Hewlett-Packard Deskjet 9650
Priced at $399, the HP Deskjet 9650 has a wide carriage that can handle paper 13 inches across and up to 4 feet long--and its paper-feeding smarts don't stop there.
The input tray holds 150 sheets of paper, so you won't have to refill it constantly, and the printer has a 10-sheet bypass feeder for envelopes and letterhead. Inside the main paper tray, an odd but effective plunger mechanism pushes a stack of snapshot-size media up to the paper path. A slot in the back draws in heavy stock and feeds it through the printer without bending it. As with many HP printers, exiting print jobs stack over the paper input tray. But instead of having an output tray that gets in the way when you want to add paper, the 9650's sturdy output support flips up and stays open, providing free access to the input tray. If you want to make double-sided prints, buy the Deskjet 9670; it's the same printer but with a duplexer, for $100 more. If you're undecided, you can later buy a duplexer for the 9650 separately for $129.
The 9650 shares one inconvenient trait with some other HP inkjets: You have to swap the printer's black and photo cartridges, depending on what you're printing; and the first time you do this, the printer runs an alignment routine. At least HP provides all three cartridges with the printer. If you print a lot of photos, you may be disappointed that the 9650 has neither a PictBridge port nor memory card slots. In our page yield tests, printing plain black on the Deskjet 9650 cost a steep 5.1 cents per page (the average number for general-purpose models tested for our August 2004 issue was 4.3 cents). For color plus black (not photos), this printer was among the most expensive models tested, at 13.8 cents per page.
The 9650 doesn't break any speed records: It printed text at a below-average 4.1 pages per minute, and it generated graphics (not photos) at 0.9 ppm--a bit below the average. On plain paper, text looked black and clean in headlines but a bit choppy in smaller type sizes, and better-quality inkjet paper didn't improve the output significantly. Color prints on plain paper showed sharp detail and relatively good color. With photo inks on glossy paper, the 9650's prints of gray-scale photos exhibited uncanny depth despite having a somewhat scratchy texture, and color photos came out in sharp focus with smooth textures and realistic colors, though some detail disappeared in shadow areas.
The wide-format Deskjet 9650 delivers consistently good print quality on many kinds of documents. This printer is no speed demon, however, and its costs per page are quite high.