Inexpensive, good print quality, but it has issues

Sep 26, 2004 (Updated Nov 3, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Inexpensive Great quality, black and colour, An HP printer COLOUR!

Cons:SMART CHIP TECHNOLOGY that kills cartridges when they're "empty", Expensive toners, HUGE

The Bottom Line: If you're okay with its shortcomings, go ahead, but I don't think HP's cheapest colour laser is ready for the value-conscious consumer quite yet.

The first thing I thought when I saw this printer: Good god, Fisher Price now designs printers for HP!

This machine is a bit of a monster to get home from the store, especially for those of us who aren't used to having printers the size of small fridges sitting on our desks. But it's an HP, it's cheap, and good golly, it's a colour laser printer for under 400$ (if you're patient, you might get a great deal with a sale rebate combo). And let's be honest; colour makes everything you print 10 times more interesting to look at.

It's not difficult to set-up, but you should do so carefully, since all the consumables, the four toner cartridges and the massive imaging drum (my buddy nicknamed it the "uranium core") are sensitive to light and can't be touched in certain places. All you need to do is put the printer onto a flat, sturdy surface, plug it in, open the cover, shove the drum into place, and load one cartridge at a time, closing the cover and pressing the rotate button in between each cartridge. Yes, you have to rotate the cartridges to load them all - it is a by-product of this printer's compact (for a color laser) design. When you're done, you're sitting in a pile of orange plastic toner protectors and plastic bags, but all that's left to do is to pop the CD into your computer, plug in the printer, install the software, reboot, and your printer is ready to use.

This printer does NOT INCLUDE a printer cable - make sure you have one before you try to set the printer up.

Now, a few nuances about this printer:

- It takes 45 seconds to warm up when you turn it on. The warm-up is fairly noisy, particularly the clunking sound of the cartridge carousel rotating
- After you click "print" with your mouse, it takes about 20 seconds for the first black page to print, 30 seconds for the first colour page. Some people may be okay with this, but it gets annoying if your print jobs are small and you're impatient
- The printer rotates its carousel every 12 hours, beginning after the last time you printed. So if you print at 3 in the afternoon, and don't print any more for the rest of the day, the printer will rotate the cartridge carousel at 3 in the morning. As I mentioned before, the sound is a heavy clunking sound, and you might think twice about leaving this printer on when you're sleeping (or even having it in the bedroom in the first place)
- The printer does a colour calibration 5 minutes after being turned on, and every 12 hours thereafter, unless you change this setting in HP's LaserJet Toolbox (more about this later). Regardless of whether you let the printer do colour calibration, the printer will rotate its carousel every 12 hours, and this setting cannot be changed
- this printer does NOT have a paper tray, instead, the front of the printer drops down and you slide out a paper rest; you place up to 125 sheets of paper onto this... so in essence, every time you print you have to drop down the front panel and stick in paper, or, leave your printer permanently in that position, loaded ready with paper (this looks really ugly, and everyone asks why such a massive printer can't hold paper inside it and needs it hanging out the front like that)

You be the judge if this is good value.

Printing quality is superb. Black and white prints look like a professional laser printer made them, but even better; because it's a colour laser printer, it uses chemical toner (normal laser printer toner consists of charged plastic bits and dye), which appears shiny on the page. I rather like this look.

Colour printing is very solid and rich, but you can see banding if you look closely. Every few millimetres is a slightly discoloured band that extends from one edge of the paper to the other, and sometimes I find it very annoying. It's not noticeable at a distance, but anyone with a discerning eye can see it.

You may think that the standard 64MB of memory this printer has will be adequate, but think again. To print a 2MB Powerpoint file, your computer may have to send over 100MB of data to the printer! (especially if it has a lot of pictures and complex graphics), and when this happens, the printer will print one page, hang for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds, then print another page... if you try to print a single page file that is over 50MB, you may just get an error message saying the printer can't do it, because only 48MB is actually available for your use (the printer's needs 16MB for itself even when it's not printing), and if any one page exceeds this in size, the printer is not going to be able to print it. You can install up to an additional 128MB of RAM, for a total of 192MB (I really recommend it); shop around, because you can buy that much RAM for under 50$, while HP will charge you 400$ for the same thing.

- HP uses "smart-chip" technology on this printer's cartridges. The chips monitor the amount of toner that you've been using, according to the manual, letting you know in advance when you're about to run out of toner. In practice, these smart chips act like kill chips. Let me explain: Say you print a black-and-white page with just one sentence on the whole page. The black toner cartridge is rated at 5000 pages; every page you print, the smart chip deducts one page from the cartridge, so when you check on your toners in HP's LaserJet Toolbox, it shows your black cartridge as have 4999 pages left. Even if you only printed one line on that page, you have used up one page of the cartridge's life!

It gets worse from here. Sometimes, you thought you printed just a black page, but the printer clunks four times after you click print, as if it were printing a colour page, even though you THOUGHT you were printing a black page. This happens with PDF files a lot of the time, when unintentionally the computer thinks the page has colour on it, and tells the printer it's a colour page even though it isn't. When this happens, one page is deducted from EACH of your toners, decreasing their life.

The imaging drum is rated at 20000 pages, each of the three colour toners (cyan, yellow and magenta) is rated at 2000, and the black toner is rated at 5000 pages. But this printer is a four-step printer, that is, when you print colour, the cartridge carousel rotates so as to apply each toner to the imaging drum. Thus, one colour pages counts for 4 pages of your imaging drum's life, so if you printed only colour pages, the imaging drum would only last 5000 pages. This is also why the printer prints colour so slow - it has to rotate the big, bulky cartridge carousel a full turn, clunking as it stops at each cartridge.

When a cartridge's smart chip says that you have used up all the pages that the cartridge or the imaging drum is rated for, the printer STOPS PRINTING, i.e. even if the drum is still useable or there might still be a little bit of toner left in a cartridge, the printer won't keep printing until you replace the cartridge that's empty or the drum, if it says it needs replacing. Say you printed 5000 pages with just one line of text on each of them; the black toner cartridge might still have 90% of its toner, but the printer thinks it's empty, and you MUST replace it or it won't continue printing. And, if a colour cartridge runs dry, you must replace it, or the printer won't even continue to print in black and white.

If you ask me, HP's smart-chip technology is a bit insidious. To check how much toner you have left, you must open the HP LaserJet Toolbox, which is a little icon in your system tray beside the clock. It's a web-based program, programmed using Java (sometimes it doesn't work and crashes my computer), and in this program you can see exactly how many pages you have printed, the % of each toner left and the % of drum life left, and you can also change some of your printer's settings in the Toolbox, such as how often it does colour calibration.

Now, HP prices the Colour Laserjet 2550 a little strangely. The 2550L is 499$, but the 2550Ln, which has a LAN port that can be hooked up directly to a network, comes with 4000-page colour cartridges (twice the colour toner), and only costs 599$ The 2550n, which has the LAN port, a 250-sheet paper tray and 4000-page color cartridges is only 699$, the best deal of them all, considering that a 250-sheet paper tray costs over 100$ to buy separately. I strongly recommend both the paper tray (so you don't have paper sticking out the front all the time) and the network LAN port - sending large files to the printer via USB is incredibly slow, but it's 10 times faster through the LAN.

Personally, the lack of a paper tray and the kill chips on the toners make me dislike this printer after a while. I printer a few pages with hardly any colour on them and the Toolbox says I only have 96% color toner left. Every time you print a colour page, all the toners lose 1 page of life, including the black toner, even if not all the toners were actually used to print the page. I'm not happy with this, as I think HP is making me flush money down the toilet. I don't like to pay for toner cartridges that I can't use to the fullest. Also, you can't refill your cartridges because your printer will read the cartridge's smart chip and say it's still empty, but you can buy non-HP cartridges (the manual tells you that you can use them, but you won't be able to check how much toner is left... big loss) if you can manage to find anyone who makes them.

For me, this printer just doesn't cut it; the lack of a paper tray and the stupid smart-chip system has turned me off. I also don't like its noise, or the relatively slow first-page-out speed. One day, I did some manual duplexing (printing on both sides manually), only to find that the second time you feed the page through, the printer's pick-up roller smudges the toner on the already printed side... what a riot. I returned it and won't consider buying another colour laser from HP until they clean up their act.

And one more thing - the outward look of this printer may be "stylish" in some people's eyes, but it's horrendously impractical. It's large enough that sometimes you want to set things on top of it, but it's curved, so you can't put anything on it without it sliding right off. Not only has it failed me as a printer, but it has no functionality whatsoever as a piece of furniture.

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