‘Consumer Reports’ Releases Survey on Home and Small-Office Inkjet and Laser Printers

The Consumer Reports National Research Center has released the results of its survey of some 36,000 subscribers, finding that “price does not equal performance” when it comes to home and small-office inkjet and laser printers and All-in-Ones. The company states that, according to its recent survey results, “popularity is a poor measure of performance, too—at least when it comes to selecting a reliable printer.”

With input from more than 36,000 subscribers – who together purchased more than 42,000 printers between 2012 and 2016 – Consumer Reports stated that Hewlett-Packard color inkjet All-in-are the most common choice, accounting for 43 percent of the printers in the survey. Consumer Reports, however, says “consumers likely would be better served by selecting a model manufactured by Brother (International).”

Based on Consumer Reports’ findings, an estimated 13 percent of Brother All-in-One inkjets will develop a problem by the third year of ownership. For Canon, that figure is 14 percent. By contrast, an estimated 20 percent of HP and Epson models will suffer the same fate. (Consumer Reports didn’t request information on specific models manufactured by each brand.)

“About every month there is a problem of some kind that disrupts printing ability,” wrote one HP owner. “Often print-head related. If you don’t use HP ink, they really mess with you. If you remove an ink cartridge to check if it’s clogged, you can’t put it back in.”

“Frequently fails to print,” wrote another. “Often due to connection problems.”

For standalone inkjet printers (those without copying and scanning), the results were similar. Models made by Canon are half as likely to break as those made by HP. The estimated problem rate for Canon was 9 percent by the third year of ownership versus 18 percent for HP.

Other findings include:

  • HP fared well for black-and-white laser printers. Sixty-one percent of the respondents who own an HP model were completely satisfied with its performance. Only Brother scored higher with 63 percent. For Samsung, the figure was 47 percent. Consumer Reports states that “shoppers have good reason to be bullish on HP in this category,” estimating that only five percent of its standalone black-and-white laser printers “will present problems” by the third year of ownership.
  • According to Consumer Reports, “extra features lead to extra problems,” stating that “printers that offer scanning and copying functions are definitely handy, especially for small-business owners. But they bring more headaches, too. In all, the estimated problem rate for them was 17 percent, compared with just 10 percent for regular printers.” (Wirth Consulting notes that this is to be expected, as, for instance, most All-in-Ones feature an automatic document feeder [ADF] for copy, scan, and fax, and this ADF can be subject to misfeeding of originals.)
  • Epson’s EcoTank printers “deserve more love,” as the product line “seeks to solve a common complaint among printer owners – the high cost of ink cartridges – by employing refillable tanks. But despite being half as likely as other Epson inkjet models to experience problems, EcoTank printers “have yet to be warmly embraced.” They represent only six percent of the Epson inkjet models purchased since Epson launched the EcoTank line in 2015. The high entry price (the lowest end model, the Expression ET-2500, is priced at $280) and low market visibility (Epson alone makes these printers) may explain the low adoption rate, according to Consumer Reports. (Wirth Consulting, however, notes that both HP and Canon have also introduced inkjets with refillable ink tanks globally and in the United States – see HP Jumps on Ink-Tank Bandwagon with Refillable All-in-Ones and Canon Brings ‘MegaTank’ Refillable Ink-Tank Inkjets to U.S.)
  • Aftermarket ink is said to be “an afterthought.” According to Consumer Reports, “when one gallon of printer ink costs roughly the same as 2,936 gallons of regular gasoline, it’s easy to see why consumers often grumble about their options.” Yet only 37 percent of those Consumer Reports surveyed “have given aftermarket ink a try,” and only 12 percent use it regularly. Among those who have taken the leap, 63 percent think the aftermarket cartridges are just as good as regular cartridges, and 36 percent think they’re worse.
  • Printers often get replaced because of performance problems. Among the printers purchased new since 2012 and subsequently swapped out by their owners, nearly 75 percent were abandoned because they had stopped working well or stopped working altogether. The remaining 26 percent were replaced by owners who wanted to upgrade. On the bright side, only 21 percent of the replaced printers were thrown away. Most of the rest were recycled (37 percent), donated (17 percent), or put to use elsewhere in the home of the owner (12 percent), or a new owner.

Our Take

It appears that Consumer Reports is giving HP a bad rap, especially with its negative quotes from users of HP printers. It’s also apparent that some of the quotes are from HP users that use third-party ink cartridges, and you should note that you’ll likely have similar problems if you use third-party ink cartridges in any brand of printer. We’ve used HP inkjet printers with HP OEM inks for years and have had zero problems with print quality. Moreover, our comprehensive testing revealed that ink does not “dry up” any time soon. We have to admit that there is a tendency for some HP printers (especially the Officejet Pro 8610) to “drop off” our WiFi network, which requires a bit of fiddling with the “Update IP Address” utility found in the HP Printer Assistant software. However, we’ve found that this problem disappears when we are able to connect the printer via a network Ethernet cable, and that we can still print via HP ePrint and Google Cloud Print.

On the other hand, due to their minuscule ink costs, we were using Epson L-series EcoTank printers to print internal/archival documents for a while, and found that the ink frequently dried up and required print-head cleanings every other month or so – not to mention that the ink filling/refilling process was somewhat difficult and messy. Plus, once you’ve cleaned the print heads a pre-determined number of times, a service counter shuts the printer down (because the waste-ink pad has supposedly filled up) requiring a ship-trip to an Epson service center for its replacement. Or, you can pay for and download a software hack from sources in Asia that let you reset the service counter. In the end, in spite of the low cost of ink we stopped using them, and signed up for the HP Instant Ink Program for our primary printers.

In summary, we advise that you take what Consumer Reports has said (the “handy” HP scan and copy features “bring more headaches” – implying that it is a problem with HP printers alone; and that Epson EcoTank printers “deserve more love”) with a large grain of salt. Plus, HPs Instant Ink Program provides peace of mind, and clean and easy ink replacement, all at a cost that is lower than all of the others, and that ink from any OEM is cheaper than that of toner. Finally, the use of the HP OEM Instant Ink Cartridges will drastically minimize the print-quality problems that are far more likely to occur when frugal users insist on the use of third-party or refilled ink cartridges, all at a similar (if not effectively lower) cost.

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