By Harry McCracken | Monday, September 20, 2010 at 1:56 am
Many things have changed about printers over the past fifteen years or so. One that hasn’t is the basic form factors. Both inkjets and lasers may have gotten slicker, sleeker, and more space-efficient, but most of the change has been evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
Today, however, HP is announcing a bunch of new printers and all-in-ones–and three of them are strikingly new, in three strikingly different ways. I was recently briefed by the company and saw the new models in person.
The most newsworthy newcomer is the $399 Photosmart eStation, the new top-of-the-line all-in-one in HP’s Photosmart line. For the most part, it’s recognizable as a Photosmart, but it sports the biggest, fanciest control panel you’ve ever seen on a personal printer–a 7-inch touchscreen that provides access to the Web-connected printing apps that HP has been rolling out since last year.
The roomy screen doubles as a digital photoframe. But as rumored, the the most interesting thing about it is that it ain’t just a printer control panel: You can pull it off the printer and use it as a tablet. Here’s a crude little video I shot of that happening:
(If you grab the tablet and lounge with it on the sofa, the eStation is still usable by other members of the family–it’s got basic built-in buttons for all functions except faxing.)
The eStation’s tablet runs Android; that, coupled with the 7-inch display, makes it feel a bit like a distant cousin of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. HP, wisely, isn’t pitching it as an iPad killer, or even a direct iPad rival. Instead, it says that the tablet is mostly meant for use around the house, and mostly about the printing-related apps it packs. It also does Web browsing, e-mail, and music and video features, and it packs an e-reader app that’s powered by Barnes & Noble’s electronic bookstore. But it doesn’t have access to third-party apps from the Android Market, and its battery life–four to six hours on a charge–is relatively brief.
HP presumably started designing the Android-powered eStation before it agreed to acquire Palm in April, thereby getting itself an in-house mobile operating system, WebOS. The company has already said it intends to put WebOS on printers. When I asked HP executives whether the eStation hints at what a WebOS printer might look like, they understandably tap-danced around the question rather than addressing it directly. But they did acknowledge that it demonstrates some of the interesting things that become possible when you put a full-blown OS on a printer.
Interesting new HP printer #2 is the Envy 100–which borrows its moniker from HP’s Envy line of laptops. It’s an all-in-one that prints and scans, but if it weren’t for the color touchscreen you might mistake it for a largish 1980s-era VCR.
Where does the paper come out? Well, it’s easier to show that than to explain it.
HP executives told me that the idea behind the Envy’s consumer-electronics-like aesthetics and low-profile case is to create a printer that looks good and works good almost everywhere in the home, since many people are no longer setting up a specific area as a home office. I’d never heard that trend articulated by anyone, but it makes sense to me: When I’m at home, I work anywhere and everywhere around the house, and about the last vestige of a dedicated “home office” is my HP Officjet Pro printer.
Interesting HP printer #3 isn’t anything as radical as the eStation or the Envy, but it’s still pretty clever. It’s the LaserJet Pro CP1025NW, a $229 color laser which HP says is the world’s smallest. At 15.7″ by 15.7″ by 8.8″, it is, indeed, remarkably petite for a color laser–if you’ve got room for a printer at all, you’ve got enough space for this one.
On the outside, the CP1025NW looks like a garden-variety color laser, only smaller. It’s the insides that are inventive: HP downsized the printer by putting its toner cartridges on a carousel. You only get access to one at a time, and cycle through them until the one you want to replace glides into view.
These three models are only part of a major rollout of HP inkjets and lasers for home and business use. The other big news is that all the new models will support ePrint, the new HP technology that permits driverless printing from phones, tablets, and any other device that can send e-mail attachments. (ePrint-enabled models are the first printers that will work with Apple’s new AirPrint printing from iPads and iPhones; some of the new HP models will ship without the technology, and get it via a software update later this year.)
Some of the new HPs also support the company’s Web-enabled printing applications, which let the printer grab content from the Web directly, without a PC being involved in the process. Until now, all the apps have had consumers in mind–for instance, it’s introducing one that prints out educational materials featuring Sesame Street characters. But now that HP is adding color touchscreens and app capability to its business printers, it’s also introducing productivity-oriented apps. One new one gives you access to QuickBooks records; another lets you print Google Docs documents directly from the printer.