Laser printers may have had the text printing market sewn up for several years, with their strong quality and high print speeds. However, 2013 has seen the launch of a batch of potential laser-killers – inkjet printers that claim to match lasers in terms of text and speed, while providing better colour graphics and lower running costs.
Most interesting of these was the Lomond EvoJet 2 (Mar 13), with its static printhead. HP has now launched its own take on this idea, and the X551dw's PageWide technology employs a longer-width printhead.
Only the paper moves, with the printhead remaining fixed in place, so allowing for higher speeds than standard inkjets. The printhead contains 42,240 nozzles, and while this falls some way short of the 70,000 boasted by the Lomond EvoJet 2, it's still an impressive figure.
The X551dw is a gargantuan beast of a printer, swallowing up the large part of our computer desk with its double-width dimensions.
HP have tried to make the most of this, carefully crafting the output tray so that you have large amounts of space underneath it for storage. Should you want somewhere to store your cartridges or paper, this could save you room elsewhere.
There’s no door, though, and we suspect few office workers will want to sully the HP’s sleek black casing by stuffing it with untidy consumables or paper packs.
In truth, there’s no getting away from the fact that a printer with such technology will demand extra space - the HP has a smaller footprint than the even more sizeable Lomond EvoJet 2, although it is taller.
The HP's main input tray takes 500 sheets, but there’s also a multipurpose tray that takes an additional 50 sheets. Should you need more, you can bolt on an optional 500-sheet tray for an extra £160.
Inkjets aren’t traditionally known for their vast paper handling capabilities, but a potential 1050 sheets should be enough for all but the largest workloads.
The large 4.3in touch-sensitive control panel is a delight to use, with gorgeous graphics and a simple but logical layout. From here you can access the normal library of HP print apps (with a suitable wireless connection), and you can also get access to mobile devices and the cloud.
A USB port allows you to access flash drives, although there’s no provision for memory cards. The printer also has features aimed specifically at businesses, with strong authentication methods.
The extensive support for remote access allows network administrators to get quick access to the printer using just a web browser. The control panel can also be locked, and some features of the printer temporarily disabled in order to restrict access from mobile devices or control colour features. Ethernet is 10/100 standard and this can be upgraded to gigabit.
HP claims that this printer can produce up to 70 pages per minute of text. We doubt this, but in the lowest General Office setting it shouldn’t be far off over large workloads.
It took just 14 seconds to run through our 10-page document, giving it a real-world figure of 42.9ppm. However, five seconds of that was the warm-up procedure. Normally, we’d simply be congratulating the printer for getting to its first page so quickly. In this case, though, it's more important to note that the printing is so fast that even that small amount of time makes up over a third of the total print time.
Assuming it churns out additional pages at the rate of 10 sheets every 9 seconds, we estimate print speeds could get towards the mid sixties on large print jobs.
The print quality at this level is very good for an inkjet, although the text itself has a slightly grey tinge.
There is another fast mode, Professional, which churns out pages at the rate of 30ppm – getting towards 40ppm if you remove the similarly short warm-up process.
The figures are very clean in this mode, although again, the text stops just short of being true black. It is very close though and, in truth, we doubt few will have qualms concerning the HP’s print quality.
It’s worth bearing in mind though that you’re getting close to laser quality, but not quite laser quality. There is a very slow (6ppm) Professional mode as well. The characters here are pristine although, again, the tint remains ever so slightly grey.
The HP has Auto duplexing, and in the fastest mode, this sees the speed dropping from 42.9 to 23ppm. This remains an impressive figure, and becomes even more so when you consider that around 11 seconds of the 26 second job were taken up with the printer warming up.
Once the printer is turning out sheets, it effectively works at around 40ppm, and will produce soaring speeds over large print jobs.
Graphics were considerably slower, with the fastest two modes generating sheets at the rate of 15.8ppm and 10.3ppm respectively, and dropping to 6.2ppm in the Presentation mode. The warmup times are longer here, due to the greater detail of the print-jobs. Nonetheless, first print times weren't excessive even with substantial image files. The results are full of colour, even if there's a dark cast to the palette.
Feed the HP with photographic paper, and the resulting prints were excellent, and the X551dw eclipses most lasers (and also the Lomond) in this area.
The consumables are very easy to change. The front-mounted compartment is ideally placed for comfortable access, and you simply slide out the cartridges and replace them with new ones.
Black and colour costs run at 1p and 4.3p a page respectively. Indeed, before rounding up, the text figure dips under the 1p a page mark, and you can shave even more pounds off the cost of the high capacity cartridges by hunting around online. However, these running costs (particularly for text) are sensational.
The HP makes some proud claims, and it more than satisfies the majority of them. Very cheap to run, and with a string of strong features and good paper handling, it works exceedingly well. Speed is searing too, outpacing many a laser printer. The text quality isn't quite as dark as we'd like it in order to place it on a par with good laser models. We don't like the tacky installation routine, which (provided you pick the default option) loads your machine with uninvited visitors like the Bing Toolbar. In most respects, though, this is a sensational printer.