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HP Deskjet 3650

This is an unusual looking printer for HP, as nearly all its DeskJet machines run paper from a feed tray at the front, turn it through 180 degrees and feed it out to another directly above.

A first look at the 3650 appears to show something different, but in fact an ingenious system of hinges folds two paper trays down from under the cover of the printer, whenever you want to use it. Whether anyone can be bothered to fold up the two trays when they’ve finished printing is another question… you still have to do something with the paper, after all.

This is a four or, optionally, a six-colour printer. As standard, it's supplied with a black cartridge and a three-colour one, giving four-colour print, but you can replace the black cartridge with a photo cartridge containing black, light cyan and light magenta, giving six colours for photographic work. The two cartridges plug-in to their cradles once you have lifted the top cover and you also have to lift it when adjusting the guides for different paper widths.

A separate, external power supply plugs in at the rear of the printer, using a proprietary connector and a USB 2 cable (not supplied) plugs in next to this to connect the DeskJet to a PC. Two buttons at the front switch the power on and off and cancel any currently printing job. The cancel function is particularly useful when you realise you have forgotten a setup parameter and are about to waste a sheet of expensive glossy photo paper!

Installing the software supplied with the DeskJet 3650 is straightforward, as long as you remember to run the CD before connecting the USB 2 cable to the printer. The standard suite consists of HP's Printer Assistant and Director applets, but they’re effectively different ways of looking at the same facilities.

The most useful applet in the set is the Photo and Imaging Gallery. This enables you to select images, reorder them and perform simple manipulations. An image editor within this application enables more detailed changes, such as altering colour and sharpness and removing red-eye from portrait photos.

The unit we tested was also supplied with the Hulk Multimedia Studio, a set of seven applications themed from the super-hero film. These include a Print Studio, desktop and screensaver creators and a number of puzzles and games. HP claims the bundle will be available until the end of October 2002, unless stocks run out earlier.

The first thing you notice about running this HP printer is the noises it makes. It's quiet enough while printing, but in between all kinds of clunks and thumps come from the machine. These have to do with cleaning cycles and various checks made on ink levels and paper. It's quite a bit noisier than previous HP DeskJets.

The print quality of text is good, black and dense, though not as clean as that from the Canon i450. Some specs of ink were noticeable where they shouldn't have been, though only one or two per page. Graphic print quality was good, with clean blocks of solid colour.

The photo print on HP's glossy photo paper appeared to have been over inked in some areas. These were still tacky after the sheet had dropped onto the output tray. Thin areas of black even looked slightly embossed, as if a lot of ink had landed on these spots. The photo quality was judged best in the group by our assessors, with particular emphasis put on the sharpness and clarity of detail in the foreground trees.

The DeskJet 3650 can't print A4 full-bleed; the best it can manage is four 130mm by 90mm prints on a single sheet. These were reproduced quite dark in comparison with the Epson and Canon prints, losing some detail in the process.

Test times for the text and mixed text and graphics prints were similar to the Canon results, though the photo prints took noticeably longer. Print times for the five-page text document at 1 minute 15 seconds are reasonable for a printer in this price range, very much an entry-level unit. Although just under two minutes for the photo print is quite slow for a four colour job.

The DeskJet 3650 uses two ink cartridges, with an optional photo cartridge replacing the black for photo prints. In our usage tests, the HP printer produced 241 5% black text pages and just 184 in colour at 20% cover. Given the typical prices of these cartridges, the cost per page works out at 7p for black, the highest cost of any machine in the group and 42.6p for colour, the second-highest. While the print results might be good, you do pay heavily for them with this comparatively inexpensive printer.

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