Priced to Move — and Print, Fax and Scan

Tuesday May 25th 2004 by Wayne Kawamoto
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The capable, reasonably priced HP OfficeJet 4215 meets the needs of small businesses with low-volume printing and copying needs.

Call a device an "all-in-one" and you probably think of a machine that performs many functions but does none of them well. But HP's impressive OfficeJet 4215 may change your opinion about devices that try to be everything to everybody. This combination printer, fax machine, scanner and copy machine can't handle the needs of large offices, but for home-based and other small offices, it's a worthy product at a reasonable price.

The 4215 is a first-rate inkjet printer that outputs crisp black text and good color photos. Its fax function offers the features of a stand-alone fax machine and lets you send faxes through a PC. Its scanner and copy machine rely on a sheet feeder that has restrictions when compared to flatbed scanners and copiers, but despite this limitation, the device performs all its functions with aplomb.

Out of the Box
The first thing that you'll notice about the 4215 is its compact and lightweight design. Most all-in-one printers are large, heavy and awkward to move around. At first glance, the 4215 appears about the size of a medium-size ink-jet printer, although that's somewhat misleading: the 4215 unfolds to reveal its various feeder and output paper trays, which effectively doubles its footprint on a desk or shelf.

The paper trays cleverly fold and integrate into the device, but the only thing you can do when the paper trays are in that position is send a fax through a PC. HP claims that the 4215's folded trays protect it from dust. I'll buy that, but the 4215's next to useless in its folded state, and I don't see business owners wanting to include unfolding the printer as part of their daily morning ritual.


HP OfficeJet 4215
The HP OfficeJet 4215 does laser quality at a great price.

Unpacking the 4215 is quick and easy. HP sweats the details, from the straightforward packing to the doubled-over tabs on the strapping tape that make it easy to grab and remove tape without having to pick at the ends with fingernails. HP provides a clearly presented map that explains and illustrates the various steps to getting up and running. The map is in both English and Spanish, but it doesn't intrude on readers of either language. The 4215 includes two discs — one for Windows and the other for Macintosh — that install the drivers and accompanying software.

You'll find the electrical and USB connections clearly marked and easy to make (the device does not include a USB cable to connect to a PC). The software installation guide does a great job of stepping you through the connections and set-up process, but some people may find installing the black and multi-color ink cartridges a bit tricky to install and properly seat into their receptacles. The clearly written documentation offers lots of helpful illustrations that explain, for example, the many buttons and controls. There's also useful troubleshooting information should you need it.

Under the Hood
HP says that the 4215 produces laser-quality 600dpi black text and high-quality photos, which is true. The text, even in the normal print setting, is crisp and clear with no noticeable jagged edges. The device also includes different modes that let you print at fast draft speed or at higher quality (up to 1200 x 1200 dpi).

In our testing, the 4215 output pages of black text at 6 pages per minute (ppm) in normal mode. Sheets of graphic color business cards took 44 seconds per sheet to print, while full-color photos in normal mode took an average of one minute and three seconds. HP claims that the 4215 prints up to 17 ppm in black text and up to 12 ppm in color in normal mode, but in our real-world testing the output was clearly slower.

The machine misfed on occasion, knocking a page of business cards out of alignment and wasting a pricey pre-cut page. The 4215 also misfed when it took two sheets of address labels as one. Overall, the printer provides competent paper handling without jams.

The paper input tray doubles as the exit tray for printed documents and copies, so you end up with a pile of printed sheets on top of the input feeder tray. This is fine for low volume work, but when you're printing large, multi-page documents, it can be awkward. Given the size of the feeder, which only holds 100 sheets of paper, and the capabilities of the exit tray, the 4215 is clearly designed for offices with low print volumes.

The 4215 works well as a stand-alone fax machine, easily accepting fax numbers and printed documents, and , of course, sending and receiving incoming faxes. As stand-alone fax machines go, the 4215 is competent and intuitive to use. It can also perform higher-end functions: store and speed-dial fax numbers, scan documents into memory before dialing, send faxes to up to 50 different numbers, and schedule faxes to be sent at later times. And it supports color faxes.

The 4215's fax features also work well with a PC. The accompanying HP software automatically installs itself with the printer. The all-in-one offers good options for managing fax recipients and provides a decent assortment of cover pages. In addition to the print driver, the HP Director software provides access to the 4215's capabilities (faxing, scanning, copying, viewing and printing) and to such items as status, onscreen help and viewing and changing settings.

As a copy machine and scanner, the 4215 is limited by its sheet-feeder, which can't handle magazines, books or large maps and illustrations, but competently scans normal business documents. The scanner output tray feels flimsy, likely to catch on things and be torn off. The device copies black & white and color documents.

The Officejet 4215 and your computer must be connected and turned on to use the scan features, but you may initiate scans from the device. The 4215 comes with HP software to capture images. You can make copies by pressing buttons on the front panel or command the device from your computer. The 4215 also offers copy options for reducing, enlarging, lightening or darkening images.

HP backs the 4215 with a one-year limited warranty that includes a year of technical phone support, and it retails for $149.

In Conclusion
For a mere $149, the HP OfficeJet 4215 offers an all-in-one solution that delivers. If your office doesn't require high-volume printing and you don't mind a sheet-feed copier/scanner, then you'll find the HP OfficeJet 4215 a useful device that effectively takes the place of several office machines.

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