HP PhotoSmart 1218 printer

PC World.com (US)

Multipurpose printers are like most soap opera actors: They can try their hand at any role, but they aren’t likely to win Oscars for their performance. That holds true for the HP PhotoSmart 1218 printer, which Hewlett-Packard Co. asserts can do double duty as a photo and document printer, for the reasonable price of $499. We found that, while the PhotoSmart 1218 did not perform any single task exceptionally well, it’s pretty good at most.

The sleek 2400-dpi printer can be attached to a PC by either the Universal Serial Bus port or the parallel port, which are both on the rear of the printer. Notebooks and handhelds equipped with an infrared port can connect through the infrared sensor on the printer’s front, with the included software driver.

Installation was trouble-free. HP ships the printer with a driver CD, PhotoSmart imaging software, and utilities required for printing from a notebook to the infrared port. The paper tray holds up to 100 sheets of standard paper and 20 or so sheets of thicker photo paper. At the same time, the tray can hold (in a separate, inset paper tray) 4-by-5-inch photo paper that you can select by simply pushing a lever on the paper feeder tray.

In our informal tests, a typical page of text in highest-quality mode took around 1 minute, 10 seconds to print, while a full-page color photo took just under 4 minutes to print in photo mode. The text quality was good, with the slight amount of blurring at the edge of letters that is typical of ink jets. Photo image quality was also pretty good, especially on the specialist HP Premium Plus Photo paper. HP offers several different types of photo papers, including a very nice matte photo paper that has much the same feel as the paper used in photo labs.

The HP PhotoSmart 1218 is significantly cheaper than more expensive dedicated photo printers, and it is just as good as other similarly priced printers that we have seen. However, the photo prints were not as good as those from a dedicated dye-sublimation photo printer such as the $999 Olympus P-400. Far more dithering (the pattern of ink dots that the printer uses to create the image) was apparent in this printer’s output than it was in output from more expensive models such as the Epson Stylus Photo 2000P, especially in subtle gradients and skin tones.

Photo Smarts

The PhotoSmart 1218 does sport some nice features. For example, a sensor automatically detects the paper type, so you don’t have to set it manually in the printer driver. If you put in 8-by-10-inch photo paper, the printer will automatically print the document in photo mode. HP warns that this feature may not always work with other manufacturers’ papers, but we didn’t encounter any problems when we used a variety of types.

In addition, an optional $79 adapter allows you to print on both sides of a piece of paper in a single print session.

For digital-photography enthusiasts, HP provides CompactFlash and SmartMedia slots in the printer’s front so that you can print images directly from either card. One minor annoyance is that the two-line LCD screen doesn’t allow you to preview the photos. But that’s a minor point, as you can easily generate a thumbnail index page of every photo on a SmartMedia or CompactFlash card and then pick the photos to print from that contact sheet. The printer’s front panel has controls for selecting and printing images from the digital media cards; it also allows you to manually set operations such as printing test pages, selecting paper type, and adjusting contrast.

The HP PhotoSmart isn’t an outstanding printer. It’s a jack of all trades, master of none. However, its ability to handle a wide variety of printing tasks will appeal to many users who don’t want or need a specialist printer, and it did a good job of handling pretty much any task we threw at it.

Prices listed are in US currency.