Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
The HP Photosmart 7960's 19.5-inch width is broad for an inkjet, but its size can accommodate a lot of extra features. Under a translucent plastic lid, an array of digital-media slots let you print directly from CompactFlash, MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital, SmartMedia, Sony's Memory Stick, and xD-Picture Card media. You also get a USB port for connecting a notebook computer or an HP direct-printing digital camera. The three ink tanks involved in the Photosmart 7960's eight-color printing require the print carriage to be a bit larger than usual. The Photosmart 7960 takes a USB cable, which is sold separately.
On the front panel, a 2.5-inch color LCD lets you preview and edit photos before printing (again, sans computer). A handful of buttons control the LCD's functions.
The Photosmart 7960's paper handling is about average for an inkjet, but it is tuned to photo printing. The input tray holds 25 sheets of photo paper, 100 sheets of plain paper, or 15 envelopes. Output capacity is 20 sheets of photo paper, 50 sheets of plain paper, or 10 envelopes. HP sells a two-sided printing accessory and a 250-sheet input tray ($80 each). The standard HP tray style places the input tray on the bottom and the output tray on top of it, but the output tray lifts up to reveal a separate input shelf for 4x6-inch or smaller photos. In addition, the whole system of trays and guides is definitely a cut above the average flimsy inkjet plastics.
The Photosmart 7960 is compatible with Windows 98 and up and Mac OS 9.1 and up. Installation is a simple matter of loading the appropriate drivers from the included CD and plugging in the printer to an available USB port.
The HP Photosmart 7960 printer is so simple to use that we consulted the printed manual only once--to figure out which direction to load the photo paper. For example, when you insert a digital-media card into one of the slots in the printer, the Photosmart 7960 will display the first picture on the card in a matter of seconds. Right below the LCD, a quadridirectional arrow button scrolls through the images. In the middle of the arrow button is an OK button, with which you can select the currently displayed image for printing. Press the Print button, and the selected images begin to print.
The LCD also lets you perform simple editing functions, such as removing red-eye, increasing brightness, and adding a frame. You can even create an album or print an index page without using a PC. Sending photos via e-mail requires a PC, but it's easy: press the E-mail button and follow the steps outlined within HP's excellent software.
The included CD has a suite of useful software. HP Photo & Imaging Gallery manages your library of digital images and performs tasks such as e-mailing and album printing. It also performs basic functions such as downloading images from your camera and scanning (if you have a scanner). HP Director is essentially a go-between that launches the image-download interface for transferring pictures to your computer or the Photo & Imaging Gallery. And HP Memories disc-creator software helps you to create a photo slide show, a photo album, an archive of all of your images, or jewel-case photos.
The HP Photosmart 7960's photo output was some of the best we've ever seen. It printed skin tones smoothly and evenly. The printer reproduced with ease complicated juxtapositions of textures, colors, and shading in our test photo. Graphics output on the HP inkjet paper was also very good. In fact, we'd never seen such rich shading and gradient portions on our test document; and the line drawings and fine details were all spot-on. Overall, however, the color looked almost faded compared with that of our original. Text was nice and dark but slightly fuzzy around the edges. However, when we did some informal printing on higher-quality, coated inkjet paper, the text looked much crisper.
The Photosmart 7960 certainly takes its time. Our tests showed an average photo print speed of 5.3 minutes per 8.5x11 page--on a par with the speed of the HP Photosmart 7550. Text documents printed at 2.2 pages per minute, about average for a photo printer.
We've recently changed our ink-drain tests for photo printers; the HP Photosmart 7960 is one of the first printers to be evaluated under our new system. The printer managed to print 78 copies of our colorful 8x10-inch photo before running out of ink. If you divide that number by the combined cost of the two tricolor and photo-ink cartridges ($24.99 each and $34.99, respectively), photo-printing costs come out to about $1.22 per page. However, if you're printing mostly 4x6-inch photos, actual costs will probably work out to about one-fourth that figure, or 31 cents per image.
Inkjet printer text speed (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Note: Pages per minute|
Inkjet color-photo speed test (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Note: Minutes per page|
|Inkjet printer quality|
The HP Photosmart 7960 is backed by a one-year warranty and one year of telephone technical support. Phone support is available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. MT.
HP offers a number of additional support options via its Web site. A tech-support page dedicated to your particular printer includes quick links to driver updates, help with setup and installation, problem solving, tips on how to use your printer, and product information and documentation.