Hands-On: Setting up my new printer with Linux (and Windows)

Time to replace my four year old mobile printer, here's my take on the HP Officejet 150

My four-and-a-half-year-old HP H470b mobile bluetooth printer gave up the ghost recently. 

After poking around inside of it for long enough to convince myself that it wasn't going to be easily revived, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to get a new one.

As it happens, I had just recently purchased a couple of double-packs of ink cartridges for it, and I would prefer not to have to toss/donate/auction those if possible: that meant looking for another the printer which could use them.

HP has long since discontinued that particular printer, so I had to find a new printer which used the same cartridges.

The current mobile printer line offered by HP is the Officejet 100 (printer) and 150 (all-in-one), and much to my surprise it seemed that they can use the same ink cartridges as the H470 (they are not the "recommended" cartridges listed on the printer data sheet, but when I checked the "compatible products" list for the ink cartridges, the H470 and 100/150 were all listed), so I picked up the Officejet 150.

The printer specifications of both models are identical — resolution maximum 600x600 dpi black and 4800x1200 "optimised" colour, speed 5-22ppm black, 3.5-18ppm colour.  They both have a 50-sheet paper tray, both include a Lithium-ion battery and claim to be able to print 500 pages on battery power — I'll believe that one when I see it.

Officejet 150
HP Officejet 150 Back View

Connectivity/compatibility is close, but not identical. Both have USB (2.0), Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) and PictBridge, but the 150 also has an SD/MMC memory card slot.

The important part of that connectivity to me is Bluetooth, because I will use this printer the same way that I used the H470, first at home to print from whatever laptop or netbook I might be using without having to fumble with cables, set up a print server or go back upstairs to retrieve the printer output, and also when traveling on business or holiday, when I don't want to have to remember to take along, dig out and connect the right cables. 

The H470 has served me very well in this way for the past four years, and I fully expect that the new 150 will continue just as well. If anything, I hope that this works even better with the 150, because the Bluetooth receiver is integrated in the printer, rather than being an add-on USB dongle as it was on the H470.

What's better with the Officejet 150, beyond the H470 and 100, is the scan/copy capability. This is something that I used to have with my Canon BJC 50/70 printers, because I also had the "scanner head" that could be installed instead of the normal print heads. I'm pleased to have this capability again, because it's something that I used fairly often, especially when traveling on business. 

In fact, it's even a bit easier now, because I don't have to remember to take the scan head along, and I can copy with a single button on the printer.

Officejet 150
HP Officejet 150 Panel View

 One other significant new feature on the Officejet 150 is a 6cm colour touchscreen, which can be used to view, select and print pictures from SD/MMC cards. I haven't used this kind of function much until now, but I can easily imagine that it will be useful because since the Swiss Post completely screwed up the "SwissPostCard" web site and service, my partner has taken to printing our own pictures and sending them as postcards. Being able to do this reasonably easily while we are still travling could be a nice touch.

Okay, unpacking and setup of the new printer: first, HP definitely wins the award for "The Largest Amount of Tape and Plastic Foil" in a single package. I've never seen so much, especially on such as small printer. It is certainly securely packed and protected.

Continuing setup, I put the included ink cartridges aside, and installed the 338 (black) and 343 (colour) cartridges I had on hand. So far so good, they fit and locked in place normally. I powered on the printer, and it went through the normal initialization tests, with no complaints or warnings. The colour touchscreen prompted me to select a language and a location (I wonder why the printer wants to know the location?)

 Anyway, the screen is quite small and the touch function isn't a really good match for my fingers, but I managed to get it done. At this point I also happened to look at the Setup menu, and noticed that Bluetooth is not enabled by default.  One touch to turn it on, no big deal, but I'm just thinking how much trouble that would have been if I hadn't noticed it, and later when I tried to configure it on the laptops it didn't show up.

Add Printers
Add Printer Dialog

Next comes the first real test — grab a laptop and see how (and whether) the Officejet 150 works with Linux. 

I happened to have my Lenovo T400 running Linux Mint Debian Edition on my desk. I went to the 'Printers' item in the menus and chose Add, which brought up the screen shown here, and within a few seconds the HP Officejet appeared at the top of the list — albeit with the name "HP 511L".  That is the actual HP model number of the unit.

Wow, that's pretty nice — I remember this from when I set up the H470, but it is still nice to see it all work so smoothly. I also remember that the key to this working is that the bluez-cups package has to be installed. That was not an issue in this case, because this is Linux Mint — so another example of how nice it can be to have the wide range of packages and utilities included in the base installation.

Officejet 150 Drivers

 I selected it from the list and clicked Forward, and the next step was the Printer Driver selection. First a list of all the major printer manufacturers, where I selected HP, then a long list of specific printer models, which I scrolled down until I found "OfficeJet 150 Mobile l511".  This will require that the appropriate driver package is installed (in this case it is hplip-hpijs), and this being Linux Mint that package is indeed already installed.

There are two drivers listed in this case, but as far as I can tell they are functionally equivalent, so I just took the first one. In the unlikely event that it doesn't work properly I'll come back and try the other.

By the way, if you are trying to add a printer on a Linux system, and you don't find it in the driver list, you always have the option of using a "Generic" Post Script or PCL driver. My old Lexmark E240 laser printer isn't in the driver lists, for example, but the generic PCL 5e and PostScript drivers work just fine on it.

Printer List
Configured Printers List

Once the correct driver has been selected, the printer shows up in the Print Settings list, as shown here, and in this case because it is the only printer defined it is also assigned as the default printer.  I then printed a test page, which came out on the OJ150 in beautiful colour.

Zowie, that was easy! I was probably lucky (and a bit smart from experience) that I chose Mint for the first setup, you shouldn't expect that it is quite this easy on every Linux system. If you have difficulty, though, you can always search the web for the specific combination of Linux distribution and printer model, and you are very likely to find a detailed description of setting it up.

Okay, if it was that easy to set up on Linux, it has to be at least that easy or even easier on Windows, right? I mean, this is what Windows apologists are constantly bashing Linux about, printers and other such hardware drivers are difficult.

The system my partner uses — a Samsung netbook with Windows 7 — was sitting there, so I tried it.

I went to Start / Devices and Printers / Add a printer / Bluetooth printer. That brought up a window which searched for a bluetooth printer, and eventually displayed the Officejet 150. I clicked Add, and that brought up the usual "Installing Hardware" window. However, after adding the physical device it went off searching for the driver, and failed to find it. 

Back to the box the printer came in, and there are two CDs included — one for Windows 7 and one for Windows 8. Really? Different drivers? Maybe it isn't really the driver itself that is different, but rather the user interface to it and/or the various application level programs, especially the scanning support.

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Just to make my morning complete, this was on a netbook so it didn't have a CD drive, I had to go dig up a USB drive to use.  Of course, I could probably have gone to the HP support web site, and searched until I found the driver package for the OJ150, then downloaded that and installed it rather than using the CD.  But geez, this is supposed to be easy, right?  Easy, as in trivial?  But by now I have spent more time trying to get this printer installed on Windows 7 than I did on Linux Mint, and I still haven't made any real progress!

Then connected the USB drive, put in the HP installation CD for Windows 7, and ran the installation program.  Which ran for a long time.  I mean, really a long time.  Lots of status messages, and pretty graphics with green check-marks showing that it was making progress, but still it was a good 10 minutes or more before it finally said that it was done.  Then after all that, it finally came back and told me that I now needed to add the printer on Windows, and listed several ways to do that.

So once again I was back to where I had started nearly half an hour ago, Start / Devices and Printers / Add a printer / Bluetooth printer.  This time it made it through both stages, thankfully, and when it finished the OJ150 had been added to the printer list.  I again printed a test page, which came out just fine. 

Now on to the bonus functions, and the things which really distinguish it from the Officejet 100 and my older H470.

The first of those is the Copy function. Simple enough, obviously, if you can scan and print with the same device, combine those and you can copy. Well, yeah, except when the device is portable, and space is limited.  Take a look at the picture of this printer again: the lid flips up and back, making a support for the paper feed, which can hold up to 50 sheets of standard paper. 

Then there is a bar across the top that pivots up and forward, which contains the colour touch display I have mentioned above. The scanner surface is cleverly integrated underneath of this bar, and whatever you want to scan is fed from the front of the unit under this bar. So the result is that when you make a copy, the original and the copy are sliding past each other in opposite directions.  As an engineer I find this an ingenious and fascinating solution.

When I was researching before I bought this device, I read a fair amount of criticism that the scan/copy input was limited to a single sheet at a time.  To that I can only say — get a grip. This is a portable device, and as far as I know it is the first such device to have scan/copy capability. In my opinion, it is a minor miracle, and someone wants to whine about the single-sheet feed on the scanner?

To get back to the point, the copy function works just fine. When you insert an original it is picked up and positioned properly by the scan feeder, and it then says "Original Loaded" on the display. 

You touch "Copy" on the screen, you can change the copy settings for paper size, type and zoom, and then start it by touching "Black" or "Colour". It takes about 15 seconds for a black copy, and about 30 seconds for colour — nominally that is 4ppm black and 2ppm colour, but considering that I have to feed originals individually the only number that is relevant for me is the time for one page.

Finally, the scanner function.  I have to admit I was concerned about this, in part because of my previous experience with the scan head in the BJC 50/70, and in part because I was worried about the Bluetooth connection — whether it would be fast enough and reliable enough, and how the scanner device would be detected by the operating system.

In fact, I found that HP has come up with another really clever solution for this. First, forget about Bluetooth, if you want to use the OJ150 as a "traditional" scanner, you have to connect it via USB. But the really clever bit is that you actually don't have to connect it to a computer at all. 

There are two different local mass storage interfaces, the SD card and the USB port. Put a flash disk in either of those, and you can scan and save to local storage, and then just move the SD/USB disk to your computer to get the image.  Done and dusted.  This is exactly the approach taken by the Kodak P461 Personal Photo Scanner that I picked up a few years ago, by the way. So it is not as if HP is breaking new ground here, they are just making very good use of what they have available in this portable unit.

To scan you start as for copying, insert the original and let the sheet feeder pick it up.  Then touch Scan on the screen, and you get to choose the destination — Computer, USB Drive or Memory Card, each accompanied on the display with a spiffy little picture.  If you choose one that has no media, or if you choose Computer and there is no USB connection, it will complain and prompt you to mend your ways.

Once it is happy with the destination, you can choose the output document type (PDF or JPG), and resolution (300 or 600dpi).  Then touch Start Scan, and you're off.  When the scan is complete the output image is stored in a new directory on the USB or SD flash drive.  I just scanned the Windows Printer Test Page, and the quality is very good. 

My opinion at this time is that while it is expensive (I think I'm supposed to say "premium priced"), it is worth it. If you only need a printer you can save about a third of the cost by going for the Officejet 100, and still get an excellent Bluetooth printer.

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