Review: HP Officejet J4680 All-in-One

Friday Aug 1st 2008 by Eric Grevstad
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You know you can buy a versatile all-in-one inkjet for $300 or $400. But for a fraction of the price (and the size), you can get this small-business breadbox from HP that's full of surprises.

Over the last couple of years, all-in-one inkjet printer/scanner/copiers have pushed single-function inkjet printers virtually out of the market, save for top-quality photo printers and for consumer toy printers priced below their replacement ink cartridges. A multifunction peripheral offers more convenience in less desk space than a separate copier, printer and scanner, not to mention costing less.

The question is how much less. At one extreme, we've raved about full-featured models such as HP's Officejet Pro L7680, which offers everything an office needs except a desk, chair, PC and maybe a potted plant ‑- for $350.

At the other, a trip to your nearest electronics superstore will reveal loss-leader three-in-one inkjets from all the major manufacturers available for $80, $60, even $50...but if you think those are suitable for daily office as opposed to occasional home use, you're not thinking straight.

So let's split the difference. How does $130 sound?

The new HP Officejet J4680 -- not to be confused with, well, actually, guaranteed to be confused with the Officejet J6480 ($200) -- has some features you might not expect for that price. For instance, it's not a three- but a four-in-one, adding the business staple of faxing to the expected printing, copying and flatbed scanning capabilities. The color or monochrome fax isn't a bare-bones affair, either, with 99 speed-dial numbers, enough memory to store 140 incoming pages and Caller ID junk-fax blocking.

Equally noteworthy, the J4680 is ready to join a small office network -- not a wired one, since there's no Ethernet port alongside its single USB 2.0 port, but a wireless one, with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi built in.

The HP's designers also avoided a mistake that usually has us reaching for our REJECTED rubber stamp: they included an automatic document feeder (ADF), so you needn't stand around opening and closing the lid, placing and replacing pages on the scanner glass, when copying or faxing multipage documents.

True, the ADF is a tiny one, with room for at most 20 sheets. But the Officejet itself is fairly tiny, measuring a cute-as-a-button 16- by 17- by 9-inches and weighing 13 pounds. Its paper tray holds just 100 sheets, and its output tray is just a plastic flap that props printed pages slightly above the input tray. Pages perform a backflip to exit the printer face up; we finished our testing without experiencing a paper jam.


HP Officejet J4680 All-in-One
The HP Officejet J4680 All-in-One.

Have a Little Patience

What do you sacrifice for this desktop pal's bargain price? Well, while its output quality is good, the J4680 won't set any speed records. Our one-page business letter with spot-color company logo printed in 23 seconds; a 20-page Microsoft Word document kept us waiting for just over three minutes. Making five black-and-white copies of a one-page contract took two minutes.

Also, though the HP can print borderless photos in sizes including 4- by 6- and 8.5- by 11-inches, it's built for generating letters and marketing materials rather than replacing a drugstore photo kiosk. It's one of the few inkjets we've seen lately that doesn't have flash-card slots for reading digital cameras' memory cards, and its one-line LCD for control-panel captions will never be mistaken for a big color LCD offering pre-print image editing or other adjustments.

Don't look for four-, five-, or six-ink photo printing, either. The J4680 is a good old-fashioned double-barreled inkjet, with black and tricolor (cyan, magenta, and yellow) ink cartridges. There's not even the ability to swap the black one for an optional, wider-palette photo cartridge as with many low-priced printers.

Replacements are priced at $25 for a tricolor and $28 for a black cartridge with estimated lives of 360 and 700 pages, respectively. Using these (and ignoring a less efficient 200-page black cartridge offered for $15), we calculated an estimate of around 4 cents per monochrome and 11 cents per color page.

That's not sensational, but it's a better deal than numerous inkjets and even some entry-level color laser printers we've sampled. So ownership shouldn't be too painful even if you come close to the Officejet's rated duty cycle of 3,000 pages each month.

You Can Collate

Setup is simple enough. After opening the front panel and installing the ink cartridges their recessed position will have you snapping them into place more by feel than by sight, but it's still pretty goof-proof -- you're prompted to load paper so the HP can print a test-pattern page, which you then put on the scanner glass so the device can align the cartridges properly.

While we judged the J4680's small size as a plus overall, we found the front-mounted control panel awfully petite -- people with big fingers will need to be careful with the fax keypad, and everyone will need to be patient when navigating the main menu (mono or color fax, mono or color copy, and scan) and scrolling LCD settings.

Fortunately, simple walk-up options such as selecting the color copy function, specifying ten copies, and then pressing the start button are simple. Fine-tuning settings such as copy size reduction or enlargement can be a little trickier, but a "go back" or escape button keeps you from getting lost.

Copying is the exception, but you can get a handle on the HP's printing, scanning, and faxing functions via the provided printer driver and other software applications. The driver offers a good variety of media size/type/print quality combination shortcuts and options such as N-up and double-sided printing (the latter guiding you through the process of manually reinserting pages to print the flip side).

We found the OCR function a bit less accurate than we hoped when scanning formatted documents to editable text, but liked the software's thorough control over scan and fax settings. Other programs include an entry-level document manager and HP's likable if consumer- rather than power-user-oriented Photosmart Essential image organizer, touch-up editor and printing arranger. Small startup businesses will appreciate a link to an HP Web site that offers an array of letterhead, business card, brochure, and other templates and the company's Logoworks subsidiary, which offers affordable logo creation and Web-site design.

Pretty Darn Good

Obviously, the J4680 is no choice for heavy-duty, high-volume printing -- or for the impatient, although it's certainly not the slowest inkjet we've sampled (it's advertised at 28 pages per minute for monochrome and 22 ppm for color, though like all inkjets comes nowhere near its claims). In its Fast Draft mode, suitable for in-house copies only, the all-in-one took 1 minute and 34 seconds to print our 20-page, all-text word processing document.

Switching to Normal mode, the same job took 3 minutes and 4 seconds, while our 55-page PDF file mixing black text with color headlines and illustrations printed in 14 minutes and 9 seconds. Using the automatic document feeder, it took four minutes to copy a 10-page document and just under eight minutes to make three black-and-white copies of a five-page document. Five color copies of a magazine cover took a tad under three and a half minutes.

Speaking of the ADF, arguably our biggest gripe with the Officejet was that it doesn't collate multipage copying jobs -- while print jobs default to last-page-first so page one is at the top of the output stack, you'll have to shuffle copies yourself. This gets old fast for all but the shortest jobs: Reading from the top of the stack, our three copies of a five-page document arrived as pages 5, 5, 5, 4, 4, 4, and so on.

Our most pleasant surprise with the inexpensive HP? Its print quality. Even on plain paper, solid color areas in Normal mode were virtually free of banding, while black text was maybe a little thin but legible as small as 6 point. Switching to Best mode naturally slowed printing -- from 23 to 53 seconds for our one-page letter -- but made only a slight improvement (slightly darker text, also achieved by staying in Normal mode but switching from plain to inkjet paper).

Photos (in Best mode on glossy paper) suffered from the moderate grain and mediocre skin tones familiar to four-color printing, but were attractive at anything greater than magnifying-glass distance. Borderless 4- by 6-inch and letter-sized pix averaged 2 minutes and 32 seconds and 8 minutes and 33 seconds, respectively.

Got a Microbusiness?

Naturally, we weren't expecting a $130 multifunction to match the business-class $300 and $400 models we've tested, but the Officejet J4680 proved to be more than just the cute compact we saw at first glance. It's too petite for a five- or six-person, or frankly even a three-person, office, but we could genuinely see it meeting a startup or not-yet-full-time solo operator's needs for perhaps 20 or 40 pages per day.

Adapted from Hardwarecentral.com.

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