeen helps sell more HP Photosmart eStation mother ships is uncertain - especially at £379 inc VAT. The Lexmark Genesis, another game-changing MFP, has similar appeal and qualifications.
As a control panel, the Zeen works well. Its large, 7-inch colour touchscreen makes reading the on-screen menus easy. Sensitivity is its primary weakness: in our tests it was slow to recognise taps, and sometimes it mistook a swipe for a tap. When you undock it, you can still control the HP Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One, or you can print from SD Cards loaded in the top-mounted slot, as well as print web pages. The arrangement seems to be a logical extension of HP's Web-app strategy.
As an MFP, the HP Photosmart eStation is adequate for home use. It has a 125-sheet input tray with an integrated 20-sheet photo tray, as well as a 50-page output area on top of the input tray's cover. Automatic duplexing (printing on both sides of the page) is standard, and works well on both the PC and Mac. Like most consumer-level MFPs, it offers no automatic document feeder to scan multipage documents, just a letter/A4-size flatbed scanner. Using the Zeen control panel, you can scan directly to a memory card, but not to a PC; HP's Scan software will handle that task from a connected computer.
The HP Photosmart eStation is an above-average performer. Plain-text pages printed at rates of around 8.4 pages per minute on the PC and 8.3 ppm on the Mac. Prints of colour snapshots on plain paper exited very quickly at 3.8 ppm. Our 22MB professional photo took just under 3 minutes to print on the Mac, which is about par for the course. Normal scans and copies posted times in the upper-middle range.
Print quality is a plus. Text on plain paper looked crisp and dark. Photo output on HP's own glossy stock was excellent, with a somewhat cool colour temperature. The same images on plain paper appeared a bit washed out. Our full-colour copy test yielded a darkish reproduction with wide banding.
We'd expect a multifunction as pricey as the HP Photosmart eStation to have more-economical inks. Alas, its costs are just average. The standard-size cartridges include a 250-page, £9.40 black (3.7p per page) and 300-page, £8.20 cyan, magenta, and yellow (2.7p per page). It all adds up to 11.9p per four-colour page. High-yield supplies are considerably cheaper: The 800-page black costs £23.50 (2.9p per page), while each 750-page color costs £16.45 (2.1p per page), making for an 9.2p, four-colour page.
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