This is the story of a printer.
It’s a bad printer.
It’s a very bad printer.
It’s no good.
It’s the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad HP Printer.
This story was going to be my New Year’s story. However, as events unrolled, I discovered that the printer problems I experienced in this story were caused by networking problems. I described those problems in my previous article, “Stay Curious. Stay Humble. Stay Connected.” This article details the printer problems.
Before I tell you the story of my recent printer frustrations and wasted hours, you need to know something about me. I’ve been connecting printers to computers for 45 years. My experience goes back to when I developed the HP 98036A serial I/O card, which could connect an HP 9825A desktop computer to serial printers via RS-232C, to serial terminals, and to teleprinters via a current-loop connection. That was way, way back in 1976.
Since then, I’ve connected TI 810 dot-matrix and NEC Spinwriter impact printers to CP/M machines via RS-232C and Centronics parallel connections. I’ve connected HP printers using HPIB (IEEE-488) connections. I’ve connected USB printers, lots of them. I’ve sometimes had to write low-level software drivers to get all of the features in these machines to work.
I’ve been connecting network printers to PCs for the past 25 years, going all the way back to 1996. That was before WiFi, back when we had to run blue RJ45 Ethernet cables around the office. The first networked printer I connected was a Tektronix Phaser solid-ink (wax) printer. That was a heavy, noisy beast of a printer. No one wanted to be near it, so it was a good thing it was networkable.
I’ve connected so many brands of printers from Brother, Canon, Epson, HP, Juki, NEC, Panasonic, Tektronix, TI, and others that I’ve lost track of them all.
Late last year, my daughter needed a new 3-in-1 printer/scanner/copier for her new business. I took the usual research path and consulted the oracle: Amazon. Three separate searches seemed to point me to an HP ENVY Pro 6455 3-in-1 inkjet printer. It met all of my criteria:
- It was a 3-in-1 printer with an automatic document feeder
- It was small
- It was light
- It connected over WiFi
- It could accept print jobs from computers, phones, and tablets
- It was Apple AirPrint compatible (My daughter seems to have sold her soul to Apple)
- It was white, so it met with my daughter’s fashion sense and Apple aesthetic.
I checked the online Amazon reviews of the printer. They were generally favorable, with 4.5 stars out of 5. It was available as a refurbished printer, and I’ve had good luck with buying refurbished computer products for the past 25 years. My daughter agreed to purchase the refurbished printer and it arrived in short order.
I was predisposed to HP printers. My first engineering job was with HP and I’ve had HP LaserJet and inkjet printers for two decades. I told my daughter to order the refurbished printer from Amazon for the low, low price of $80. What a deal!
So far, so good.
The HP ENVY Pro 6455 printer arrived in a plain brown box on a pleasant fall Saturday, and we took it to my daughter’s office to set it up. Despite being a refurbished unit, it was shiny, spotless. It also seemed to be very well packed, just like from the factory. All the moving bits were tightly taped up with that nice blue tape that doesn’t leave adhesive residue behind. The shipping box contained two brand new starter ink cartridges that were clearly from HP, and a USB cable, which HP apparently doesn’t supply if you buy a new printer directly from HP.
We took the printer from its box, removed all of the tape, plugged it in, snapped in the ink cartridges, loaded paper in the rather modest paper tray, and the printer rewarded us by spitting out a status sheet after we ran the print head calibration cycle.
The HP ENVY Pro 6455 is a minimalist printer. It has no information screen. Instead, it has four or five illuminated buttons and an interesting, multicolor light bar that shines down on the exit slot for the paper. While the printer is booting, the light bar flickers blue. When the printer enters its WiFi configuration mode, you see a rolling display of pleasingly purple light. My daughter was delighted by the colorful light show, just as the printer engineers had hoped.
Next, my daughter loaded the HP Smart program on her Apple iPhone. You need this program running on a phone or computer to configure the printer, because there’s no way to manually enter any information into the printer using buttons on the printer. That means there’s no way to specify a WiFi network SSID or password.
My daughter downloaded the HP Smart program into her phone via the office WiFi network. I mention this to establish that the WiFi network was already up and running. That’s going to be important later in the story. She started up the program and instructed it to connect to the printer via WiFi.
“Now wait a minute,” I hear you say. How are you going to connect a phone to a WiFi printer if there’s no way to tell it how to connect to the WiFi network? Aha! HP thought of that. The software on the phone initially connects to the HP ENVY Pro 6455 via Bluetooth, and that’s exactly what my daughter’s iPhone did. It connected successfully via Bluetooth. Then came a very, very long pause while the phone transferred the WiFi network’s SSID and password to the printer. It seemed like a very long time for transferring a double handful of characters. Finally, we were rewarded with a lit blue WiFi symbol on the printer’s abbreviated control panel. This ends the pleasant half of this story.
Here comes the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad half.
We were now ready to print a test page. No go. The phone claimed that the printer was offline.
OK, I thought, time to do this the right way. Old school. With a computer.
My daughter loaded the HP Smart program onto her Apple laptop and went through the same process. We got a worse result. The laptop version of the program could not even see the printer. A bit of Google searching revealed that our initial success in connecting to the printer with the iPhone had caused the printer to exit the connection mode. More Googling revealed that there was a small, barely visible, white-on-white pushbutton on the back of the printer to re-enter this mode. I held that button in for three seconds and the HP Smart program discovered the printer and restarted the connection process.
That process failed. The program reported a connection failure and the blue WiFi light was no longer lit.
We tried again. And again. On the third try, we accomplished just what we’d done with the iPhone. We had a printer with a lit WiFi indicator that reported itself offline.
At this point, my wife, who had been amusing herself nearby with a book, started making noises about wanting to go home. I ignore such noises at my peril. My wife had originally asked me how long it would take to set up this printer and I’d told her that it would take 15 minutes if we were lucky and two hours if we weren’t. Based on that estimate, she’d accompanied us to my daughter’s office. Our efforts were now at the three-hour mark, way past my worst-case estimate, so we called it a day and went to a restaurant for pizza slices. I decided to return to the crime scene later with my own trusty Windows laptop. Like I said, I’m old school.
A little more online Amazon research after the first disastrous session with the printer revealed that nearly all of the most recent customer reviews for this printer were very negative. An inability to connect over WiFi seems to be a hallmark of this printer, so I also ordered a USB adapter from Amazon to convert the Apple laptop’s USB C ports into USB A ports. That way, we could try connecting the printer over USB.
A couple of days later, after the USB adapters arrived, my daughter and I returned to her office to finish the job. We left my wife at home. Fool me once…
Armed with new information, my trusty PC, and the USB adapters, I exuded confidence. Completely unwarranted, as it turned out. We first tried connecting the HP ENVY PRO 6455 printer using the HP Smart software on my daughter’s Apple laptop through a USB cable with the adapter. We had instant success. In fact, the printer showed up on the available printer list as soon as we plugged the USB cable in. We were able to print and to scan using the HP Smart software. Good ol’ USB. You can nearly always count on it.
Things were looking up.
Some of my overnight research suggested that once the printer was configured via USB, it was easy to add the WiFi connection as a second instance of the same printer. Then you could delete the USB version.
That was not our experience.
After we had the printer connected and firing on all cylinders via USB, we could not get the printer to appear as a networked device. One of the customer reviews I’d read said that the switch could be accomplished with a different HP program called HP Start. We pointed my daughter’s Safari browser to the designated URL and HP’s site informed us that HP Start was a Windows-only program. No Apples allowed.
Fair enough. I’d guessed that might happen. That’s why I’d brought my Windows laptop with me, just in case. I plugged the printer’s USB cable into my Windows laptop, quickly added the HP ENVY Pro 6455 printer to my laptop PC’s printer list, downloaded the HP Start program, and followed the installation instructions. The first time through the installation, I already had the USB cable connected. That was a mistake apparently. You need to wait for the software to formally request that you make the USB connection. “Simon says” rules and protocols must be observed.
The second time through the process, we waited for permission to plug in the USB cable and were rewarded with the slow progress screen we’d seen days earlier on my daughter’s Apple laptop. Then the program died and said it had encountered an unknown error. It knew there was an error, but did not know how to fix the problem.
That’s when I turned to my daughter and said, “I’m sorry. I picked the wrong printer for you. This printer needs to go back. We’re going to return it. Now.” As Kenny Rogers sang, “Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em.” We needed to fold this hand. I instructed my daughter on using Amazon’s return feature, and two minutes later, she had a return label on her phone. Now all we needed to do was print it. Oh, the irony.
Yes, yes. I can hear you chortling over my dilemma, but I can assure you that we were on greased skids at this point. I wanted this printer gone. I told my daughter to email the return label to me (via WiFi) while I plugged the HP ENVY Pro 6455 into my laptop with the USB cable. We allowed the printer to print its own tombstone, er… return label.
We taped up the printer so the parts wouldn’t rattle in shipment, put it in its original shipping box with the original packing material, taped it all up, and dropped it off at UPS within the hour.
So what’s the design lesson here? In my opinion, the HP ENVY Pro 6455’s minimalist design is too minimalist. It’s great if the software is written to handle any problems that might crop up but there’s not much you can do if the fully automated software fails, as it did multiple times and in multiple ways in this story. The full 150-page user manual for this printer, which you must download from HP’s Website, gives you few general troubleshooting clues. (“Make sure the network is turned on.” Very helpful.) The printer’s own internal Web page, which I accessed through the USB cable (???) also gives you no usable information. Everything looked OK. The printer simply would not go online, and I saw no way to force the issue.
At the time, I had no idea why this printer refused to connect via WiFi, and HP’s software provided no troubleshooting help. There are dozens of other former owners who have left reviews on Amazon telling the same sad story. Eventually, I found out that the problem was caused by the WiFi guest network my daughter uses for Internet access. I explained this in my previous EEJournal article.
I cannot recommend this printer, despite its small size and futuristic appearance. If my 45 years of design experience, having connected all manner of peripherals to all manner of computers over the years, weren’t enough to make this printer work, how much luck do you think you’ll have?
Hey, HP. I’d gladly pay another $10 or $20 for a decent control panel.