Last June, at a press conference during Internet Week in New York, Hewlett-Packard announced that henceforth, every new HP printer would feature Internet connectivity and have its own e-mail address. The goal of this innovation is to allow users to print from smartphones, tablets and other devices, without having to install driver software. The first such models were a series of Photosmart e-All-in-One devices.
The top model in the series is the eStation C510a ($400), and it's a beauty. The most striking feature of the C510a is the detachable seven-inch touchscreen (HP calls it a "Zeen"), which you can use to check the news and weather, run small apps that let you print without a computer, browse the Web, check your Facebook status, read and send e-mail, and of course copy or fax. The C510a has built-in Wi-Fi networking. When the touchscreen is detached, it communicates with the printer and Internet wirelessly.
The C510a uses four separate ink cartridges (photo black, magenta, cyan, yellow) to print graphics and photos; there's also a pigment black cartridge for text. The main paper tray can hold 120 sheets of letter-size paper, while the secondary tray can hold 20 sheets of photo paper up to 5x7 inches. A duplex adapter for printing documents (but not photos) on both sides is built-in.
I found the setup process very easy, and I think just about anyone would. When you open the box, the first thing you see is a small getting-started poster that covers the basics of unpacking and setup, then directs you to use the touchscreen to complete the process. Instructions on the touchscreen guide you through choosing a language, connecting the eStation to your home network, installing ink print cartridges and producing a test print. At the end of the process, the screen directs you to install the supplied software on your PC or Mac, and the printout advises you to go online to set up e-printing capabilities.
At HP's ePrintCenter Website, you can activate e-mail printing, and create an Allowed Senders List to control the people who can send print jobs to the eStation. If you neglect this step, it's unlikely that you'll be buried in an avalanche of printed spam, because the default e-mail addresses are quite convoluted (the one on my test sample was firstname.lastname@example.org). You can change the e-mail address to something more memorable (e.g. email@example.com), in which case it might be advisable to create an Allowed Senders List.
Print That Message
After that, you can print from any device with e-mail support, as long as it's connected to the Internet. When it receives a print job, the eStation prints the message, along with supported attachments (these include MS Office documents, PDFs and JPEG photos). In my tests, the feature worked like a charm.
I sent a message with an attached MS Word document from my BlackBerry Torch to the C510. After about three minutes, the unit dutifully produced both the message and document. Next, I e-mailed a JPEG photo from my MacBook Pro. A couple of minutes later, the printer produced the message. Where's the pic, I wondered. No worries; after another minute or so, the C510 presented me with a beautiful 4x6-inch borderless glossy using paper that was loaded into the photo-paper tray. Cool! The eStation knew what paper to use for the job at hand. And I didn't have to install any software on my BlackBerry or Mac to make this happen.
At HP's eprint site, you can also browse apps to upload to your e-All-in-One. These cover a large range of applications, from children's colouring pages to business forms to Barnes & Noble e-books (which worked from my Canadian location). You can also download apps from the C510's touchscreen.
Press the Home button at the top of the touchscreen (it's a hard button, not a menu item on the touchscreen), and you see the default page. You navigate through pages and menus using simple swiping and tapping gestures. If you don't like the order or way in which apps are presented, you can rearrange them to your liking. You can hold the touchscreen horizontally or vertically, and the presentation adjusts accordingly.
Depending on how you set up apps, the home screen could show a local weather forecast and news headlines on the home page, so you could get a quick update on what's happening outside your door without opening a window or firing up your PC, plus a series of widgets for other apps at the bottom, and further apps on subsequent pages.
The apps are customizable, with limitations. For example, it's easy to set your preferred location in the Yahoo! weather app (Canadian cities are supported); but I could not find a way to change the temperature scale from Fahrenheit to Celsius. Naturally, you can print any page you're looking at. I printed several news stories, and they were all perfectly formatted.
I downloaded Microsoft's Bing Maps app from the ePrintCenter. Enter your starting point and destination (both can be stored in memory) using an onscreen keyboard, and Bing Maps calculates a route for you. You can print text directions and a map (or just your choice of one of these) at the touch of a button; there's even an option for using both-sides-printing. Again, the app worked flawlessly.
Essentially, the eStation is a computer joined to an all-in-one, and so much of the e-printing experience will depend on the apps you're using. HP says it's working with partners in Canada to develop local printing apps. All this is good news, because it means the utility of this device will grow with time.
Most of the time, people will want to use the eStation C510 for core printing, scanning and copying functions. For home users, it's an eminently capable machine. Document printing is very fast, and text is dark and crisp. Glossy photos look detailed and vibrant. Even if the C510 doesn't render subtle gradations of tone and colour quite as well as a top-grade six- or eight-colour printer, it produces photo output that will delight most families.
To scan, the touchscreen directs you to use HP Activity Center software on your computer. There, you specify whether you're scanning a picture and document, and the destination directory for the scan, and the software does the rest. The software worked well and simply for me.
The copy function is really cool. When you start a copy, the eStation scans the document on the platen, and presents a preview on the touchscreen. That lets you make adjustments to brightness before you waste paper. There's also an option for both-sides-copying. You copy the first page, then the machine directs you to load the next page, after which it flips the paper around and makes a copy on the reverse side. The only downside you can see the reverse side of the paper through copies with lots of dark tones.
The bottom line: if you're looking for a capable all-in-one device with leading-edge Web-printing functions, I don't think you can do better than the eStation C510.