HP Photosmart Premium C309G £199.99
8th Jun 2010 | 15:23
Touchscreen triumph, wireless wizard, premium printer, or just a blatant copycat?
HP Photosmart Premium C309G: Overview
HP pretty much invented desktop colour inkjet printing, launching its first DeskJet 500C model onto the market all the way back in 1991.
For most of the time since then, HP has stuck rigidly to its dual black and tri-colour cartridge configuration, usually enabling you to swap out the black cartridge for an optional tri-colour 'photo' cartridge, boosting the ink range for six-colour photo printing.
A major advantage was that you effectively got a brand new print head with every new cartridge but running costs were typically high.
By contrast, the Photosmart Premium C309G takes a leaf straight out of Canon's book, combining a single print head with five ink cartridges, featuring both dye-based and pigment-based black inks, along with cyan, magenta and yellow dye-based inks.
For outright print quality, this makes it a direct rival to the Canon MP640.
Sleek and compact in its stylish black shell, one of the HP C309G's main claims to fame is its colour touchscreen. This makes standalone functions like making photocopies or scanning directly to a USB drive or memory card supremely intuitive.
Even so, at 8.9cm the touchscreen is 2cm smaller on the diagonal than the one featured in the Lexmark Interact S605, and the HP lacks some of the customisation options offered by the Lexmark's downloadable Smart Solutions, but the interface works well nonetheless, with the minimum of fuss and bother.
There are some neat touches in the Photo section of the on-screen menu. You can create photo album pages, panoramic prints, wallet photos and passport photos direct from a media card, without needing to fire up your computer.
A little more oddly, there's also a direct link to Snapfish, HP's online photo printing service, so you can log onto the site and print photos on your desktop printer that are stored online. It's a bit like online photo printing in reverse.
The HP is well-connected, coming complete with USB, Ethernet, Wi-Fi and even Bluetooth interfaces as standard, as well as card reader slots for SD, SDHC, MMC, MS and xD media cards.
Unlike the Canon MP640, however, there's no CompactFlash slot, which some photographers may find a bit of a drawback.
Print speeds are pretty impressive in normal quality modes, with our tests recording nine seconds, 19 seconds and 27 seconds for A4 mono, A4 colour and 6 x 4-inch photos respectively.
Switch to top quality photo mode and things slow down noticeably, but at just under three minutes for a full borderless A4 photo print, the HP isn't exactly a slouch.
Running costs are very reasonable and rather more competitive than the Canon MP640 and Epson PX710W models for combined ink and paper costs for photo printing.
HP Photosmart Premium C309G: Verdict
Solid build quality and neat styling make the HP a desirable-looking piece of kit, backed up by good all-round performance. With a wealth of interfaces that come as standard, the C309G can connect to pretty much anything and everything, from your PC or Mac to your mobile phone or home network.
A quick and easy touchscreen menu system is matched by fast printing speeds in normal quality settings and the HP is far from sluggish even in top quality photo modes, although it lags behind the likes of the Canon MP640 and Lexmark Interact S605.
Dual input trays mean there's less swapping required between plain and photo paper stock but, sadly, the photo input tray only accommodates paper sizes up to 7 x 5-inches.
The one-touch Snapfish icon is pretty neat, enabling you to log onto your account and print photos that are stored online.
Compared with the extra flexibility of the Lexmark Interact S605's customisable Smart Solutions, the HP Photosmart Premium is slightly lacking in versatility. And unlike the Canon MP640, there's no facility for direct printing onto compatible CD/DVD discs.
The five-ink line-up of dye-based and pigment-based inks is exactly the same as that pioneered by Canon but colour reproduction in photos isn't quite as convincing in the HP.
It's very good in general but, compared with the MP640, skin tones can be slightly lacking in vibrancy and very dark, near-black tones can lack a little depth.
Overall, the C309G is a very worthy contender and packs plenty of punch when it comes to print quality and speed, as well as offering a wealth of standalone functionality behind its neat touchscreen.
However, with internet purchase prices currently running at about twice that for the Lexmark Interact S605, the HP looks a little pricey.