HP 4730mfp delivers low-cost, low-frills color printing

MFP compensates for fewer features with ease-of-use and a nice price

Most high-performance, full-featured color MFP (multifunction printer)/copier systems cost well over $10,000, plus you have to procure them through a leasing program. HP’s Color LaserJet 4730mfp delivers many of the same capabilities at the attractive price of $5,199, direct from HP’s Web site.

The 4730mfp supports most of the functions your office needs every day, including straightforward copying features, high-quality printing, and analog fax. Its scanner also acts as a portal to fax-server and document-management software. An internal Web site and free printer-management software give admins great latitude to monitor and control the machine. Organizations that need high-end copying features or tabloid-size paper will have to look elsewhere, but for most others, the 4730mfp is a fast, solid, affordable choice.

Unlike most MFPs, which are delivered and set up by the vendor, this model arrives in a box. But I found it easy to unpack, assemble, and install on my test network. Simple utilities can preconfigure driver settings and silently distribute the driver to users. An internal Web page provides a view of system status and reports; it’s also the primary way to configure access and security -- key issues for an MFP that can store users’ scans on its internal hard drive and send them over the network.

HP has released a new version of its printer administration software, Web Jetadmin 8.0 (a free download that HP really should include on the 4730mfp CDs). It incorporates a ticketing system to track printer problems, provides a report-generator module, and tracks usage patterns to project when consumables will expire. If you run a fleet of HP printers, you’ll find this handy.

The 4730mfp also includes a two-month demo version of HP’s DSS (Digital Sending Software) document-management system. DSS’s Folder button appears on the 4730mfp’s control panel, where users configure a scan and send it to any folders for which they’re authorized. Using DSS’s misnamed Workflow button, you can require users to enter metadata when scanning, as well as control scan settings and the downstream software that receives the scan. DSS pricing starts at $399 per MFP.

When designing the 4730mfp, HP paid attention to most mechanical details. Hinges, flaps, and panels feel sturdy. The scanner lid telescopes easily so that thick documents can squeeze onto the scanner glass, and the 50-page automatic document feeder flips over pages to scan both sides. Three 500-sheet drawers and a 100-sheet auxiliary tray can keep four kinds of media online. (Output options include a $700 three-bin “mailbox,” and an $800 stapling stacker.)

The toner cartridges, transfer belt, and fuser assembly all sit behind the right-side door with clearly marked latches and easy-to-grab handles that make maintenance a snap. Printing, feeding documents, and other mechanical tasks take place in near silence. That auxiliary tray sticking out at knee height, however, is sure to provoke some loud and very bad language.

Users will find the 4730mfp’s touch-screen control panel simple to use. Setting up a copy job follows a logical process. One button opens a window for describing an original; a separate button opens a window for describing the output -- for example, whether to collate or print duplex. For anyone who gets confused, the menus include about 20 printable tutorials.

The 4730mfp, however, lacks a few capabilities that you might expect or need down the road. For example, when combining several paper documents into one copy job, it can’t mix single-sided and double-sided originals. Further, you can’t add page numbers to a copy job, and you can’t mask out unwanted areas of the page (such as page numbers on the original). I also wish the control panel LCD could preview a scan before printing or sending the image.

In my ppm (pages per minute) performance tests, the 4730mfp did well. Its 31-ppm-rated engine churned out batches of plain text documents at 28.2 ppm, but copied them a bit slower, at 25.4 ppm. On stacks of Excel tables and graphics, its print speed hit 24.2 ppm and copy speed hit 25.7 ppm. (Slight adjustments in testing methodology render the 4730mfp’s scores incomparable with other recently tested printers or MFPs.)

It also did well on my image-quality tests, particularly printing. Its black was dark and very matte, and its crisp, clean text was legible down to 2-pt. type. It printed colors accurately, handled shading and textures well, and exhibited good detail. Grayscale photos looked too dark, however. On copies, the quality predictably dropped off a bit. Copied text had slightly rough edges but no spatter or fuzziness; color graphics looked slightly soft-focus but were otherwise good; moiré patterns marred grayscale photos.

The 4730mfp’s color scans were not bad, but text scans disappointed me: Choppy, barbed letters and lost serifs might interfere with running them through OCR. (OCR software is not included with the 4730mfp, so I did not test that.)

One positive trade-off for a letter-size machine: Operating costs run somewhat lower than for tabloid-size machines. I estimate that printing and copying 50,000 pages, or roughly one year’s output (about two-thirds of them black and one-third color), will consume $1,436, 100,000 pages will cost $2,872, and 250,000 pages will run you $9,603.

Overall, this simple, modestly priced new color MFP achieves what HP designed it to do. It can’t print or copy larger document sizes, and it won’t take Kinko’s by storm, but it offers a solid package for a small, busy workgroup.

— The PC World Test Center contributed methodology and logistical support to this project.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Ease of use (15.0%)
Speed (25.0%)
Value (15.0%)
Output quality (25.0%)
Features (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
HP Color LaserJet 4730mfp 8.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 7.0 8.1