HP Deskjet F4280 (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 05 Dec 2009

HP Deskjet F4280

I had been dithering about whether to buy another inkjet to replace the Epson C86 that died earlier this year. The Epson wasn't all that old, but its nozzles wouldn't unclog, and reviews of Epson's latest printers aren't at all complimentary.

HP looked like the best solution, since they're the only printer manufacturer that supports Linux directly. I new wasn't going to buy Canon, because their closed protocols mean that every Linux driver has to be reverse engineered, and I certainly didn't want a Lexmark (see our last experience with Lexmark in Cracking the Lexmark Code).

But which HP? Their array of models is baffling, and no one seems to know the difference between Deskjets, Officejets and Photosmarts, or whether the inks fade, or whether the nozzles are built into the ink cartridges (so a clogged nozzle doesn't mean a dead printer like it does with Epson). And there's no way to get print samples.

So I dithered and stalled -- until Fry's put the HP Deskjet F4280 on sale for $20. The online reviews were fairly positive. And for that price, and with Linux support, how bad could it be?

Answer: not bad at all. It set up pretty easily in CUPS, though the CUPS test page didn't work even after several tries. Fortunately, I don't need to print CUPS test pages. Printing worked fine from GIMP, Firefox and OpenOffice.

The print quality is surprisingly good. (Note: the F4280 is not the same printer as the Photosmart C4280, which caused some confusion at Fry's when I tried to actually buy one). Text and web page on regular paper come out crisp and sharp. "High quality" on good photo paper looks like a photo as long as you don't examine it too closely. It'll be fine for my holiday greeting cards, business cards and most other tasks involving photos. "Photo quality" takes a lot longer, and is indeed better than "High" if you examine it with a loupe. Nobody's going to confuse it with a real photo print under magnification, but it'll look fine on the wall.

Here's the part that impressed me most: it can print all the way to the edge of the paper with no hassle. I could never do that with the C86: though the hardware was supposedly capable of it, the Gutenprint drivers -- the reason I'd been sticking with Epson all those years -- never could handle it (and tended to print yellow smears on the borders if you tried it). Good job, HP!

It's an "All in one" so it has a built-in scanner too (no fax). SANE (on Ubuntu 9.10) doesn't see the scanner, and I haven't tried to track that down since I already have a good scanner. I wouldn't have bought an "all in one" except that dedicated printers are quite a bit more expensive.

Update: it's the usual Ubuntu permissions problem, combined with new udev rules. Root sees the scanner, users don't, unless you add lines to two different udev rules files. In /lib/udev/rules.d/40-libsane.rules, add:
ATTRS{idVendor}=="03f0", ATTRS{idProduct}=="2504", ENV{libsane_matched}="yes"
then create a new file /etc/udev/rules.d/45-libsane.rules and put in it:
SYSFS{idVendor}=="03f0", SYSFS{idProduct}=="2504", MODE="664", GROUP="scanner"
More details are in bug 121082.

And wow, the scanner output is really bad. I mean really, really bad. I'm happy with the printer but I'll definitely keep my old Epson scanner.

Reviews complain that the F4280 is rather ink-hungry and the ink cartridges are overpriced; but every inkjet printer review says that (probably with good reason). I don't print that much, so I'm not too worried. And of course I know nothing about long term reliability or how fade-resistant the prints will be. Ask me in six months. But so far I'm quite pleased. A nice printer with excellent Linux drivers.

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[ 19:47 Dec 05, 2009    More tech | permalink to this entry ]