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We've never known a printer do more housekeeping than the Photosmart B8550. It's forever making scrunching noises, not unlike squeezing the last drops out of the bag inside a winebox. It regularly added 30 seconds onto the time for the start of a print job and on one occasion took 1 minute 20 seconds before feeding the first sheet of paper. If you don't normally run your prints in batches you could have a lot of waiting while the B8550 fidgets around.
HP claims speeds of 33ppm for black print and 31ppm for colour, but fails to explain why anybody would buy a wide-carriage photo printer and then print their documents in draft mode. In normal mode, we saw a best black print speed from our 20 page document of 7.95ppm, including 30 seconds faffing around before starting to print.
That was for an A4 document; when we bumped the size up to A3, the speed dropped to 3.9ppm. The speeds are still very reasonable for an inkjet printer; it's just the claims that are outlandish. When it comes to photo printing, the machine regularly produces a 15 x 10cm print in 1:10, which is a good speed, though not up to Epson's, the class leader. An A3+ print took 2:51, which is a very respectable time for a large image.
The quality of the prints coming out of the Photosmart B8550 is generally very good, as you would expect from HP. Black text print is clean, with no visible feathering and generally smooth characters. Areas of colour on plain paper are strong, though yellow looks a little muddy.
Our test photo prints were well reproduced from the four-colour ink system, though some shadow detail was lost. It was also interesting to note that colours varied between printing on HP's Premium Gloss and its Advance photo papers. Images are paler on the Advanced paper, with a shift towards yellow, though the level of detail on both papers is good.
There are five inks to consider when buying consumables for the Photosmart 8550, as both dye and pigment black are provided. HP supplies standard and high yield versions of its cartridges and using the high yield versions throughout gives costs per page of 2.95p for black print and 7.36p for colour. Both these are reasonable, though the black is a little on the high side, while colour is better value than most.
This is a good, wide-carriage printer, with the convenience of photo preview from its LCD display. It's not without its idiosyncrasies, though. The most annoying of these is its sometimes lengthy preparation at the start of print jobs. We could understand this if its heads and ink tanks were separated, as more priming would be needed to keep the system charged, but with a relatively simple design like this, it's hard to see why it's necessary.