HP Photosmart Pro B8550 review
HP's new, clinical-looking B8550 doesn't take up much more desk space than an A4 printer.
Much of the Photosmart Pro's compactness is the result of its paper-handing mechanism. Rather than use a rear paper feed, a cassette slots into the base of the printer. This pulls out in stages to accommodate A4 and A3+ pages as required. A postcard-sized photo paper feed then sits on top of this, the top of which also doubles as a paper collection tray.
It's a neat arrangement, but it has its drawbacks. The output tray is easy to lift with one hand, but that leaves just one hand free for paper loading, which is tricky when you've got a wad of A3 to load. The front-loading paper feed also gives a very tight paper path, and the B8550 isn't listed as being compatible with HP's range of speciality papers. You'll need to opt for one of the A3 Epsons if you want to print on anything other than matt or glossy photo paper. Still, it will happily print on HP's Advanced Photo paper and exhibited none of the paper feed problems we had with the Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One.
The B8550 isn't billed as a professional printer, and it's nice to see a colour screen and memory card slots for direct printing. Wireless interfaces are optional, though. Running costs are slightly higher than other printers here because of higher ink costs. Print speeds are average, with an A3 photo arriving in a shade under seven minutes.
The B8550 uses the same five-ink tank/four-colour print system as the All-in-One, and both photographic and text prints were identical in quality. Photos are vibrant and crammed with detail, with only slight graininess in areas that contain subtle gradations of tone. Of course, this is only visible when scrutinising photos close up, which no-one does in the real world. Text quality is also outstanding - easily on a par with Canon's Pixma iP4600 - which makes this an A3+ printer that can handle day-to-day prints, as well as large-format requirements.
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