Review: HP's OfficeJet J6480 All-in-One Printer

by Gerry Blackwell

This all-around office tool performs reliably as it helps reduce waste and adds a green, ecological tint to your small business.

More and more big corporations are paying attention to green IT – looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions associated with information technology equipment and operations. Small businesses can and should do their bit, too.

One easy way: choose a product such as Hewlett-Packard’s recent OfficeJet J6480 All-in-One Printer the next time you need to replace an existing printer or add a new one.

The J6480 delivers color photo and document printing, sheet-fed and flat-bed scanning with optical character recognition (OCR), plus faxing and photocopying. It has Wi-Fi wireless connectivity built in. It’s fast, provides good print quality, and it wasn’t too difficult to set up.

Price: An Amazing $169

We know, of course, that printer manufacturers subsidize the cost of hardware in the expectation of making their profit on ink and paper sales. Still, one worries when a product with this much functionality sells at such a low price. Where, you have to wonder, did they cut corners?

HP claims a duty cycle of up to 5,000 pages. That means if you print an average of five pages a day, it should last four years. HP will make its money on ink cartridges, of that you can be sure, but as with some competing models recently, it offers a more cost-effective, high-capacity cartridge option.

The standard HP 74 Black Inkjet Print Cartridge, with which the product ships and that HP sells for $15, supposedly gives you 210 pages. The $30 HP 74XL cartridge gives you 780 pages.

You likely won’t get that many pages from either, of course – print cartridge capacity depends on how much is on each page and other factors – but the XL cartridge clearly delivers better value.

Greener Than Thou

Just how green is the J6480? It’s Energy Star compliant, meaning it meets standards for reduced power consumption (35 watts while printing, 40 while copying), but lots of modern IT equipment is Energy Star certified.

More importantly, the HP product comes with an auto duplexer that lets you print on both sides of the page. The duplexer in effect flips the page over to print on the other side, automatically.

 HP's OfficeJet J6480 All-in-One Printer
HP's OfficeJet J6480 All-in-One Printer does it all for $169.

Duplex printing saves paper, which saves costs, but also helps reduce downstream and upstream environmental impacts from pulp and paper production and transportation of paper products, raw materials and finished documents. It also saves trees.

Many big companies now make it a policy to only buy printers with duplex capabilities, and some are configuring them to print on both sides by default.

The J6480 includes a junk fax blocker – you can register phone numbers of known junk faxers, and it won’t answer calls from them – which could reduce unnecessary printing. 

HP’s Smart Web Printing, available with most of its printers, is another tool ostensibly designed to reduce unnecessary printing. It’s a utility that helps you select just the pages or parts of pages at a Web site that you need to print, so you avoid getting reams of pages you didn’t want.

Mind you, we can never understand why people want to print Web pages in the first place. The best way to save paper (and printer ink), of course, is to print less.

Set-Up Pain

To find out how easy it would – or wouldn't ‑ be for a typical micro business person to set up the J6480, I assigned the task to my partner, who has virtually no hands-on experience with tech products – other than using them. She reports that it was not terribly difficult, but more time consuming than she would like.

HP printers come with voluminous software bundles, including optional components – such as a complete photo software bundle – that most small businesses don’t need. But unless you know to select the manual or advanced install option, the product will install everything, and especially on older, slower computers, that can take a long time.

The documentation was also a little confusing. The quick set-up guide uses sometimes ambiguous graphics and small-print multi-lingual text.

And the J6480 shipped with a generic wireless set-up guide that appears to suggest you need an optional Wi-Fi dongle to make the wireless functions work – until you realize it’s talking about a completely different model. In fact, wireless is built in to this product. Setting up the J6480 to work wirelessly on other computers after an initial install using a USB cable is relatively simple and quick.

The set-up process was also not very forgiving of operator error. When my assistant accidentally hit the eject button on the CD-ROM drive, aborting the installation, she had to uninstall the partly installed software and start over from scratch.

Fast Enough, Good Enough

Once installed, the J6480 worked well. Print speed is rated at “up to” 31 pages per minute (ppm) for black (after the first page) and up to 25 ppm for color. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will print that many pages that fast – print speed partly depends on how much text and/or graphics is on each page. But the J6480 was markedly faster than an earlier generation of OfficeJet all-in-one, the 4300, with which we compared it.

One note on speed: when you use duplex printing, the J6480 pauses for a few seconds after printing the first side while the ink dries. This is to prevent smudging and gumming up the printer when it pulls the page back through the rollers to print the second side. It slows things down a little but, hey, it’s the right thing to do.

Resolution for black printing is given as “up to” 1,200 dpi (dots per inch) “rendered,” which means it doesn’t actually lay down 1,200 discrete drops per inch, but has the look of 1,200 dpi printing. Print quality in Normal mode is good, in Presentation mode on premium plain paper it approaches laser printer quality.

Color print resolution is given as up to 4,800 x 1,200 dpi “optimized.” In tests printing PDFs of commercially produced brochures with text and photos on premium plain paper, photo reproduction was very good – for a three-color-plus-black print engine.

Three-color printers like this one are limited in their ability to render certain colors and subtle gradations between colors. Dedicated photo printers with more ink colors will always do a better job. Still, photo prints from the J6480 on glossy HP premium photo paper were more than acceptable.

Most noticeable flaw: print-screen color matching was predictably off, with skin colors appearing too orange. The J6480 also doesn’t use the fastest-drying ink – it can smudge immediately after printing and will take fingerprints on glossy paper minutes later.

Multi-Mode Scanning

The scanning/copying functionality is one of the nice features of this all-in-one. The J6480 provides not only sheet-fed scanning – the automatic document feeder (ADF) will take up to 35 letter-size sheets at a time – but also flatbed. Many AIOs offer one or the other.

Scan resolution is given as 2,400 x 4,800 ppi (pixels per inch) optical and up to 19,200 ppi (multiplying pixels across by pixels down) enhanced. This is more than adequate for most office document scanning tasks.

The J6480 can also scan photo prints and even includes automatic fix-while-you-scan features, such as automatic adjustments to restore color in faded originals. But it’s probably not adequate where photo quality is critical to a project.

The built-in OCR software works about as well as OCR software in other AIOs we’ve tested – quite well, but far from perfect.

You can use resulting text without extensive editing when scanning a lot of documents that you want to be able to search afterwards – for archiving, for example. But if you need to use OCRed text in a new document, edit it carefully to catch sometimes hard-to-spot errors, such as words run together.

Fax set-up was surprisingly easy and trouble free. The J6480 allows you to use lines with phone company identi-ring – where the phone rings with one tone, two short or three short depending which number the caller dialed. And it lets you set the number of rings before the fax answers. Sending and receiving faxes worked flawlessly in our testing.

I’m a computer-centric worker and my preference is to control an all-in-one from my PC, but the J6480 does have a control panel with a two-line monochrome LCD display, telephone keypad and reasonably intuitive control buttons that allow you to change settings and launch jobs from the printer itself. So even computer-phobes can use it.

Bottom Line

It’s tough to think of any function the J6480 lacks that a micro business might need: it pretty much does everything. And does it well enough, in some cases very well. Our one concern: how well can a $170 all-in-one stand up to the wear and tear of daily use?

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Jul 24th 2008
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