Friday, 16 March 2012

Review: HP DeskJet 3050A

Review: HP3050A DeskJetI've taken my own advice, worked through my own buying process, driven the retail miles and returned with a modest box of Gutenberg's ultimate press. It's the HP DeskJet 3050A multi-function printer, scanner, copier.

As is typical for consumer electronics, it was a simple unboxing, with the printer in a reusable and bio-degradeable eco-bag. Ahh...

The 3050A comes with integrated Wi-Fi, a square, 5cm mono LCD screen, automatic print head alignment and support for HP's ePrint cloud printing service (for which registration is required). You can send documents directly to it from mobile devices and via Google's Cloud Print service.

Lots of reviewers love how it looks. I think it's design looks like a military bread bin. It has a dull, gun-metal grey finish to the top, atlantic battleship grey below the waistline with a plastic bronze(?) racing stripe at the waist. It's not exactly wiping the floor with the Apple design department is it? Fortunately I'm hiding it on a sliding shelf below my desk.

The build quality is typical of low-end desktop inkjets. It's not in the league of my old HP-II Laserjet, but few things are except an Abrahms battletank and the USS Nimitz. The plastic body creaks and rattles a bit in use. The 3050A is heavy owing to the glass scanner bed and the extra motors. The scanner lid is substantial; it flattens papers for scanning and protects the scanning bed from anything placed atop the printer.

There's a flip-up control panel on the left. It's reasonably solid, but I'm taking care not to hit it. The very basic LCD display, Casio calculator-style from the 80's, has three touch buttons, initially for Copy, Scan, and Quick forms, but these change with the functions and state of the device. When status and help messages are displayed on the screen, the three buttons become up, down and okay. Other controls are Wireless on/off indicator, e-print on/off indicator and the main power button.

Installing the ink cartridges is not perfect. Drop the paper-out tray, then fiddle about in the deep recess under the scanner bed. Opening the access panel centres the cartridge carriage, which is a long way back; the slot-in action is not so easy unless you get down to eye level with the carriage. It does have an almost idiot-proof snap-in design. In addition, there's a decent set of iconographic instructions on a sticker inside the access panel. It should be simple enough for most people, colour coded in black and cerise (pink) for the two-cartridge system.

This is a small foot-print device, constrained by the size of the scanning bed for a sheet of A4. My Cannon Pixma is very narrow, this 3050A with a scanner bed is much wider but no taller. Motors and belts must be crammed in somewhere.The paper-in tray folds upright along the back, holding 60 sheets maximum. I'm not so confident of it's paper handling and never fill it.

The paper-out tray at the front folds down. The paper overhangs both in and out. The output tray holds only 25 sheets. Methinks this is something of a design kludge.

Switch on and the printer runs its own POST (Power-on Self Test) prompts for the cartridge install, prints an alignment sheet and prompts for the scanner test using this as it's test pattern.

Installing software though a Windows PC using the supplied software CD is easy. There is a guided run-through of options. Be sure to customise your software selection, unless you want the HP photo gallery software installed and the Ask toolbar added to your browser.

Going Wireless, the 3050A software wants a temporary connection to your PC so it can feed the printer with your wireless connection information. This was simple in the case of my home network, I plugged in the USB cable and let it get on with things, sending the protocols and security key from the laptop down the wire. It does ask for your authorisation. You also have a manual set-up option. Unplug the USB and the printer continues wirelessly and, I have to say faultlessly, from then on.

Prompted to register the product, you will have a guided process for identifying the model and serial numbers. It's a low-overhead registration, requiring name and email address, nothing further is mandatory unless you want to be contacted by SMS text and phone calls.

The 3050A prints a test sheet for web-apps, detailing a quick registration allowing you to print from mobile devices through your network. I'll investigate that later.

The 1200 by 1200dpi scanner is good enough for most home document and photo scanning. Colour and shading were accurate but 1200dpi scans were noticeably banded; 600dpi is it's best resolution. I still have a 1200/2400 dpi USB scanner for use in extremis.

Linux Install
The easiest way to do this is to go through HP-LIP, the Hewlett Packard Library for Imaging and Print. This supplies drivers for the HP hardware. HPLIP is available in most Linux distro repositories, although the one in Ubuntu Software Center is not the most up-to-date by a couple of minor versions.

You can do things the old fashioned way in a terminal session or install hplip-gui from the repositories.

The Add button from the main screen enables you to add the wireless 3050A. In HP Device Manager, the Device Discovery process provides various methods, including USB, Network/Ethernet/Wireless, Wireless 802.1 which requires the temporary USB connection - this works the same way as HP's Windows software in that you connect the printer once by wireless and it pushes the wireless connection settings down to the printer; thereafter you can run the printer wirelessly.  

Scanning is a little slower than my single-purpose flat-bed. It's not a full-blooded photocopier and I get the distinct feeling there's not quite enough memory, the CCD capturing the image isn't so quick and the motor driving the scan head is quite slow.

Scan quality is down to your preferred software. Using Simple Scan under Linux is adequate for my day-to-day needs. Colours are a little flat and washed out.

Printing on the other hand is surprisingly fast; this is the benefit of the HP deskjet engine, they've always been quick. Pages of mixed text and graphics are fine, intensive and large images are slower but not painfully so.

Print quality is reasonable for an inkjet this cheap, particularly given the cheap paper I've been using. I push it to side-by-side 2 pages landscape and the colour bleed on scaled text and images becomes noticeable with cheaper, more porus papers. Get to know it, get to know the settings and try out different papers to see what you can get out of it.

Some people have reported problems setting the printer up to use both the USB and wireless options. It's either one or the other.

The HP 3050A is fine for occasional document printing, but not up to regular and intensive scanning or printing; as a multi-function device, it's like the Swiss Army Knife, a great general purpose tool but never as good at any single-purpose equivalent. It's definitely in the budget home multi-function device category and I suspect a little too light-weight for day-to-day business use. Having said that, I really don't know how HP is producing this much technology for this little money. RC  

HP3050A DeskJet
  • Color inkjet
  • Wi-Fi
  • Networked
  • Ink-jet
  • 20 ppm black & white
  • 16 ppm color
  • Lowest retail price found £34.97