The HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One C310a is a pared-down version of the HP Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web with similar features like a dual-access paper tray and a bright 4.3-inch touch-screen control panel. The C310a also provides ePrint e-mail access plus wireless Internet to access downloadable content from Hewlett-Packard's ePrintCenter. Unfortunately, the unresponsive touch screen distracts the user from these convenient features and makes using the printer a hassle. Stay away from this device until HP fixes these crucial design errors.
The C310a is a drastic departure from the older HP printers, with new streamlined flair and rounded edges all around the printer. The smooth lines and black finish exude executive appeal and complement the 4.33-inch touch screen set in the center of the console. The display is the main focal point of the printer, with no more than a small power button to the right to complete the front panel. There's also a small ePrint wireless LCD next to it that blinks to notify you of connection status, and a small media card reader down on the lower left side of the printer. Unlike its higher-end linemate, this particular model is missing a PictBridge-compatible USB port for direct photo imports.
The rear sticks out a bit because of the removable autoduplexer, which lets you save money and help out the environment by printing on both sides of a single sheet of paper. Unfortunately, this printer falls short of other multifunction devices since it lacks an auto-document feeder (ADF), meaning you have to manually load each individual document into the scanner. We're unsure why HP omitted this feature that typically comes standard on competing $150 all-in-ones, like the Canon Pixma MX410.
The input feeder has two separate trays: one for up to 20 sheets of 4x6-inch photo paper and another underneath for 100 sheets of standard 8.5x11-inch letter-size paper. A small plastic arm extends out from the tray to corral outbound prints. The printer handles the paper well, and we didn't experience any jams, but we do take issue with the clear plastic photo tray cover that inevitably hits the bottom of the display every time you replenish the stack. On top of that, the flimsy piece of plastic holding the cover open is too weak to support the weight, forcing you to use two hands just to refill paper. It's a minor annoyance, but a mechanical error on HP's part nonetheless.
The touch screen looks unsurprisingly similar to the face of an iPhone in landscape mode. The screen is roughly the same size (the iPhone's is 4.5 inches, this one is 4.3 inches), and you can also adjust the display up and down to find your best viewing angle. The home screen is the first thing you'll see when the printer is on. It shows a set of scrollable icons for your favorite applications with four shortcut buttons at the bottom for photo prints, copy, scan, and fax. You can drag your finger across the list of apps, delete ones you don't use, or download any apps from the growing list in the HP ePrintCenter.
Unfortunately, the C310a's screen isn't in the same league as the iPhone's--the front of the touch screen is covered by a thin layer of plastic that flexes before the device activates your command, and the entire process suffers from a severe lag between the time you hit a button and when it actually registers. Using the screen becomes an exercise in patience, especially when you have to comb through several submenus to get to your desired function.
On top of that, the screen on our test unit wasn't calibrated properly and we had to aim our fingers slightly lower than the desired virtual button to achieve our intended process. We imagine anyone having to deal with a similar glitch day in and day out would be highly irritated.
HP requires the printer and the host computer to access the Internet on the same wireless router to take advantage of the ePrintCenter apps, so you get no wired Ethernet port option. You do get the option to install the printer via a USB port on the back, but you'll be limited to only the printing functions.
All of the extra applications are free and HP breaks them down into categories within the App Store: entertainment, home, kids, news/blogs, photo, and tickets. Each one promises to streamline the printing experience by offering shortcuts to your favorite coupons, news articles, weather reports, recipes, and so on. HP tells us that it plans to release a Software Development Kit (SDK) in the near future so that software engineers can design their own shortcut apps for the store.
Using the onscreen Wireless Setup Wizard, we were able to connect the printer through CNET's protected network and took off browsing in less than 10 minutes. The Get More button took us directly to the store, where you can rate each app and even add comments for other potential users. The apps have potential, but their utility is marred by long load times that require you to navigate too many submenu layers. For example, the Google Maps app is an intriguing idea that could save time, but the touch-screen delays and irritatingly small virtual keyboard kept us in hunt-and-peck purgatory for so long that we began longing for the convenience of a simple keyboard and mouse for navigation.
Another example is the Fandango Ticket function. We assumed that the process would be as simple as using the kiosks offered in actual theaters, but we grew impatient again; searching for movies and the corresponding show times in the proper theater is hard enough to do online without waiting for a tiny map and listing to show up on a 4.33-inch screen. As we've thought in regard to other touch-screen devices, it seems like this technology should have been kept as a proof of concept for now instead of a pragmatic addition to the home printer. To HP, we pose this question: why should we suffer through all that hunting and pecking on a 4.33-inch screen when we have a 20-inch monitor, a full keyboard, and a mouse taunting us immediately next to the printer itself?
To prove our point, we performed an anecdotal field test, pitting the printer against a standard desktop computer in a race to see which device could locate and issue the command to print out a Google map faster. Not surprisingly, it took only 21.4 seconds to pull up a browser on our desktop, head over to Google Maps, type in the address, and click "print." On the other hand, getting the same map directly on the Photosmart printer took 1.27 minutes from the home screen, to wait for the printer to connect to the Internet, type in the address using the virtual keyboard, hit print, choose between landscape, portrait, or square, and hit print again. On top of all that, the input lag we mentioned earlier resulted in duplicate letters and mistakes that required correction and, consequently, more time.
The applications are further marred by missing features. For example, the Google Maps app can't show driving directions or location history, or autocomplete words, all of which would save time. Our final complaint is that the applications have a tendency to freeze up midfunction, similar to on the iPhone. When this happens, the only way to get things running again is to restart the printer, which usually takes a few minutes to connect to the Internet and reload the homepage, depending on how many favorite applications you added.
The third prong of HP's connected printer strategy is ePrint. The C310a works with any modern Windows or Mac computer, but ePrint also lets you print from mobile devices like tablets or smartphones that don't have a USB port to connect with a traditional printer. ePrint bypasses this issue by letting you send jobs directly to the printer using a unique e-mail address. With that address, you can use the printer to print from virtually any device that can send out messages.