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HP Photosmart 8050

The differences between a top-of-the-line photo printer and a base model—aside from the purchase price—are often just special features that you may or may not want or use. For example, the inexpensive HP Photosmart 8050 may not feature some of the niceties that more expensive models include, such as a large color preview LCD, automatic double-sided printing, or CD-printing capabilities. But it does do a really good job at printing photos—a lot of the time, that’s all you need.

The printer connects to your Mac via USB 2.0. You can also print without a computer by plugging a compatible digital camera in to the PictBridge USB port located on the front of the printer, or by inserting your camera’s memory card into one of the available card slots.

The Photosmart 8050 ships with two tricolor cartridges—one contains cyan, magenta and yellow, and the other contains photo cyan, photo magenta and black. The problem with using one cartridge for three inks is that you run the risk of wasting ink. If, for example, you print a lot of text-heavy, plain paper documents, you might run out of black ink long before you run out of photo cyan and photo magenta inks. Unfortunately, with this printer, the entire cartridge would have to be replaced. HP offers other compatible cartridges at an extra cost. Depending on how you plan on using this printer, you might be wise to purchase them. If you’re printing a lot of non-photographic pages, like e-mail messages, maps, and articles, you can save money in the long-run by installing a black-only cartridge in place of the photo tricolor cartridge. This is a good option, especially in light of the very good job the Photosmart 8050 does when printing text and graphics.

If you want to print great-looking black-and-white photos, purchase a photo-black cartridge to take the place of the tricolor photo cartridge. It really helps with printing neutral grays, a task that many photo printers—including this one when using its standard six inks—have a hard time with.

If you do decide to keep an extra cartridge around, HP conveniently includes a storage space in the top of the printer for one extra cartridge (along with a snap-on cover to keep the inks from drying out while not in use) and for the handy extra paper cassette, which holds 4-by-6-inch paper.

Color photos I printed from the Mac looked very good, as long as I printed at maximum-resolution settings. Otherwise, distracting dots were visible in lighter areas of photographs. Unfortunately, this highest resolution setting is not available when printing directly from a camera or media card, so I’d recommend only using the stand-alone printing functions for quick and dirty, hassle-free prints.

Timed Trials

10-page Word test 3:12
22MB Photoshop image 6:44
4-page PDF 8:14

Scale= Minutes: Seconds

We tested each printer via USB 2.0 connected to a dual-1GHz Power Mac G4 running OS X 10.3.9. We recorded the amount of time it took each printer to print a 10-page Microsoft Word document at Normal or Good mode and an 8-by-10-inch photo print of a 22MB file from Adobe Photoshop CS2 at Best mode.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith and Jerry Jung

Jury Tests

Text quality Very Good
Photo quality Very Good
Graphics quality Good

Scale= Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable

Specifications

Number of ink cartridges 6 inks, 2 cartridges
Cost to replace ink/toner cartridges $60
Connections USB 2.0, PictBridge USB port, media-card reader
Printer resolution 4,800 x 1,200 optimized
Special features 1.8-inch LCD preview screen; 4x6 paper cartridge with storage space in top of printer.

Macworld’s buying advice

Though it has the smallest preview LCD and lacks some of the bells and whistles of its more expensive competitors, the HP Photosmart 8050 does a very good job of printing color photos, and with the help of its optional photo-gray print cartridge, it prints great black and white photos.

[ James Galbraith is Macworld ’s lab director. ]

HP Photosmart 8050
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