A striking bit of design at an eye-catching price; the trade-off is mediocre quality and performance.
Sit the HP Envy 5540 next to the similarly priced Epson WF-2630 and it’s no contest: the latter looks cheap and boxy, while the HP is undeniably stylish. It’s much friendlier too: by contrast with the Epson’s clunky 25-button interface, the Envy is controlled from a 5.6cm mono touchscreen.
The Envy is, to be sure, a less business-like proposition. Paper-handling options for printing are fairly limited, with one 125-sheet cassette, a 15-sheet photo tray and a 25-sheet output tray. There’s no Ethernet interface – it’s USB or wireless only – and no fax capability, either. Although rated for up to 1,000 pages per month, the Envy 5540 is clearly aimed at the personal end of the scale.
Print quality is immediately pleasing. Text looks sharp and bold, and pages are very easy to read. Coloured text is cleanly rendered too, and the Envy’s rendition of our high-quality photomontage was this month’s best: even on regular 80gsm paper, we saw plenty of fine detail, with impeccably balanced colour and shade. So long as you don’t dig out the magnifying glass, you’ll struggle to notice any grain or banding.
Unfortunately, things weren’t all positive. We noticed that from time to time, in standard print mode, the Envy’s jets would become slightly misaligned, resulting in the odd line of seriously skewed text. Perhaps worse – unlike any other printer we tried this month – solid blocks of colour suffered from visible banding. This really shouldn’t still be a problem in 2016, and it very much cheapens the Envy’s colour output
Printing speed isn’t impressive either. The Envy 5540 isn’t quite as slow as the Epson models, but it’s behind everything else this month. Our 20-page document came out at an average of 10.9ppm; Canon’s Maxify MB5350 managed more consistent print quality at 16ppm. The Envy is perfectly fast enough for occasional personal use, but it doesn’t offer the sort of exceptional speed that might excuse a degree of text distortion.
Our scanning tests went much better. Colour and contrast were excellent, and just the right amount of sharpening was applied to make pages look crisp but not too spiky. Even better was the speed at which everything happened: greyscale documents scanned at 200ppi whizzed over the network in ten seconds flat, and even at 300ppi a full colour A4 scan was completed in 22 seconds. It’s frustrating that HP hasn’t included an ADF, or the Envy 5540 would be a great way to digitise a large collection of documents for a very low price. As it is, you’ll have to step up to the Envy 7640 if you want multi-page scanning.
Our biggest irritation with the Envy is that it takes just two cartridges – one regular black supply and one combined tri-colour cartridge. This really isn’t an efficient way to do things: as soon as any one colour runs out, the entire cartridge must be replaced. In fairness, you can switch to black-only mode until you get a new one, so you’re not left unable to print.
And the cartridges themselves aren’t ruinously expensive: 17c per colour page is still cheaper than any laser, and a better deal than the Epson WorkForce WF-2630. All the same, the low capacity of these tri-colour cartridges (they’re rated for just 415 pages) means you’ll be switching cartridges, and throwing out good ink, with infuriating frequency. Black-and-white printing costs, meanwhile, are much less competitive, coming out at 0.07c per monochrome page – the highest price here.
On paper, the HP Envy 5540 looks like a stylish and capable printer for a fantastic price. But print quality and speed don’t match the confidence of the design, and the value proposition gets worse and worse the more you print.
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