The Envy 5540 is a good budget buy if colour is your priority, but it isn't designed for demanding workplaces.
Lots of features including smartphone support
Easy to install, configure and use
A little on the slow side
Quite expensive for mono printing
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HP's Envy inkjet printers are aimed at small/home office environments and have correspondingly small price tags, in this case just £69 including VAT (it's $130 over in the US, which is around AU$180).
As this is a printer that's packed with features, the Envy 5540 certainly looks like good value for money. It offers printing, scanning and photo printing, supports not just USB but Wi-Fi, Wireless Direct and AirPrint wireless printing, and it even offers automatic double-sided printing.
Setup and specifications
There's only so much you can do with the design of a printer, and the Envy 5540 keeps the glossy black design of previous Envy models. The layout has changed a little bit – the 2.2-inch display is a touchscreen and sits in the centre of the unit, not at the left as with previous models – but you're not going to mistake it for a rival device.
As with all HP printers, it's designed to work with a wide range of systems. The Envy 5540 is compatible with Windows Vista to Windows 10 and OS X from Lion to Yosemite (El Capitan isn't officially supported yet, but it works fine). Chromebooks aren't mentioned in the spec sheets but HP's ePrint service works with Google Cloud Print.
As we've come to expect from HP, setup is simple and accompanied by clear printed guides. Adding the device to our Wi-Fi network was effortless, and we were up and running in no time.
It's worth noting that the 5540 doesn't have an automatic document feeder – for that you'll need a more expensive model. It also lacks a memory card slot for printing from SD cards, and there's no USB port for flash drives.
The main selling point here is the colour printing, which is delivered by a thermal inkjet using CMYK inks and which supports borderless printing on 10 x 15 paper. It's accompanied by an ink subscription service that's designed to cut the cost of colour printing. More on that in a moment.
The Envy is capable of 1200 dpi scanning and 1200 dpi mono printing, rising to 4800 x 1200 dpi in full colour on specific HP photo papers. It copies at 10 pages per minute in black and 5 pages per minute in colour, and its print speeds are rated at up to 22ppm in black draft mode and 21ppm in colour draft mode. ISO numbers are 12ppm for black and 8ppm for colour.
The 5540's processor and RAM are fairly modest – 525MHz and 128MB respectively – and that can mean a fairly long wait for pages to appear. HP's own figures promise that the first page out can be "as fast as 19 seconds" in black and "as fast as 22 seconds" in colour, while a single borderless 10 x 15 photo can be "as fast as 34 seconds".
We found that first page out in black/draft mode was 17.2 seconds, with spot colour taking 22.7 seconds. Printing an A4-sized photo on plain paper at the Fine quality setting took 3 minutes and 23 seconds. The quality is worth waiting for, though: colours are vivid, photos are crisp and gradients are rendered without any banding or unwanted noise. It's good on plain paper and very impressive on photo paper.
Running costs are often the Achilles heel of inkjet printers, especially budget ones, with cartridges offering a double whammy of limited capacity and high prices. HP's standard cartridges aren't fantastic value for money – at £10 for black and £15 for colour, delivering 200 pages and 165 pages respectively, you're looking at 5p per page in black and white and 9p per page in colour – but the higher capacity XL cartridges are better value at £20 apiece.
Those cartridges have a yield of 600 pages in black and 415 pages in colour, which works out as 3.3p per mono page and 4.8p for colour. That's not bad for colour inkjet printing, although 3.3p for mono is still rather high – in comparison, the 950XL cartridges for the Officejet Pro range deliver 2,300 pages for £26.40 including VAT. That's 1.1p per page.
The Envy also offers HP's Instant Ink programme. It's a subscription service with three tiers – £1.99 for 50 pages per month, £3.49 for 100 and £7.99 for 300 – and automatic re-ordering whenever your HP decides it's running low on ink. Those tiers work out as 4p per page, 3.5p per page and 2.7p per page respectively, which is good value if you're going to print a lot of colour documents. If your needs are mainly mono, however, there are cheaper alternatives to the Envy.
The Envy 5540 is designed for modest print volumes – the monthly duty cycle is 1,000 pages of A4, with a recommended monthly volume of 300 to 400 pages. That's reflected in the paper trays, which will drive you spare if you're trying to print in volume; the main tray has room for 125 sheets and the output tray just 25. The photo tray has a capacity of 15 sheets.
Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.