These days, high-end all-in-one inkjet printers – that is, those that include a flatbed scanner and offer scanning and photocopying facilities as well as printing – are going in all sorts of directions. An incredible range of features have been added over the years, but not all of them have proved useful.
The HP Deskjet 2540 All-in-One Printer takes a different approach. Instead of piling on the features, throwing in extra ink tanks and cramming as much functionality as possible into the device, the HP Deskjet 2540 strips the inkjet printer down to its bare essentials, adding only what's important while keeping the costs as low as possible.
The end result is an all-in-one printer that sells for under £50 (at the time of writing, it's available at Amazon.co.uk for £46), but for the low-needs user, lacks few genuinely useful features found on much more expensive machines.
Most all-in-one printers selling at this price point are restricted to USB connectivity, supporting only a direct connection to your computer. Not so the HP Deskjet 2540 All-in-One. With notebooks long since having taken over from desktops as the most popular PC form factor, and mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones also now massively popular, wireless connectivity is almost an essential requirement in a home printer.
The HP Deskjet 2540 All-in-One doesn't disappoint, with Wi-Fi networking joining USB as connectivity options. Wireless Direct Printing is supported too, so you can print wirelessly without having to collect the printer to your network.
Unusually for a printer of this price, it's Apple AirPrint compatible, so you can print directly from your Mac or iOS devices, quickly and easily. Android, Blackberry, Symbian, Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets and smartphones are catered for too. There's no Ethernet, so network connections must be wireless.
Build and design
The HP Deskjet 2540 All-in-One is reasonably well built, but lacks the heavy-duty robustness associated with the company's Officejet printers. Its ivory white finish and relatively small footprint make it ideal for home use. The front sweeps back from top to base, making it look like the bow of a ship. This also means although the scanner is A4 in size, at the bottom the HP Deskjet 2540 All-in-One is just 18cm deep; just the thing if you've a suitably robust shelf you want to use it on.
Given the price tag, the HP Deskjet 2540 All-in-One inevitably makes a few compromises, though thankfully none of them are likely to be deal-breakers for those looking for a printer in this price range. There are only two ink tanks; a black, and a tri-colour cartridge offering cyan, magenta and yellow inks.
This isn't the most efficient setup, as if you run out of one colour, you have to replace the entire tank, wasting anything remaining in the other two chambers. In practice, this isn't as problematic as it sounds, as most printing tasks deplete the three colour tanks evenly. Power users might miss a fourth or even fifth colour for high-end photo printing, and a pigment black tank for text output, but budget printers such as this one are clearly not designed for them.
There's no colour touchscreen either, or indeed a colour screen of any kind. On-printer controls are very basic, consisting of half a dozen buttons and a trio of LED indicators showing when ink is low, or a wireless connection is made. The printer's screen – such as it is – measures just 2cm by 4cm, and only shows number of copies, media error and wireless signal strength.
Naturally, lack of a colour screen only really matters if you're printing images from media such as SD cards or USB sticks, and the HP Deskjet 2540 All-in-One lacks ports for such removable media anyway. It also means you have to connect through USB and then switch to wireless printing using the Setup Assistant, but it's easy to do and it's a task you only have to complete once.
Not for photographers
The HP Deskjet 2540 All-in-One's display and lack of media printing aren't the only reason it's not ideal for photographers. It also lacks borderless printing. Indeed, paper handling as a whole is very basic, with no automatic Duplex and a rear sheet feeder as the only input source – there's no internal paper tray.
When it comes to print quality, the HP Deskjet 2540 could best be described as 'good enough'. Given its incredibly low price, you wouldn't expect – and don't get – an output to match the best printers in HP's Officejet or Photosmart ranges. But nor does it disgrace itself. Text printing is vivid and stands out well, but lacks the precision of the best-in-class inkjets.
There's a little burring around the edges of the characters, and a little smudging at low point sizes. Not that you'd complain if you spent under £50 on a printer just to print out the odd letter. We've seen plenty of worse printers, and even if it's not outstanding, its text printing is perfectly acceptable.
Likewise, the HP Deskjet 2540 isn't built for speed, taking three and a half minutes to print our 20-page text-only test document (a speedy HP OfficeJet could do it in around one and a half minutes). But again, this isn't a printer for those who need top-quality printing in a jiffy. If you're more used to printing out one or two pages at a time, would you really notice the lack of speed?
When it comes to printing images, the HP Deskjet 2540 is surprisingly good. Again, not outstanding, but impressive given the price of the printer. Using good quality photo paper and Maximum DPI quality setting, photographs were almost impeccably realised, with smooth, consistent colour ramps, sharp details and no banding or other such imperfections.
They took a very long time to print and there was no borderless printing option, but the results were good. Perhaps the colours were a little subdued, but the overall quality belied the printer's price. Plain paper image prints at default quality weren't quite as good, showing traces of banding and speckling, but again, we've seen much worse.
If this review sounds a little lukewarm in places, it's because we're used to seeing better results and more impressive feature sets from printers that cost at least double (and frequently quadruple) the price of the HP Deskjet 2540.
Thus for all our criticisms, it's wise to remember exactly who this printer is aimed at. It isn't intended for photography enthusiasts, office printing or high-needs users. It's for those who only need to print occasionally, the sort of person who bought a computer for the internet and wants to pair it up with a printer just because it's there. Why send your bank manager a handwritten letter when you have a notebook on your lap? To put it another way, it might not be the ideal printer for you, the TechRadar reader, but perfect for your mum or your gran.
HP's Deskjet 2540 is the ideal printer for those on a budget, or whose needs aren't very exacting. It offers wireless networking and mobile printing, both of which are features not usually found in a sub-£50 printer. But unsurprisingly given the price, it can't match its more expensive stable mates for quality or feature range.
Given the price, the HP Deskjet 2540 puts in a good, though not stellar, performance. Once again, wireless networking is uncommon on a printer of this price. It's easy to set up too, but this has to be done over a USB connection with your computer. It's even Apple AirPrint-compatible. Its text output is good enough for low-needs users, producing vivid text that's fine for a letter to your bank manager or a CV. It photocopies and scans pretty well too.
Although it packs some impressive features for the price, the Deskjet 2540 can't compete with more expensive models in this respect. There's no colour screen and nowhere to plug in removable memory cards, so don't expect to print directly from flash storage. There's no internal paper tray, just a sheet feeder at the rear of the printer, and there's no auto Duplex. Pricier models offer a better quality too, though the 2540 holds its own very well considering how cheap it is.
Is this a printer for you? It depends on how much printing you actually do. If you only want to print the odd letter and make the occasional photocopy, this is an exceedingly cheap way to do it, and most of its drawbacks won't get in the way at all. Who cares, for instance, that it hasn't got a paper tray if you only use it two or three times a month anyway? And so what if it's slow, when you almost never print more than a couple of documents at a time?
If you're looking for a solid photo printer or an all-in-one for the home office, look elsewhere. If, however, you bought your PC for email and the web, and want a cheap and cheerful inkjet to retire the battered old typewriter you use to write the occasional formal letter, look no further.