We tested some home printers. Here’s what we loved and hated

Our take: A very competent printer/scanner for home office use, hamstrung by strange decisions and questionable services.

Pros: Easy setup, sharp print quality

Cons: Uses relatively small (and sometimes wasteful) ink cartridges, free HP+ takes some control away from the user

What we found: On paper, HP’s ENVY Inspire 7955e sounds like a pretty competent printer/scanner hybrid — and it was, once I got everything set up. But it wasn’t long after I unboxed the thing that some shortcomings started popping up.

After pulling the 7955e out of the box and yanking off lots of blue tape and cardboard, it took about 20 minutes until I could start printing.

As you move through the installation process on your computer, though, HP is quick to pitch a free service called HP+ that claims to make the ENVY Inspire a “smarter” kind of printer.

Opting into that service nets you benefits like improved network troubleshooting, and six months of HP’s Instant Ink service, which automatically sends you replacement ink when the printer can tell you’re running low. The biggest benefit, though, may be the extra year of warranty it gives you — that means two years of support, rather than the standard one.

That all sounds plenty convenient, but the caveats are plentiful. Opting in to the program means your printer will have to remain connected to the internet indefinitely, even if you only want to use it when connected to your computer vis USB cable. Turning your printer into an HP+ printer means that you can never pop in a third-party, or unauthorized ink cartridge, when you want to save a couple bucks or when you’re desperate and it’s the only thing available.

What makes this all even more frustrating is that the Inspire 7955e uses two relatively small ink cartridges for black and color printing.

Official, standard-size replacements from HP cost about $20 for a black ink refill, which the company says is rated for about 200 pages — though if you print infrequently, you may find yourself having to clean these cartridges well before then. A tri-color refill, meanwhile, will set you back $26 for around 165 pages. (What‘s more, if you ever run out of just one of those three colored inks, you have to replace the entire cartridge.) You can pay a little extra for “XL” cartridges to get more pages per refill, but print estimates for those cartridges are still pretty paltry compared to other options we’ll get to.

Now, you could refill original HP ink cartridges, or buy genuine cartridges that someone else refilled — that way, the printer continues to see an “original” HP refill. But, as HP’s own software tells you when you’re setting up the printer, periodic firmware updates can “block cartridges that previously worked.”

And in case you were wondering, no, you can’t opt out of HP+ if you ever change your mind.

Thankfully, HP+ is completely optional, and you can comfortably ignore those prompts during setup if you just want to print things. And as a printer, the ENVY Inspire 7955e does a pretty great job: text is very clear, it reproduces images with better color and clarity and other models we tested, and its built-in scanner works like a charm too.

With all that said, though, I can’t shake the feeling that buying one of these things only helps support a company that’s interested in putting limits on the products you paid for, and that’s worth avoiding whenever possible.

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