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All-in-one (AIO) printers are getting much more compact, even with a full complement of features. HP's Envy 4520 packs in wireless and double-sided printing as well as printing from a phone or tablet, all in a svelte black unit.
What used to be premium business features are coming to the budget end of the market. The Envy 4520 is a small, neat, wireless all-in-one printer with double-sided printing and comprehensive tablet and phone printing options, which is impressive for the £49.99 (inc. VAT) price tag.
Setup is mostly excellent: when you turn it on, the printer asks you to pick and confirm your language and location using the small touchscreen control on the front; then you're asked to load paper so it can print a test sheet, which it then asks you to put on the scanner to use for alignment. That's much better than putting a pre-printed alignment sheet in the manual that many users will never find. We also love the way the printer automatically extends the arm that printouts rest on, so pages don't tumble to the floor.
The printer also shows you the URL to visit to install the printer driver, but at this point setup becomes much more confusing because it doesn't turn wi-fi on or remind you to do that yourself. You could connect via USB of course, but wireless printing is far more convenient. If you don't have Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), where you push a button on your router to authorise devices without typing in a password, prepare for a trip back to the days of T9 text messaging: instead of a full keyboard, HP gives you T9-style groups of letters so you have to tap the 'abc' button three times to type 'c', which is a strange interface choice these days.
After the printer is setup, you can find it on other PCs just by looking for a printer to add, at which point you can read the PIN off the printer screen to type into your PC, and the printer driver will be installed automatically.
Once the printer driver is installed, HP uses a bit more of your ink to print a sheet telling you that you need to go to the HP Connected site to activate your printer and personalise its email address. The idea is that you can email documents from a phone or tablet to print them, which is extremely useful because it means you can print a document while you're out and have it waiting when you get back to the office (or print it remotely for a colleague). You can also print from iOS, Android, Chrome, Kindle and BlackBerry devices on the same wi-fi network as the printer, as well as from Windows devices.
We're not sure about wasting paper and ink printing out the URL. There's a claim code that's more convenient to have in front of you rather than displayed on the printer, which might be on the other side of the room. But you only need that if you've been using the printer for a while without activating it, so printing it should be optional.
It's easy to suspect that HP wants to encourage you to use up your ink and paper: unlike previous models, the 4520 doesn't suggest printing a crossword automatically every week, but it does come with the HP Printables options, to print crosswords, horoscopes and other free offerings that get you to actually print more pages. Possibly more useful are the templates stored in the printer, so you can print out a sheet of graph paper or music staves.
Duplex printing on a budget
The Envy 4520 is one of the few home and small-office printers with double-sided printing, which it makes far simpler than even some business models, although you don't get other business features -- there's no auto document feeder for scanning or copying, for instance, nor is there an Ethernet port. The duplex settings let you choose to flip on the long or short edge of the paper -- like turning the page in a newspaper or flipping to the next month in a calendar. If you're using photo paper or any other type of paper with different sides, the lack of a printed manual becomes annoying; the icon on the paper tray makes it look as if you put the side to print first face down, when it should actually go face up.
We found the Envy 4520's print quality to be excellent for text, graphics and photos -- especially given the price. Print speed -- for both text and graphics -- was also impressive, although the printer sometimes spits out the sheet of paper to dry before printing the other side. That works well in most cases, although we did find one test printout on photo paper became smudged when printing the other side of the page. The Active Ink Balancing system in the printer cartridges does a good job of keeping colours accurate even if you're running low on one colour (usually, if you run low on blue, you'll get very yellow greens). It's not perfect, but it will keep your presentations from looking off-colour when you're only low on one colour and don't want to change the whole cartridge.
If you want predictable ink pricing and you print a predictable number of pages a month, you can use HP's Instant Ink subscription to pay monthly for printing a set number of pages, with a new cartridge turning up automatically when you need it. You can set that up yourself directly on the printer (in the past you had to buy a kit to enroll your printer), or you can stick to paying for cartridges when you need them.