HP Deskjet 5850
The Deskjet 5850 has some office-friendly features that are unusual in an inkjet printer and help justify its $250 price tag. The 5850's standard equipment includes an ethernet port and built-in 802.11b/.11g Wi-Fi wireless networking; a blue light flashes when the printer receives a wireless print job. The ethernet port sits next to the USB port on the back. Office users may spend $95 more for a duplexer and another $80 for a 250-sheet paper tray that boosts capacity to 400 sheets.
To print top-quality photos, you'll have to spend $25 for the optional photo ink cartridge, but the results are worth the investment. When we used the cartridge to print photos on glossy paper, the 5850 impressed us with lifelike colors, very sharp focus, and subtle details in both shadows and highlights. A window in the print driver called HP Digital Photography made it easy to get good results, thanks in part to an easy-to-use red-eye removal tool, a slider for increasing contrast, and a digital flash effect for brightening shadows.
Because the printer holds only two ink cartridges at a time, you'll have to switch between the photo-ink cartridge and the black ink cartridge. The first time you do this, the printer automatically realigns its print heads, which took 8 minutes in our test. But the printer doesn't have to recalibrate on subsequent occasions when you insert the photo-ink cartridge, since the printer stores the calibration settings in memory. If you forget which cartridges you've installed, you must check the driver on your PC; checking under the hood won't help because the latches holding the cartridges in place also cover their labels. HP provides a storage container to prevent the ink in partially used cartridges from drying out after they've been removed.
Estimated ink costs per page are high, and print speeds were about average. Plain text costs about 4.4 cents per page, and color graphics (not photos) about 13.3 cents. PC World timed the Deskjet 5850 on text at 4.5 pages per minute, and on graphics at 1.5 ppm. Other than on glossy photos, the unit delivered mixed output quality. Text had a noticeable grayness, and some shadowing or spatter around letters, but looked fairly sharp overall; narrow parallel lines printed with a rough, gritty texture. On better-grade inkjet paper, however, the quality of both of these printing tasks greatly improved. Another handy driver feature is a setting that optimizes prints for faxing and copying by converting them to a coarse texture that reproduces well at low resolution.
The 5850's paper handling was generally convenient. The sturdy main tray folds up when empty to save desk space, and the output tray (which rests on the main tray) lifts up on hinges so you needn't remove it to add paper. A slot in the output tray lets you feed a single envelope into the paper path without emptying the main tray. Inconveniently, the external power converter plugs directly into the wall, where it can block access to other sockets. The wide-and-narrow button on the control panel, which feels loose and unresponsive, performs different functions depending on which end you press, but it's no more convenient than having two separate buttons. If watermarks are important to you, note that the Deskjet 5850's driver can print them in only eight basic colors.
The 5850 makes sense for networked homes and workgroups that want to print high-quality photos, but the slightly coarse text it produces won't match the output of a monochrome laser for business correspondence.