HP Smart Tank 5101 All
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HP Smart Tank 5101 All

Mar 15, 2023

The HP Smart Tank 5101 All-in-One Printer ($279.99) competes head-to-head with the recently reviewed Canon Pixma G3270, each offering the same marquee appeal: very low running cost. If you print enough pages with either printer, you can save more than enough from cheap ink to recoup the high initial cost, versus printers with similar features but costlier ink. For homes and home offices that go through enough paper to make that a compelling argument, the Smart Tank 5101 is very much worth considering on the basis of sheer ink economics.

As with the G3270, the Smart Tank 5101 is a three-function AIO (for printing, scanning, and copying). Physical setup for the 5101 is easy and clearly described in the setup guide that comes with it. It weighs only 11.1 pounds and is compact enough to easily fit on your desk, at 6.2 by 17.1 by 14.2 inches (HWD) with the trays closed.

Driver setup can also be easy, but if you want to connect by USB cable, you have to look beyond the setup guide (which only covers Wi-Fi connections) to find the instructions. They're hidden online in a downloadable user guide, which HP doesn't mention in the setup guide.

That said, USB setup is easy if you know how. Just download the HP Smart app to your computer—which is described in the setup guide, since it's also needed for Wi-Fi-based setup and printing—and plug in the cable. Mobile printing via Wi-Fi Direct is similarly easy to set up once you know how, with links to the instructions hidden in the user guide.

However you connect to the printer, it's best kept in easy reach. If you print enough to take advantage of the low cost per page, you'll need to reload the single 100-sheet input tray often. You'll also have to swap out paper every time you need to change from one type or size to another. Support for up to legal-size paper and manual duplexing (two-sided printing) boosts the 5101's paper handling just a bit from what we expect from an entry-level AIO. With the manual duplexing feature, the machine prints one side of each sheet of a document, waits for you to reinsert the stack, then prints the other side of each sheet, automatically putting the pages in the right order. The driver also puts an illustration on your PC screen indicating how to flip the stack, but the arrows can be confusing. Be sure to try this feature once with only two sheets, so you can learn the right way to do it.

For scanning, the paper handling is strictly entry-level, limited to a letter-size flatbed. That means you can't scan a full legal-size page, and you have to put each page on the scanner manually, which can be a time-consuming chore if you need to scan many multipage documents.

Although the 5101 doesn't have faxing capability built-in, the HP Smart app offers an online fax feature, and if you download the iOS or Android version, it can use your device's camera to capture your documents and fax them with no scanner required. (You can also use it to fax documents scanned with the Smart Tank 5101.) Outgoing faxes are currently free, and you don't have to provide a credit card or other payment information, though HP says it plans to charge for the service eventually.

As already indicated, low running cost is high on the list of reasons to consider the Smart Tank 5101. The printer comes with enough ink for what HP says is a two-year supply, though how long it lasts will obviously depend on how much you print. The rated yield for a full set of bottles—with black, cyan, magenta, and yellow inks—is 6,000 mono text pages and 8,000 standard color pages, though you should expect to get a slightly lower yield for the first set of bottles with any tank printer. When you need to buy more, the cost per page works out to 0.3 cent per mono text page and 0.9 cent per standard color page.

As always, don't get too focused on the cost per page. What you need to look at is the total cost of ownership, as we discuss in our guide to how to save money on your next printer. The savings from the low ink cost will pay off only if you print enough to save more than the 5101's higher initial cost, versus an equivalent printer that has a lower initial price and a higher cost per page.

To judge the 5101's performance, we compared it with the closely competitive Canon G3270, as well as two printers that cost about the same or less but have higher running costs: the HP OfficeJet Pro 8035e and the Brother MFC-J4335DW. (The latter is our current top pick for a light-duty inkjet AIO for personal or micro-office use.) On our performance tests, the 5101 and G3270 were slower on almost all of our individual tests than either of the other models. Compared against each other, the two were essentially tied for our full business-application suite, but the 5101 was a touch faster for the 12-page Microsoft Word text file, and a bit slower for the rest of the suite.

For the full Word file, the Brother printer had the fastest first-page-out (FPO) time by far, while the 8035e tied it for the rest of the file, which means MFC-J4335DW will be noticeably faster for text files of only a page or two, but not enough faster to matter for longer files. Both the 8035e and MFC-J4335DW were also faster than the 5101 and G3270 for every file that included color graphics. For the full business applications suite, the MFC-J4335DW was definitively the fastest of the four, the 8035e second fastest, and the 5101 and G3270 essentially tied. For 4-by-6-inch photos, the 5101 averaged 53 seconds each.

Output quality for the 5101 was good for an entry-level inkjet. Text was a suitably dark black, which helps make small fonts in particular easier to read. All but one of the fonts in our test suite that you'd likely use in a business document were easily readable at 4 points, though a loupe revealed ragged edges at that size. Two heavily stylized fonts with thick strokes came close to filling in loops even at 12 points, but one was readable, if not well-formed, at 8 points. The other was readable at 12 points.

Printing graphics on plain paper using default settings delivered reasonably saturated color. I saw some subtle banding in solid fills, but it was a minor issue at most. Very much on the plus side, thin lines—including a single-pixel-wide line against a black background—were easily visible, suitably crisp, and solid. Photos printed on the recommended HP Premium Plus Photo Paper at the default setting qualified as solidly drug-store-level quality overall, with some colors a bit oversaturated. On our ink smudge tests, black text on plain paper showed only slight smudging from highlighting, but much more obvious smudges from water. Color inks in graphics resisted smudging from water, but they showed obvious water stains after drying.

If you're looking at the Smart Tank 5101 because it fits your budget, but you want print and scan capability that is more than entry-level, and are willing to trade a higher running cost to get it, be sure to consider the HP 8035e or Brother MFC-J4335DW instead. Compared with the 5101 and G3270, both add faster printing, higher paper capacities, auto print duplexing, and an ADF for scanning multipage documents. Between the two, the 8035e has the higher-capacity tray, while the MFC-J4335DW has the lower cost per page, the faster print speed overall, and an added one-page bypass tray.

If you don't need those extras, and you print enough for a low running cost to pay off in the long run, either the 5101 or the G3270 may be your best choice, and you should compare them point by point. Both offer a similarly low running cost and similar features otherwise, but with notably different strengths. The G3270's text, for example, isn't as dark or as readable at small sizes as the 5101's output, but the black ink didn't smudge at all from a highlighter in our tests and smudged only slightly from water. Photo quality was also slightly higher for the G3270, while graphics quality was slightly lower. These differences are relatively small, but enough that one or the other may be the better fit.

With unremarkable features and output quality for the price, HP's Smart Tank 5101 All-in-One Printer might seem an odd entry-level pick for homes and home offices. But its low running cost means you shouldn't count it out.

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