The HP Deskjet 6840 occupies the high end of HP's line of home and home-office inkjet printers, so it handles less traffic than the HP Business Inkjet 1200d, and it lacks office-oriented features such as software to monitor the printer over a network. But, for the same $200 price as the base model in the 1200 series, whose network-ready model costs $250, the Deskjet 6840 delivers comparable print quality, faster photo-print speeds, and built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet capability. What's more, you can add reasonably priced double-sided printing or an extra paper tray. Office workgroups may prefer a color laser that offers high-volume printing with zippy text. But families, small home offices, and organizations on a tight budget might appreciate this understated, network-ready, solid performer--either for general use or as a spare color printer--to pair with a laser model.
The modern, nondescript rectangular shape and the glossy-black casing of the HP Deskjet 6840 seem designed to blend an office's background. The 50-sheet output tray serves as the cover of the 150-sheet input tray, and unlike most lower-priced inkjets, you can adapt the 6840 to heavier network usage by attaching an additional $80 250-sheet input tray to the bottom of the printer. The output tray features a slot that holds either photo paper or a single envelope so that you don't have to wrestle with paper guides every time you print on different media. Less useful is the output-tray extension that you must slide out to keep prints from falling off the edge, extending the printer's depth to a space-gobbling 23 inches. With this tray left unextended, the printer measures just 17.72 by 14.45 by 5.67 inches (WDH). You can also attach a duplexer for $72, or a duplexer with a photo paper tray for $90, to the back of the 6840 for paper-saving, two-sided printing.
The HP 6840 conceals USB and Ethernet ports in its back panel, as well as built-in 802.11g/b Wi-Fi compatibility and a PictBridge camera port in front, though it lacks the digital media-card slots commonly found on photo printers such as the Epson Stylus Photo R320. The 6840 is also wireless network key-compatible, so you can quickly add the printer to your Wi-Fi network by plugging a USB flash drive that holds network settings into the PictBridge port.
The HP Deskjet 6840 comes with HP's useful, easy-to-master Director, an umbrella interface for HP peripherals, as well as Image Zone software. The latter installs automatically with the drivers and helps you organize your photos and perform basic editing functions, such as cropping, red-eye removal, lightening dark photos, or creating projects such as scrapbook pages, flyers, and calendars. HP's print drivers allow you to make exhaustive tweaks, such as adding a watermark or adjusting individual color levels. Luckily, the first tab in the drivers contains Printing Shortcuts to show adjustments relevant to your type of print job; for example, Photo Printing brings up a button for HP Digital Photography tweaks, and Everyday Printing brings up the duplexing option.
The HP DeskJet 6840's performance was good across all categories in CNET Labs' tests. Text was heavily saturated with ink and therefore ultradark, but crisp for an inkjet. Close inspection of CNET Labs' graphics tests revealed banding, visible dithering, and lack of detail, but the samples easily passed muster for everyday use. Photos were good despite visible dithering; skin tones looked smooth, and the printer did a decent job capturing fine details. We printed our tests with black and CMY cartridges, but photo enthusiasts may want to replace the black cartridge with HP's Photo Ink cartridge for six-color photo printing.
This printer was fast in CNET Labs' tests, delivering text at 6.68 pages per minute (ppm) and an 8x10-inch photo at 0.52ppm--a tad ahead of the HP Business Inkjet 1200d's text speed and more than double its photo-printing pace. A home photo inkjet such as the Epson Stylus Photo R320 prints text at an aching 1.9ppm but creates photos at about the same rate as the HP 6840.