We have seen standard printers evolving from basic printing peripherals to the ones that feature a built-in scanner and fax. This add-on feature not only made the printer an all-in-one multifunctional peripheral, but also made it space and energy efficient. The next phase was implementing networking and wireless features, which made the printer shareable on the network so that they can be used in larger organisations. We have now seen variants in AIOs from mono to colour, inkjet and laser options, ones with duplex printing and others. HP has released a new multi-functional printer with the concept of a built-in hotspot for instant connectivity. The HP HotSpot LaserJet Pro M1218nfs MFP is the new entrant with a unique idea; it implements the features of a router in an existing all-in-one printing peripheral for SOHO and small business setups. Let us take a closer look.
Design and build
The HotSpot LaserJet Pro M1218nfs MFP is built using a very compact chassis and has a very small footprint. It occupies the least amount of space on the desk or in a corner. The AIO has a rugged build quality with an all black matte-finished exterior. We did find the paper output tray a little feeble; it can be damaged easily if mishandled. The top features an A4-sized flatbed scanner with an ADF, but the lid is quite heavy due to the built-in ADF mechanism and tends to slam on the scanner glass if not closed with care. The toner compartment is below the scanner section, which means you need to lift open the scanner to access it. The mechanism to access the toner compartment has been provided with a spring that gently lowers the scanner after accessing the toner—wish the manufacturer would have paid a little attention to the scanner lid in the similar manner. We did find a minor glitch in this section too—when we tried lifting the scanner lid to place a document for scanning, we ended up lifting the entire scanner section and reached the toner compartment around 50 percent of the time. The locking mechanism in this review piece was either malfunctioning or it is too weak.
Moving on, the front features a detachable paper-out tray that needs to be attached when installing the printer. The bottom features a pullout paper feed tray, which can be filled with 150 sheets. Towards the left of the paper tray is a single backlit mechanical power switch. On the left side is a foldable control panel with a 2.5-inch dot-matrix monochrome display. Sadly, the LCD display is not backlit and readability in low light or in complete darkness is impossible. Wonder why HP has left out this minor area. The control panel is a bit flimsy too and does not stay firm while in use. The rubber buttons are well-spaced and have good tactility. Indicator LEDs are available for standby, error and toner levels. The rear panel features the interfaces for USB, Ethernet and phone lines.
The HP HotSpot LaserJet Pro M1218nfs MFP comprises a printer, scanner, copier and fax machine. The printer is a laser-based monochrome imaging system that can print on A4 paper with resolutions of 600 x 600 dpi. Sadly, the printer does not feature an auto duplex mechanism for printing on both sides. This is one area which HP has left out to cut down on the price and make the printer affordable for SOHO and SMB clients. The printer uses a low heating technology-based toner and fuser to save in energy costs. The toner used here is different from conventional toners and fuses to the paper at lower temperatures. The fuser drum too heats up only the outer surface with low heat and only when the paper is passed through it. This enables the drum to heat up instantly and only when used, thus allowing you to save on huge energy bills. The toner used here cannot be replaced by conventional toner powder, as it needs higher temperatures to fuse to the paper. If used, this could damage the printer mechanism and drum, as the toner will not heat up completely and can get wiped off the paper while passing through the mechanism, thus clogging the gears and rollers. The low temperature also helps avoid paper curling.
The scanner featured here is a flatbed A4 size and can scan images at resolutions of 1200 x 1200 dpi. The scanner is coupled with an ADF for automatic scanning and faxing and can hold up to 35 pages in the paper input tray. The scanner and printer together can be used as a PC-less copier machine that can copy documents at resolutions of 600 x 400 dpi. Enlargement and reduction of copies is also possible, with up to 4 copies per page printing. Lastly, the fax machine features a 33.6 Kbps built-in modem. The fax machine can hold 500 pages in its memory in case of paper runouts. Connectivity options are USB 2.0 for PC interface, an Ethernet port for wired networking and Wi-Fi 02.11 b/g/n for wireless connectivity to an existing network.
The highlighted feature of the M1218nfs is the built-in wireless hotspot mode similar to a smartphone. The printer is equipped with a wireless router from within, which is set up in hotspot mode as a factory default. The hotspot mode is a unique feature from HP, which is integrated into this printer and aimed specifically towards SOHO and SMB setups where one can wirelessly connect up to eight wireless-enabled devices – such as smartphones, tablets or laptops – to the printer and print their documents.
The hotspot mode has its own IP address (which can be changed by the user), a gateway and a DNS address, making it possible to connect to multiple wireless devices to form a small wireless local area network. Additionally, if connected to an Internet-enabled wired network, the printer can route the Internet connection to the devices connected wirelessly to the hotspot. The printer has its own IP address, which can be used for configuration by entering it into any Internet browser. Features such as SSID, security, channels etc. can be tweaked as per the user’s preferences, similar to settings on any conventional wireless router. MAC address filtering and PPPoE settings are also available as it can also be used as a conventional wireless router.
The idea is to implement a simple, configuration-free and instant wireless network in a small office or home. This printer can be set up by simply switching it on and connecting it to an Internet connection. The rest of the users can connect to the printer’s hotspot and use it as a simple network connection without the need of a router on the network. Using the browser-based settings, the printer and scanner sections can also be configured similarly.
The MFP also features a Direct Print option where any wireless-enabled device such as a smartphone, tablet or PC can wirelessly connect to the printer and print without the need of any driver CD. The basic drivers for printing and scanning can be picked from the printer itself during the configuration process. iOS devices do not need a driver and can print instantly (AirPrint), while Android devices and Windows PCs would require the drivers to be installed. The printer can connect to any existing wireless router and stay on the local network; you can even disable the hotspot or wireless option to stay on the network using the Ethernet mode if you wish. The printer uses HP CC388A toner cartridge that costs around Rs 4,018 and yields a maximum 1800 pages, which speaks of a print economy of around Rs 2.24 per print. However, the actual cost of the print depends on the amount of ink used for each print job, which can range from basic text documents to heavy graphic prints.
The printer was tested for its performance for speed and quality of prints. As per the manufacturer, the printer can print 18 pages per minute (ISO standards). We prefer to differ from the ISO standards and use conventional everyday documents to do our tests and hence, we printed a standard word document to gauge the speed. To our surprise, the printer spewed out 19 pages in a single minute. We did notice the pages curling after printing, but we cannot confirm whether it is the fault of the printer or the paper, as there are many technicalities involved in it. The reason could be humidity levels in the atmosphere and the paper quality. The print quality was good too. We did tests for greyscale linearisation, pattern tests, b/w tests and standard document print test. The greyscale linearisation test resulted in slightly above average prints. The print quality in the rest of the tests was good and we did not find any area with flaws. The print quality of documents was crisp and clear with minute details visible even with the finest print font size.
The copier mode takes around 14 seconds for a single copy in standard mode. The print quality of the copier mode was quite unsatisfactory and grainy. The quality of the text was decent, but the graphics were just excessively unclear and dark. We tried reducing the copy mode settings to lighter print by 25 percent and the results were still not satisfying. Check out the screenshot above where you will see the difference—the first pic on the left is the original document print from the printer, the centre one is the copy of the same in standard mode while the one on the right is lightened by 25 percent. In addition, you will notice that the text under the graphics, which is originally in yellow, was printed as a lighter shade of grey in the original and was still copied in the standard mode. However, it completely disappeared when the copy was lightened by 25 percent. The scanner scans a standard A4-sized document or photo at 300 dpi resolutions in about 20 seconds. The results of the scanned quality are good enough and we have no complaints here. The MFP starts up from a cold boot in about 45 seconds to be in ready mode and the first print can be obtained in around 8 seconds.
Verdict and Price in India
The HP HotSpot LaserJet Pro M1218nfs is available for Rs 18,306 in India. For those who don’t want the HotSpot feature, a similar variant, the HP LaserJet Pro M1213nf, is also available, which costs marginally cheaper than this model. As far as the build quality and features are concerned, the price for this compact printer with a built-in router combination is good. Those opting to start a mobile business option or want to invest in a multi-functional printer for small business centres (SOHO) can opt for this one and eliminate the initial router costs.