Short version: part useful application of new technology, part marketing gimmick, the HP eStation is a solid all-in-one printer that uses a wireless Android-powered touchscreen tablet as its primary interface. The printer is about what you’d expect from HP these days, while the tablet presents some interesting new usability options. You certainly shouldn’t buy the eStation just because you want an Android tablet, but it makes a decent bonus if you’re looking for a functional all-in-one printer anyway.
Reviewing printers in the year 2011 just isn’t that exciting. Unless, of course, that printer also includes a wireless Android-powered tablet. The output quality from the eStation is what you’d expect these days: fast, high quality text and graphics. Photos on photo paper look good. The printer is not particularly quiet about its job, though: loading paper is actually a fairly noisy process, and the sound of the print head speeding back and forth across the page is more than a little noticeable.
HP calls the tablet portion of the eStation the “Zeen”. It’s a 7″ touchscreen that provides you control over your printer, and for its primary task it does a great job. It’s unobtrusive and intuitive to use. When a print job completes, the Zeen makes a demure little “ding” sound to let you know. Using the Zeen, you can copy, scan or fax without ever using your computer.
The integration of printer information and controls into Android is very well done. The Zeen system dashboard shows you a quick overview of your wireless network settings, Zeen battery charge, estimated ink levels in the printer, and info on any SD card inserted into the Zeen. The typical Android slide-down notification system reveals active print jobs as well as the printer’s IP address and ePrint email address.
Setting up the Zeen’s home screen is a little laborious, and includes a rather paltry selection of widgets. It’s not possible to add widgets, so if you don’t like what they give you you’re out of luck. One of the most striking things about the widget selection is the complete lack of anything from Google. Instead, you get Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! Weather, and Yahoo! Daily Digest news headlines widgets. It’s pretty obvious that HP and Yahoo! made a deal over this, and it’s a little unfortunate that they’ve chosen what widgets you can use on the Zeen.
The eStation supports the same print apps that other HP printers do, with the difference being that you access the apps through the Zeen. This is the biggest real-world use of the Zeen you’re likely to see. The physically attached interface of other printers means you need to gather the kids around the printer itself to select which PBS Kids coloring book pages you want to print out. With the eStation, you can give the Zeen to your kids and let them find and print the pages they want. Be advised, though, that the Zeen will not be responsive enough for most hyper-stimulated kids today. It literally takes about ten seconds to launch the PBS Kids print app. Navigating within the app, and selecting something to print is also measured in seconds.
The selection of content within the print apps is fairly stagnant. I haven’t seen a lot of new coloring book pages or CubeeCraft constructs since I first got my review unit of the eStation. I haven’t looked at the Coupons, My Recipes or the daily Sudoku apps, though, so maybe those have more regularly updated content.
The eStation driver software is pretty typical. Printing and scanning is easy if you’re using Windows or Mac. Linux users should note that Ubuntu 10.10 is not yet supported. Linux support comes via the HPLIP Open Source project.
Interestingly, the Zeen made it possible for me to print from and scan to my Ubuntu 10.10 laptop, although in a very roundabout way that few sane end users would opt to use. Remember that the ePrint print-by-email service has a 5 megabyte limit on files it will accept, so to print anything larger than that I had to first copy it to an SD card, then insert that SD card into the Zeen, and finally print the item from the Zeen’s QuickOffice app. Like I said, roundabout. A similar process worked for scanning: scan to an SD card in the Zeen, put the SD card into my laptop, retrieve the files.
The Zeen has a very specific set of features, and is not a general purpose tablet. You’re not going to whip it out to check IMDB while watching a movie. You can load an SD card full of MP3s and use it as a portable music player, but really, why would you? Web browsing on the Zeen is so slow as to be not worth the effort. Checking your email on the Zeen is a novelty you’ll try, just to see it work, and then never use again.
One real shortcoming, I think, is that the Zeen has no support for market:// URIs for Android apps. I understand they don’t want to support third-party apps, and some (many?) apps might not even function very well, if at all, on the Zeen. You can load Android apps if you can find a .apk file, but it seems really lame to me for HP to completely disable access to the Android marketplace.
Does the marriage of an Android tablet to an all-in-one printer make sense? Yeah, actually it does, as long as you understand the limitations of the pairing. The Zeen isn’t a fully featured tablet, but rather a specific feature, with a specific set of functionality tailored to the eStation. Don’t buy the eStation for the Zeen. Buy the eStation because you need a reliable all-in-one printer, and enjoy what the Zeen offers you.
Product Page: HP eStation C510