For less than the price of a Windows upgrade or a generous round of drinks, you can pick up the compact, competent, fairly fast HP Deskjet D1660 printer. It sits firmly in the middle of the road in almost every respect but one: its price. At around £30, it's a steal and, for once, it's not quite a case of getting what you pay for.
The D1660 is tiny, and, even five years ago, it would've been described as 'no-frills'. The paper tray folds away to minimise its footprint, making it ideal for use in a small flat or studio. Paper is loaded at the front and printed pages are delivered through the same slot, albeit higher up, landing on your unprinted sheets.
It has just two cartridges -- one black and one tri-colour -- and ships with 'introductory' cartridges. 'Introductory' means they're rated for 80 pages of output and, sure enough, after 32 pages, the driver told us that the new black cartridge was running low. It ran dry after a little over 90 pages. This is common practice, but it's far from environmentally friendly, and it lands you with an ink bill fairly soon after buying the printer itself.
The D1660 does have some redeeming features, though. 'Normal' quality text on photocopy paper is excellent, with well-defined characters and sharp edges. Knock it up to 'best' quality and those same characters are a rich, deep black and still sharp in all the right places. Draft quality is good but not excellent, with some very minor misalignment as the head passes backwards and forwards, and slight feathering on photocopy paper.
In draft mode, the D1660 is certainly fast, completing 10 pages in 59 seconds, but it's also noisy. The print head was thrown around so quickly that the printer rocked on our desk. At the normal and best settings, the D1660 completed the same test in 2 minutes and 7 seconds, and 7 minutes and 25 seconds respectively, both of which are relatively slow times.
Business graphics were handled well at the normal and best settings, which is encouraging for a printer best used at home, as it makes it a viable choice for school assignments. White text on a black background is clear down to four points in both serif and sans-serif fonts, and to two points when printing black text on a white background.
The D1660 performed flawlessly in our greyscale test, in which it had to differentiate between 21 tones that go from white to black with just 5 per cent difference between each one. It had no trouble reproducing black text on a coloured background, with no evidence of bleeding from the black into the colours. At the draft setting, though, it was a different story, with some white banding evident in areas of both solid colour and solid black, and differentiation between the darkest tones of our greyscale test being lost between 90 per cent and pure black. This mode should only be used for proofreading, and not for creating handouts.
We weren't expecting great performance in our photo-printing tests on account of the fact that the D1660 sports only four colours, including black, while printers optimised for photos usually have at least two extra tones. With this in mind, the results were fair. Using dedicated photo paper, transitions between similar tones were smooth, with no evidence of stepping or banding, and bright tones were accurately reproduced. Poorer performance with shadows (it was particularly evident with clear night skies) meant the photos lacked contrast, and the results were flat and slightly lifeless when directly compared to more expensive rivals' output. This is a shame as, in other respects, the quality was excellent, and the half-tone was fine enough to ensure there was little grain and no obvious spotting.
If you're pushed for space and most of your printing involves text, spreadsheets and simple graphics, the low-tech HP Deskjet D1660 will make a good choice. But, if you want to print photos for framing, you should spend more money and land yourself a printer with additional inks at its disposal.
Edited by Charles Kloet