HP's indulged in some bandwagon-jumping with the Photosmart Premium C309g. It's taken one of its multi-function printers and strapped what looks like an iPhone on the front. But, far from a phone, it's an 89mm (3.5-inch) 'TouchSmart' display that does away with the myriad buttons common to most all-in-one printers and makes the £180 C309g a cinch to set up.
The C309g could well be the simplest printer we've ever set up. Plug it in, switch it on, and it'll look for wireless networks. Pick the one you want from the list on the built-in display, use the soft keyboard to enter the relevant password, and you're ready to go. The same bright, colourful and high-resolution screen displays the level of remaining ink, controls the copier and lets you print a range of pre-defined forms, including Sudoku grids, music paper and monthly or weekly calendars.
If you have a Snapfish account for sharing and printing photos online, you can log in via the display to upload photos from the integrated card slots or print pictures from your online album. It's a great bragging point and, once the photos have loaded, they print quickly enough, although scrolling through albums is slow and frustrating.
The downside of the smart display is the printer's bland appearance. There's just one button on the front -- for power -- lost in a sea of dark brown plastic. We also found that the C309g didn't always work happily with our PC. We asked it to scan to the computer, and it told us to 'Try starting scan from computer'. We did this, courtesy of the excellent driver, which makes it easy to scan multi-page documents into a single file and manipulate the results without using third-party apps. The editing tools are minimal, but they do let you crop, correct colours and sharpen the results, so they cover the major bases.
In general, the C309g's software bundle is pretty good (as you'd hope, considering how long it takes to install), and we were particularly impressed by the linked comparison-shopping engine that pulls in the best prices for ink supplies from a range of retailers, including Dabs and Ebuyer.
Draft-quality black text was handled well on photocopy paper, with only slight feathering. Ten pages at this setting were printed in 46 seconds, with a 1-second spool and a 13-second print time for the first page. This is good, but not especially fast, which makes the attendant noise and desk-shaking feel like overkill. Epson's Stylus Photo PX710W and Stylus SX610FW were both faster in this test, but neither machine's results were as good as those of the C309g.
Upping the quality to 'normal' got rid of the feathering but increased the job time to a still acceptable 1 minute and 16 seconds. The 'best' setting takes over four times as long -- 5 minutes and 52 seconds -- but, while the characters are darker, they're no better-formed, so we'd recommend sticking to the normal setting.
Business graphics were dealt with well, with strong, solid colours and white text on a black background clear and sharp down to eight points with serif text and four points with sans-serif text at both best and normal quality on office paper. At draft quality, the smallest you should expect to go before you see feathering is eight points in both cases. The C309g sailed through our greyscale test at all quality settings, cleanly picking out each tone in a scale of 21 steps, going from white to black with just 5 per cent difference in tone between each.
The C309g proved no less proficient with photos. There are five inks under the hood -- the standard cyan, magenta, yellow and black, and an extra, photo-strength black for more subtle shading. Together, these deliver super-sharp results, with faithful colours and excellent definition in shadow areas. The only thing that let the C309g's photos down slightly was that very dense black areas, such as night skies, had a rather powdery appearance when compared to those of the PX710W.
The HP Photosmart Premium C309g could easily have smacked of desperation. But, although HP has seemingly thrown in every feature it could think of, the C309g remains a well-rounded device, with great performance and a truly useful touchscreen display. It's not a game-changer, and it's not unique -- Lexmark has gone one step further by writing downloadable apps for its touchscreen printer's display -- but it greatly simplifies and enhances the printing experience.
Edited by Charles Kloet