You've got to hand it to HP: When the company decides to rethink printing, it thinks big. Its Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One weds a fast, capable colour inkjet multifunction with a unique extra: the Zeen, a removable touchscreen control panel running the Android 2.1 operating system and offering some limited, tablet PC-like functionality, including web browsing and e-reading.

At a time when both tablets and Android are hot topics, however, the Zeen seems to be drawing more attention than HP may have desired. Whether the Zeen helps sell more Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One mother ships is uncertain. The Lexmark Genesis, another game-changing MFP, has similar appeal and qualifications.

As a control panel, the Zeen works well. Its large, 7-inch colour touchscreen makes reading the on-screen menus easy. Sensitivity is its primary weakness: In our tests it was slow to recognise taps, and sometimes it mistook a swipe for a tap. When you undock it, you can still control the Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One, or you can print from SD Cards loaded in the top-mounted slot, as well as print web pages. The arrangement seems to be a logical extension of HP's web app strategy.

As an MFP, the Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One is adequate for home use. It has a 125-sheet input tray with an integrated 20-sheet photo tray, as well as a 50-page output area on top of the input tray's cover. Automatic duplexing (printing on both sides of the page) is standard, and works well on both the PC and Mac. Like most consumer-level MFPs, it offers no automatic document feeder to scan multipage documents, just a letter/A4-size flatbed scanner. Using the Zeen control panel, you can scan directly to a memory card, but not to a PC. HP's Scan software will handle that task from a connected computer.

The Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One is an above-average performer. Plain text pages printed at rates of around 8.4 pages per minute on the PC and 8.3 ppm on the Mac. Prints of colour snapshots on plain paper exited very quickly at 3.8 ppm. Our 22MB professional photo took just under 3 minutes to print on the Mac, which is about par for the course. Normal scans and copies posted times in the upper middle range.

Print quality is a plus. Text on plain paper looked crisp and dark. Photo output on HP's own glossy stock was excellent, with a somewhat cool colour temperature. The same images on plain paper appeared a bit washed out. Our full colour copy test yielded a darkish reproduction with wide banding.

We'd expect a multifunction as pricey as the Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One to have more-economical inks. Alas, its costs are just average. The standard size cartridges include a 250-page, $12 black (4.8 cents per page) and 300-page, $10 cyan, magenta, and yellow (3.3 cents per page). It all adds up to 14.8 cents per four-colour page. High yield supplies are considerably cheaper: The 800-page black costs $35 (4.4 cents per page), while each 750-page colour costs $18 (2.4 cents per page), making for an 11.6-cent, four-colour page. A fifth colour, photo black, costs $10 for the standard size, which lasts for about 130 4-by-6-inch photos; the high yield, 290-photo size costs $18.

OUR VERDICT

The Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One and its Zeen tablet definitely out-gadget other high end home MFPs such as the Canon Pixma MG8120 and Epson Artisan 835. However, other touch-based phones and devices are quickly catching up to the Zeen's printing capabilities. The primary reason to pay this product's much higher price is for the Zeen's serving of basic tablet features. If you want this MFP, buy it, but you can get a lot more printer for your buck elsewhere.