HP’s Print-by-E-Mail Service Works--Mostly

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HP's new ePrint service sounds great: You can print from anywhere to one of HP's ePrint-enabled printers by sending the job via e-mail. Instead of a driver or a direct connection, cloud computing allows you to send your job through an HP-managed server to the printer. HP's promotional text encourages you to "use HP ePrint mobile printing to instantly share memories (send a photo of your child's first steps directly to Grandma's printer two states away) or print important materials without delay (print itineraries, directions, purchase confirmations, and more, right from your mobile device)."

Instantly? Without delay? Dig into HP's ePrint FAQ, and you'll find this disclaimer: "As with any email, there is no guarantee when or if it will be received." That's what PCWorld/Macworld Labs' Jim Galbraith experienced when reviewing the HP Photosmart Premium and other ePrint-enabled models recently. Most of the ePrint jobs he sent through his iPhone printed quickly--within a minute or two. One, however, took hours to print, and another never printed at all. Checking HP's support forums, he found a raft of HP users who were having the same sorts of problems.

The ePrint service's cloud-based infrastructure is convenient and cool--but is it reliable? A team of PCWorld/Macworld staff and contributors spent 24 hours using ePrint, and the results ranged from perfect to puzzling.

On the HP Envy 100, 41 of 51 ePrint jobs printed, an 80 percent success rate.

24 Hours With ePrint

The journalists (and many gamers) who make up PCWorld/Macworld's staff are used to long or sleepless stints, a questionable habit that fits perfectly with what we wanted to do: spend 24 hours sending ePrint jobs to see which ones would print, which ones wouldn't, and how long the jobs would take.

We set up two ePrint-enabled models in our lab: the HP Envy 100 e-All-in-One and the HP Photosmart eStation. Each ePrint-enabled model comes with a unique e-mail address--a deliberately long and complex alphanumeric string, the better to protect the printer from spammers and other security risks. You can also restrict the models to accept print jobs only from specific senders' e-mail addresses. Our sending devices included several cell phones--an iPhone, an Android phone, and a BlackBerry, all using the handsets' e-mail clients to send from Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo--as well as a couple of traditional desktop computers, one on site and one remote.

Although you can send file attachments as big as 5MB to print on the destination printer, we decided to keep things simple, sending just a brief e-mail message. We all took turns sending jobs at set intervals during waking hours--as late as 1:00 a.m., in the case of editorial assistant Alex Wawro. Macworld intern McKinley Noble stayed up to send jobs through the night, while freelance writer Jon L. Jacobi scheduled overnight jobs to send via his Outlook client.

Known Issues Mar Success Rate

The results? To HP's credit, most successful jobs took just one or two minutes to print; the longest took 30 minutes. But not all were successful. Of the 46 ePrint jobs we sent to the HP Photosmart eStation, only 37 printed--about an 80 percent success rate. On the HP Envy 100, 41 of 51 ePrint jobs printed, for another 80 percent success rate. The biggest failure was one tester's repeated attempts to send ePrint jobs via Hotmail using BlackBerry's e-mail client; it worked only once out of 12 attempts.

Of the 46 ePrint jobs we sent to the HP Photosmart eStation, only 37 printed--about an 80 percent success rate.

HP says that our experiences are unusual, as are those of the many beleaguered ePrint users who have posted their frustrations on its support forum. Our Hotmail-via-BlackBerry problems are a known issue: HP's servers mistake the e-mail for spam. HP acknowledges that this sending scenario is common, and notes that it is still finding combinations of the client, device, and printer that don't work. According to HP's ePrint FAQ, the company has tested with Outlook 2003 and 2007; the major Web-based services, Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail; Apple Mail; and the e-mail clients for BlackBerry and Nokia/Symbian. Nevertheless, a footnote cautions that "testing does not guarantee full compatibility."

If you remove the Hotmail-via-BlackBerry issues from our log, ePrint's success rate improves to 93 percent on the HP Envy 100 and 88 percent on the HP Photosmart eStation.

HP is also supposed to send you an acknowledgment e-mail when one of its servers receives your print job. We didn't always receive an acknowledgment, but when we did, it came anywhere from instantly to almost 2 hours after we had sent the job--sometimes long after the job had printed. HP says that some e-mail services delay the delivery of these items.

Lost in the Cloud?

As for the sent jobs that never printed, HP reps say that it is another known issue. A fix for this defect is currently planned for the next ePrint server update.

We tried to set up the HP Officejet 6500A Plus e-All-in-One as a third test printer. We sent a few jobs and received acknowledgments for them, but the prints never arrived.

We all understand that cloud computing is a lot like its namesake: way up there somewhere, largely uncontrollable and unpredictable. HP's ePrint operates in that cloud, so adjust your expectations accordingly. In our tests, ePrint worked most of the time, but bigger and smaller kinks could thwart your ePrint efforts.

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