capsule review

HP Scanjet 4890 Photo Scanner

At a Glance
  • HP Scanjet 4890 Photo Scanner

HP Scanjet 4890 Photo Scanner
Photograph: Rick Rizner

If you need to produce a large number of scans as quickly as possible--especially on a routine basis--the HP Scanjet 4890 Photo Scanner may be the right choice for you. When it comes to speed, this dual-purpose flatbed stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the scanners in this group. But in our tests, we also found that the 4890's overall image quality and scanning software left something to be desired.

Using its Hi-Speed USB 2.0 interface, the 4890 clocked in with the fastest scores in all of our performance tests. It delivered full-page color and black-and-white documents in about 17 and 14 seconds, respectively, beating the closest runner-ups by nearly 10 seconds in each test. Digitizing our 4-by-5-inch photos was equally quick: the 4890 barely needed 11 seconds to scan the color print at 100 dpi, and 18 seconds to scan the grayscale print at 600 dpi.

The 4890 was also the speed champ in our informal film scan tests. For example, it took just 91 seconds to complete a 4800-dpi scan of a 35mm slide, compared to 122.5 seconds and 156.5 seconds for the Epson Perfection 4490 Photo and Microtek ScanMaker S400, respectively, to complete the same 4800-dpi scan.

In our image quality tests, however, the 4890 wasn't as impressive. When tested at default settings, it received the lowest score among recently tested scanners for capturing the challenging geometric patterns and small text of our monochrome line art print test. To its credit, the unit earned the best score of the group in the 4-by-5-inch grayscale (600-dpi) print test, thanks to accurate brightness and contrast and good rendering of details. But the 4890 struggled with color. Some objects (a model's face, for example) were more reddish and oversaturated than in the originals. Due to its difficulty in matching the original image's color, brightness, and contrast, the device's score for the 4-by-5-inch color (100-dpi) print test was the lowest in the group. In all fairness, though, the 4890's scanner driver uses "Enhanced Color" as part of its default settings. By turning this option off and using the "Original Color" option instead, we found that the 4890's color accuracy improved significantly for many of our scanned images.

The well-built 4890 has four quick-start buttons (enabling you to scan prints, scan film, e-mail, and copy), and an admirable built-in transparency adapter. This workhorse can batch-scan up to 30 negative frames or 16 slides (35mm format) at a time. The 4890 allows you to scan more film frames, and faster, than any other recently tested value scanner. Needless to say, this is a boon for productivity-minded users who need to scan stacks of negatives and slides quickly and often.

The scanner driver (HP Scanning) combines both basic and advanced functions instead of dividing them into separate modes the way many competing scanners do. By default, only the basic tools are displayed; however, experienced users can easily access the advanced tools if needed. Applying the provided image correction options--such as restoration of faded colors and removal of dust and scratches--helped to improve the results on our informal tests.

Unlike with other scanners we tested, the 4890's software consists mainly of HP applets, instead of bundled applications (such as a dedicated image editor and an optical character recognition package). HP Image Zone helps organize and edit scans, but we found that its editing functions provide only basic features such as cropping, resizing, and lightening dark areas rather than advanced tools like cloning and cut-and-paste effects found in stand-alone applications. The limited optical character recognition feature relies on a built-in OCR engine, which isn't as talented as a dedicated OCR application in turning complex pages (containing both text and graphics, for example) into editable versions.

Although the HP Scanjet 4890 Photo Scanner satisfies the need for speed--especially with transparency scanning--its features and default image quality could be better.

Richard Jantz

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At a Glance
  • HP Scanjet 4890 Photo Scanner

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