The HP Photosmart 8230, a replacement for the Photosmart 8450, retains the 4,800 x 1,200dpi resolution, the long-life Vivera inks, and the relatively speedy printing of its predecessor but replaces the old print engine with a radically redesigned one. Rather than using the old tricolou ink-cartridge systems with their built-in printheads, HP has switched to an innovative reservoir system fed from six separate ink tanks.
Although it functions serviceably as a speedy text printer (especially with the optional duplexing attachment), the HP Photosmart 8230's real strength is as a personal photo lab. On the downside, the relatively large 5pl ink drops (some competing models such as the Canon PIXMA iP5000 squeeze out 1pl drops) can produce a visibly grainy texture that some users might find objectionable. And depending on the settings you use, you'll achieve printing speeds quite a bit slower than advertised.
At 447 x 385 x 160mm and almost 8.5kg, the HP Photosmart 8230 will dominate any desktop or printer stand where it resides. You'll need to keep about 15cm in front of the printer clear for the output tray, a 20-sheet 4 x 6 photo paper tray, and a main tray that holds up to 100 sheets of 3.5 x 5- to 8.5 x 14-inch stock. The back of the printer can snuggle up close to a wall or a partition, if you like; during testing, we didn't experience any paper jams that would have required opening the back cover.
Setup is speedy, involving little more than connecting the power cord, linking the printer to your computer through a USB 2.0 cable, and snapping in the five compact colour ink cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan and light magenta) and a larger-capacity black ink tank. Installing the HP Image Zone software and drivers takes another 10 minutes or so.
You can carry out an impressive array of functions from the printer itself. Flip up the LCD and insert a memory card into one of the slots on the front or connect a camera through the PictBridge port in the lower-right corner of the front panel, and the first shot appears on the screen. The HP Image Zone Transfer software will also pop up on your computer display and offer to copy the photos. You can scroll among all the images using left/right arrow keys and press a Select button to mark photos for printing. With zoom in/out buttons, you can enlarge a portion of the photo to as much as 5x, and a separate four-way cursor control pad with embedded Ok key moves the zoom box within the image.
Once you've marked your photos, pressing a Layout key cycles through arrangement choices of one to nine images per page. There's also a Rotate button to change the orientation of your shot, Print and Cancel Print buttons to start and stop the printing process, a Photo Tray key to toggle back and forth between the photo paper and main trays, and an Instant Share button that whisks your shots off via email.
Tapping the HP Photosmart 8230's Menu button reveals even more options. Print Options include proof sheets, video action prints, stickers, passport photos, and panoramas. Edit tools let you add frames or special effects such as sepia tones, as well as adjust brightness with a slider control. Other menu options let you view slide shows, print test pages, perform printer maintenance, set printer and Bluetooth preferences, or access a simple built-in help system for most printer functions. When working from a computer, the driver offers only a basic set of tools (although these include colour correction sliders), relying instead on the Image Zone software for more advanced editing and correction.
In some ways, using the HP Photosmart 8230 in standalone mode is more convenient than printing with it from a Windows or Macintosh computer. For example, you can print multipage bar-coded proof sheets on plain paper, mark selected images and layout choices with a pen, then feed it back into the printer, which scans the sheet and cranks out the requested prints. The same built-in scanner reads paper type and size from bar codes on the back surface of HP Advanced Photo Paper; because this paper has a porous coating rather than a glossy swellable polymer, it can offer faster drying times and improved water and smudge resistance. However, many people will object to the matte look of the new paper, and stick with the glossy options. In conjunction with the reformulated Vivera inks (CMYK, light cyan, and light magenta) when framed under glass, the prints can last as long as 40 to 50 years, according to Wilhelm Imaging Research.
Standalone printing is also the only way to access the printer's panorama feature, which allows creating superlong landscape pictures measuring as large as 8.5 x 24 inches. In addition to printing from a computer, the HP Photosmart 8230 supports PictBridge-compatible digital cameras or your choice of CompactFlash I/II, SD/MMC, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, and xD-Picture cards. With the optional HP bt300 Bluetooth wireless printer adapter, you can print from camera-phones, PDAs, and other Bluetooth-enabled gadgets. A big 2.5-inch LCD along with built-in preview and editing tools let you crop, zoom, brighten inky shadows, banish demon red-eyes, or print frames from video clips.
The HP Photosmart 8230 uses a new, innovative ink-feeding system that routes ink from the supply tanks to a reservoir, much like the continuous-feed tanks found on high-end, large-format inkjet printers (and sometimes retrofitted to consumer models with third-party kits). The system, unlike conventional drop-on-demand technology, allows the printer to recycle excess ink, including the ink wasted during head cleaning and alignment. It also reduces delays caused by pumping ink into the printhead between jobs.
As a result, the system allows the Photosmart 8230 to accurately gauge whether there is enough ink to complete the current print job, so it can pause for a refill between sheets rather than wasting paper or ink printing a partial page. One claimed advantage of this system is increased page yield from a given ink tank over previous and competing models.
The factory-installed printhead has 650 nozzles per colour -- 3,900 in all -- that are automatically calibrated during initial setup. Because the ink tanks and the printhead are separate components, HP claims that calibration won't be needed again for the life of the printer. More nozzles generally translates to faster print speeds, and the 8250 is certainly sprier than its predecessors. But as with the ink costs, these numbers represent the default driver settings for a photo, which produce mediocre prints.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Although our test prints were generally very good, they were marred by a grainy appearance that was clearly visible even without magnification. The effect, which we attributed to the relatively large ink droplets used by the Photosmart 8230, was most noticeable in broad areas of even colour, such as sky. In addition, we saw some stairstepping in diagonal lines, particularly within text. However, the colours were good, with realistic flesh tones and excellent saturation but a slight blue cast on some prints. There was lots of detail in highlights and shadows, and we saw little banding.
HP's support for the Photosmart 8230 includes a one-year limited hardware warranty and one year of technical phone support. Questions can be answered at HP's Web site, which includes an online live chat with a technician, e-mail support, a searchable knowledge base, software and driver downloads, and tips for getting the most out of your printer.