HP OfficeJet 5740: Could this be the SOHO workhorse?

A network printer/scanner for a small office, the OfficeJet 5740 offers an impressive range of functions for a good price. But keep an eye on the services you enable at setup time.

In the seemingly endless quest to find the ideal small-office printer, I've been spending some time with HP's £99 OfficeJet 5740.

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HP's OfficeJet 5740 inkjet printer. Image: HP

Setting up was relatively quick and easy, with the printer wrapped in a plastic bag with handles that made it easy to get out its box. It's a typical networked all-in-one, with an Ethernet port, wireless connectivity and a built-in scanner. A colour touch-screen gives quick access to management features, along with details of ink usage and links to HP's web apps.

The bundled software includes HP's Printer Assistant, which is somewhat reminiscent of the old Windows 7 Device Center. It brings together various printer functions and their supporting software in one interface. While it's possible to criticise its design (especially the very GeoCities choice of fonts), it's actually a useful tool -- especially as it solves one of the old networked all-in-one problems: triggering scans.

The biggest issue with HP's printer tools is its website, which isn't being kept up to date or in sync with printer software. Follow the link for mobile printing, for example, and you're taken to a broken page with links that don't work. It's a poor experience, and one that belies the underlying quality of the printer -- letting down good hardware by failing to maintain its web presence. HP's problems here should be a warning to anyone building web-connected devices: you need to keep the web side of the service up to date for the life of the device.

Support for Apple's AirPrint protocol makes it easy to quickly print to the 5740 from an iPad or iPhone. I had no trouble printing from my iPad Mini: it found the HP printer quickly and the resulting prints were clear and readable. Android devices can use Google's built-in printing tools as well, and there's also support for HP's own Wireless Direct print, which lets you print without connecting to a wi-fi network -- and if your phone supports NFC, it can use that to quickly pair with the printer.

Perhaps the biggest drawback with the OfficeJet 5740 are its web-connected features. I get enough spam via email that I don't really want my printer to deliver a crossword every day or a weekly delivery of coupons. For most users, HP's Print Apps are going to be an inconvenience that you'll turn off as soon as you start setting up your printer. If you don't, they'll be a waste of paper and ink. Print Apps are a sign of HP trying to find new ways of making money from printers -- extending the service model that means low-cost initial hardware purchases and an ongoing revenue from ink cartridges. It's an interesting experiment, and one that's unlikely to be successful.

Another relatively new service is HP's Instant Ink subscription service. This makes more sense, using the sensors in the printer and cartridges to order new cartridges so that they arrive before the current set run out. It's an interesting approach that potentially will save money, although you'll need to factor your actual usage versus the monthly subscription fee.

So how well does it print?

It's hard to criticise the OfficeJet 5740's printing, as you know what you're getting with HP printers. As always, HP's inkjets are solid workhorses, and the 5740's double-sided print engine is quick and clear, saving paper and with no bleed-through on standard inkjet paper. Photo-printing works well, with good clear images (good enough to give to my brother!). Scanning quality is good too, and most of the OCR issues I had were down to an old copy of Abby FineReader I was using.

HP has done a good job with the OfficeJet 5740. Its combination of tools and software is good, and it works well as a simple network printer for a one- or two-person office. I'm less happy about the amount of foistware, especially the Printables service; so be careful to avoid installing toolbars and subscribing to print services during setup.

There's just one aspect of the 5740 I didn't test: its fax capabilities. But then, who sends faxes these days?