HP 375 photo printer

It is no secret that HP is a world-beater when it comes to corporate and SME laser printers, but just how good is it at making consumer lines, and in this case, inkjet photo printers?

We got our hands on the HP Photosmart 375 printer and HP Photo Value Pack for three-ink-capable printers. This pack included the HP 700 Tri-Colour Inkjet Print Cartridge that supports HP's latest Inks, known as Vivera, and 125 sheets of the HP Premium Plus Photo Paper (4x6in).

With the HP Photo Value Pack ($62.95), coupled with its HP 375 ($399), the company is seeking to dispel a few myths about home printing. Firstly, that is difficult to do; secondly, that quality is not good and, finally, that it is expensive.

On the first point, the printer is a cinch to operate. It works straight out of the box and does not need to be connected to your PC in order to work. When a print job is done, it takes approximately 90 seconds for the page to spit out. Be careful not to handle the paper immediately as takes a further minute or two for the ink on the page to dry -- this depends on the temperature conditions of your environment.

On the main console, you have buttons allowing to you view the menu, delete unwanted images, print, cancel requests, view layout (one, two or four per page) and zoom in and out of a photos. When in the Menu function, you can navigate by the control arrows on the right hand side of the console. However, you need to press firmly down to get the printer to respond to your requests as it is not overly sensitive to touch.

The Menu is quite limited, but has all the necessary requirements to obtain decent shots such as brightness and colour saturation. The red eye reduction is a great feature which works quite well in masking, rather than removing them from your printed image. But be warned that if there are a lot of faces with red eyes in the image selected for printing it can take up to 30 seconds for the printer to locate and then remove those red eyes -- so be patient.

The printer defaults to producing images with white borders. On top of that, it allows you to add frames to the images for added effect. The frames come in all colours with six different types -- some of which are not so serious. For example, one frame says "Happy Birthday", another displays party streamers or if you like your animals, there is a Hippo and a Tiger back-to-back. The less novel ones include a plain band of colour, stuff which looks like grass and another that resembles tree canopy. The set back is the frames reduce the size of the print as they are not done in proportion, they simply ink over whatever it is that fills the edge of the paper.

A feature is available that allows you to insert a date or time stamp on your image. Although having said info on the bottom right hand corner of your image is not exactly flattering to the final product. Someone out there might find it useful.

As far as the quality component goes, the Photosmart 375 is not on the same level as what you would get from a professional development lab. If you look at the image from close up, you can notice the grains that make up the picture. But if you are not so picky, and are viewing the photo from 20cm and beyond, you cannot tell. All up, it really is impressive from something which you can carry easily with one hand, and weighs just over a kilogram.

However, to get the full benefits of the printer HP recommends using its own paper and inks. The Vivera 700 certainly has impressive colour saturation compared to its predecessor, the HP 95 ink. In addition, the company claims Vivera inks have archival qualities that make it fade resistant for over 100 years. A word of warning though, it is imperative to keep printed images free from moisture. Any drops of water for example and the ink will run. Once printed it is recommend you file them into photo albums with plastic sleeves for best preservation.

In terms of price, you would average about 50 cent per print. This is simply calculated by dividing 125 sheets of paper by the cost of the Value Pack. With the convenience of being able to print at home, or on the spot if you factor in the optional battery, this is quite a competitive price. Many development labs charge around a $1 a print, unless you print in bulk. The printer supports 4x6in paper and the most you can fit in the tray in any one time is about 20 sheets.

It is a bit of a let down that it is limited to only reading the JPEG image format, so that you need to covert GIFs, TIFFs and so forth before being able to print. On the plus side, it is fitted with an in-built card reader. The formats supported include CompactFlash Type I and II, MMC, SD, SmartMedia, Memory Sticks and xD-Picture Card. It also has USB connections to your PC allowing direct print from your PC, or camera if it is PictBridge compliant. It also has a Bluetooth connection.

A downside is that after prolonged use and constantly flicking though a crowded memory card, the printer can "seize" and require a reboot. We never quite figured why it would crash, but suspected the heat generated by the printer was causing the memory card (SD in our case) to stop working. HP recommends an operating temperature between 15-35 degrees.