HP is one of the foremost vendors of color laser printer/ multi-function printers such as its $699 Color LaserJet CM1017. On the other hand, HP also makes the color inkjet Officejet Pro L7680. It's the $399 device at your local retailer with a big advertising sticker on top, bragging, "World's fastest desktop all-in-one for business color" and "Print for less -- Save up to 25 percent per page over laser all-in-one products."
Can an inkjet all-in-one printer really compete with, or even outdo, today's affordable color laser models? Well, the L7680 isn't shy about what it offers: In addition to quoting the draft-mode theoretical maximum downhill print speeds that every inkjet advertises -- in this case, 35 pages per minute for black and white and 34 ppm for color -- the Officejet Pro promises "laser-quality speeds" of 12 monochrome and 10 color ppm.
Laser quality? Well, we could waffle and say that any inkjet output -- i.e., liquid ink drying on paper, seeping at least a tiny bit into even the best coated stock -- can never look completely as sharp under a magnifying glass as dry toner fused onto paper, blah blah.
But the L7680's output looks damn good, and arrives faster than pages from quite a few of the under-$1,000 color lasers we've sampled -- delivering our 55-page Adobe Acrobat document, for instance, one-third faster than the Color LaserJet CM1017. And either our math is wrong, or the all-in-one's ink can indeed cost less per page than many laser printers' toner. Actually, the claim of 25-percent savings is too modest.
With that kind of inter-office competition, do you think the HP laser guys invite the HP inkjet guys to their office birthday parties?
The Officejet Pro L7680 is a four-in-one (including fax as well as printing, copying and scanning capabilities) peripheral with USB 2.0 and Ethernet ports for single and shared operation; it takes about 21 by 25 inches of desk space and stands 14 inches tall. Feeling anything but flimsy at 35 pounds, the unit has a 250-sheet input tray front and center; pages perform a U-turn to finish face up on what HP calls a 150-sheet output tray but which looks a lot like the lid of the input tray.
A duplexer that snaps onto the back of the Officejet for automatic double-sided printing is standard equipment. Atop the lid of the flatbed, legal-sized scanner is a 50-sheet automatic document feeder for multi-page copying or faxing jobs.
Though the HP's name indicates its focus on office productivity, digital photographers -- whether entrepreneurs printing their own marketing materials or family members invading a home office after hours -- will notice the front-mounted Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard, xD, CompactFlash and Memory Stick flash-card slots and PictBridge USB connector for loading images from a digital camera, as well as the 2.4-inch color LCD that lets them preview and select shots for printing (or copying to the attached PC) or print a proof sheet with thumbnails of all the images on a card.
These functions are handy for occasional use, though you won't confuse the L7680 with a photo-savvy inkjet like the HP Photosmart D7360: The all-in-one's pushbutton controls and LCD menus for imaging tasks aren't as friendly as that printer's, and instead of offering a dedicated tray for 4-by 6-inch photo paper, it obliges you to awkwardly push the media wrist-deep into its maw.
Most of all, the Officejet Pro is an old-school, four-color inkjet, sticking with the trusty CMYK quartet instead of the six or more ink colors that make up the smoother hues of a photo printer. Opening a door at the front left of the machine reveals the palm-sized black, cyan, yellow and magenta cartridges, which plug in with just a bit of wiggling and shoving.
Initial setup also includes snapping two printheads -- one for black and yellow, one for cyan and magenta -- into place. These are estimated to last for some 41,000 pages; if you keep the printer that long, replacement printheads cost $60 each.
The supplied cartridges are the printer's standard-size ink tanks, which HP's published page-yield listings rate at 850 pages for the $20 black and 900 pages for the $15-apiece color trio. (Disclaimer: Our tests yielded only about three-fifths of those estimates, but that included heavy PDF and photo printing with full- or nearly full-page color instead of the 10- or 15-percent coverage commonly used in print-life predictions.)
When the regular cartridges run dry, smart shoppers will presumably replace them with HP's XL-sized alternatives -- a $35 black cartridge rated at 2,450 pages and three $25 color cartridges rated for 1,700 pages. A few minutes with the solar-powered calculator reveals that the larger cartridges end up costing about 1.5 cents per black and just under six cents per color page.
That compares favorably -- very favorably -- to other inkjets and to many of the entry-level color lasers we've reviewed over the past five years. No inkjet printer is cheap to operate, but the L7680 could be the least outrageous in a long while.
An array of front-panel buttons provides access to a bevy of fax, scan, copy and photo-print functions. Some of the multi-layered menus get a bit confusing, but prominent "go back" and "cancel" buttons keep users from getting lost entirely.
Pushbutton copying choices include number of copies (1 to 99), reduce/enlarge settings, print quality, and whether to collate output, but the copier's lighter/darker setting is relegated to the LCD menu. Oddly, there are no front-panel controls or options for PC printing; output quality and other choices are found in the HP's software driver.
The 48-bit, legal-sized flatbed scanner features 2,400 by 4,800-dpi resolution. In addition to scanning an image or document into your PC or onto a memory card or other USB storage device, the L7680 offers what HP calls digital filing -- scanning documents into a shared folder on an Ethernet network.
Fax functions range from saving up to 99 speed-dial entries -- including entries with up to 20 numbers for broadcast faxing -- to forwarding and junk fax blocking. Black-and-white and color copying options include 25- to 400-percent zoom with fit-to-page and legal-to-letter shortcuts; collated copies; and all four possible permutations of 1- or 2-sided originals and copies.
|Rave Review: Even one or two minor glitches couldn't mar the HP Officejet Pro L7680. It's the best performing multi-function printer we've ever tested.|
We ran into one glitch with one of the systems we connected to the Officejet, a middle-aged Dell Pentium 4 desktop -- while the front-panel scanning controls worked fine, as did PC/peripheral communication via the USB cable for functions such as viewing ink levels, the software reported an error communicating with the scanning device when we tried to perform tasks from the PC such as scanning a document into an application. HP's support site acknowledged that this issue had cropped up with Intel 845G-chipset USB controllers like the Dell's; we hadn't found a fix as of press time.
Don't Avoid the Draft
Usually, the only time we use an inkjet printer's fastest or draft mode is as part of our printer-speed stopwatch tests. By contrast, we've had the L7680 on our desk for two weeks and have been using it in draft mode as our everyday printer: Though it's noticeably noisier than slower modes, the HP's draft output comes close to and occasionally matches other inkjets' normal-mode print quality.
Using draft mode on plain paper, the unit printed our 20-page all-text Microsoft Word document in 71 seconds; a six-page excerpt from a colorful Adobe Acrobat PDF file took 28 seconds. Text looked a little thinner and grayer than normal output, but on the whole well formed and wobble-free. More impressive (make that unprecedented), solid-color areas showed only a trace of banding.
Even using cheap copier paper, the L7680's default or normal-mode output was easy to mistake for that of a color laser printer, at least without staring closely. Banding disappeared, while fine lines and all but the smallest type were sharp and legible.
And as far as speed is concerned, the HP in normal mode outran virtually all of the older, cheaper four-pass and a plurality of the one-pass lasers we've tested -- 14 seconds for a one-page business letter with spot-color company logo; 1 minute and 52 seconds for the 20-page Word file; 52 seconds for six pages of the PDF and six and a half minutes for all 55 pages. (The last compares to 10 minutes for the above mentioned Color LaserJet CM1017).
As an alternative to plain paper, we were curious to check out HP's affordable Advanced Paper ($7 per ream or 1.8 cents a sheet), so we used that instead of heavier coated stock such as the company's Premium Paper (10.5 cents a sheet). Speed was unaffected; print quality was pretty much the same except for slightly sharper small type.
Switching from normal- to the printer's best-quality mode slowed things down -- the six-page PDF excerpt, for example, took almost exactly twice as long -- in exchange for only minimal improvement on the page. Still, you might want it for documents sent to a crucially important client.
Using the duplexer to print the 20-page Word document on both sides of 10 sheets stretched printing time to 5 minutes, but worked perfectly. Five crisp black-and-white copies of a single page took 34 seconds, while one copy of a five-page document using the automatic document feeder took 45 seconds without collating. Three collated copies of the same document took 2 minutes and 20 seconds.
Five color copies of a magazine cover arrived in 95 seconds and looked excellent, the best color copies we've seen from an inkjet all-in-one. But other copying jobs occasionally fell short of that standard, with close inspection revealing one or two instances of banding -- one-pixel horizontal lines, almost invisible in some cases but noticeable when, say, crossing a cover model's forehead.
The HP performed creditably as a photo printer, allowing for the slightly grainy skin tones common to four- instead of six-color prints under close inspection. Colors on glossy paper were bright and details sharp, with 8 by 10-inch prints appearing in about 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Borderless photos averaged 49 seconds for 4 by 6-inch and 4 minutes for 8.5 by 11-inch prints.
Three of a Kind
Shoppers should note that the L7680 is the middle model in a good-better-best trio: If you can live without the color LCD and duplex printing, and make do with letter- instead of legal-sized scanner glass, you can save a C-note by picking the Officejet Pro L7580 ($299).
Moving the same distance in the other direction is the model L7780 ($499), which has our test unit's features plus 802.11g Wi-Fi networking, 96MB rather than 64MB of onboard memory and an additional 350-sheet input tray that brings total capacity to 600 sheets. Lesser models can be upgraded with the second tray or duplexer for $96 or $77, respectively.
All in all, we ran into one or two glitches as well as a $50 or $100 price premium over most of its inkjet rivals, but that doesn't stop us from giving the Officejet Pro L7680 what is, let's face it, a rave review. Unless you need six-color photo printing, the HP is the best-performing all-in-one we've ever tested, and its relatively thrifty ink costs are icing on the cake.
Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.
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