The Smart Tank 5105 offers cheaper printing than cartridges, but some of the choices made here suggest it’s not a product HP was enthusiastic about making. Small starter ink bottles aren’t customer friendly, and this printer could be better made and designed, but at least it isn’t using cartridges.
Price When Reviewed
The first inkjet printers that used refillable ink tanks instead of disposable cartridges appeared in 2015. Epson’s EcoTank aped the print delivery systems many people had used to avoid the ridiculously high cost and waste of cartridge printing.
Epson still makes many printers that use cartridges, as does HP, because those printers can be sold cheaper.
Smart Tank is HP’s answer to EcoTank, and the 5015 is an all-in-one printer that mounts a flatbed scanner over an inkjet chassis to facilitate copying, scanning and printing. It can take A4 and legal paper or sizes smaller than those, and feed up to 100 sheets, depending on the thickness, from the input tray.
Connection to the printer can be a physical cable, but it also has wireless options, including support for a Wi-Fi network, Wi-Fi Direct or Bluetooth. If you do want to use USB, you’ll need to buy a cable since HP doesn’t include one with the printer.
What is in the box along with the printer are four ink bottles to fill the internal tanks, two print heads for B&W and colour, and a wealth of printed instructions, including setup guides, regulatory flyers and warranty info.
Once operational, the owner can expect a printer designed for a typical monthly page cycle of between 400 and 800 pages (approximately up to 40 per working day). ISO print speed of 5 ppm in colour and 12 ppm in mono. It’s meant either for home use or a small business team of up to three people.
The real attraction of the Smart Tank 5105 is the low cost of printing. Based on the ink provided in the box, and the monthly cycle, the ink that comes with it should be good for at least eight months after purchase and possibly much longer.
The warranty is a single year or 30,000 pages, whichever comes first, although you can get up to two years extended warranty upon registration. Anything you replace, such as the printheads, has a specific warranty attached.
Design & Build
If you’ve not handled a modern inkjet printer, they’re often flimsy. The construction here is mostly plastic, with metal being reserved for stiffening the print carriage and providing a basic skeleton on which the plastic panels can be hung.
At just a little over 5kg empty, the 5105 is light and easy to carry, not that you’ll be moving it around much.
Presumably, as a production cost saving, HP didn’t give this printer a display – just like Epson’s EcoTank ET-18100. Therefore setup must be accomplished either using the HP Smart mobile app or by connecting it directly via a computer, using a USB cable you must already own.
For those unfamiliar with tank printers, they’re effectively the same as a cartridge printer, but instead of the ink being stored inside a cartridge, it is in a reservoir and then fed to print heads using rubber tubing.
Where HP went slightly away from the Epson model for these devices is that instead of the print head being an integral part of the printer. The designers here used an inkjet design in which each cartridge is its own printhead, and two of these, for colour and B&W, are provided to be installed when the printer is first configured.
This design, therefore, makes the printheads consumables, and they cost £13.99 each to replace.
How often the printheads need changing isn’t obvious from the documentation, but if the head does get clogged, these can be user removed, cleaned or replaced. Normally, we’d be annoyed by the additional expense, but in this context, making them easily replaceable is a smart choice. It also might provide an easy way to empty the ink tanks entirely, should someone wish to switch the printer to creating sublimation output (which you might do if you wanted to print t-shirts, for example).
There isn’t anything else remarkable about the 5105. It’s a typical HP design where every fraction of a cent has been accounted for to make it profitable for the company, unsurprisingly.
Specs & Features
The print engine in the 5105 isn’t substantially different from the print technology HP has been selling with cartridge designs for some years.
This one has a single rear-loading paper system that can accept up to 100 sheets depending on the thickness of the paper. Paper handling is one of the features of this printer that we didn’t care for.
The angled ramp that the paper sits on only has one moveable paper guide on the left side that forces the paper against a fixed edge on the right. This arrangement works well enough with thin A4 stock, but if the rollers don’t grip smaller photo paper cleanly, it can easily get damaged on the fixed side of the path.
We had this happen several times with A5 and 10×15 cm paper, making the damaged prints unusable.
Equally, the output area is a very narrow and thin plastic extension that is only 10cm wide. Because of the paper feeding, it is only the right, and the output limit of 30 pages may be due to any more being liable to break this fragile-looking ramp.
Given the paper handling and its fragility, it seems curious that HP seemed happy to include some less-obvious features
Some ‘ink tank’ printers don’t have ink-level sensors, but the 5015 does, and it also has smart power management that can sleep the printer when not in active use.
The control cluster has a tiny LCD for controlling the copier function, although all the controls here are duplicated on the HP smartphone application. You can scan from a computer or phone, but with no location for the scanned images to go on the bare printer, the scanner is only useable in a copy mode on a stand-alone configuration.
The monthly duty cycle of the 5105 is 3,000 A4 pages, or roughly 150 pages a day, but the recommended monthly use is just 400-800 pages, or between 20 and 40 pages daily.
On this basis, even if printing is relatively cheap, the 5015 isn’t a replacement for a high-volume laser printer or a mono tank printer built for speed and durability.
The scanner is a single-sheet flatbed mechanism meant for occasional copying and scanning, but it wouldn’t provide the foundations for a document imaging solution.
Before we talk about print performance, let’s talk about ink.
An equivalent Epson EcoTank printer to the HP 5105 is the EcoTank ET-1810, which comes with four 65ml bottles of ink, totalling 260ml. The HP 5105 comes with a single 135ml black bottle and three 50ml mini bottles, which is 15ml more ink overall but includes less colour ink.
For those wondering, it isn’t possible to purchase 50ml colour ink bottles from HP, as the standard size is 70ml. These little50ml bottles are much like the partially filled ‘starter’ ink cartridges that HP loves so much. Epson, on the other hand, tends to include standard-capacity ink with its EcoTank printers.
As priming the system takes some ink that must remain in the system, these 50ml bottles could result in the coloured ink not going as far as you might anticipate.
Thankfully the tanks are visible and give a good indication if you are using one particular colour more than the others and when it might be appropriate to refill. All the Epson EcoTank designs we’ve seen so far also rely on the owner to input an ink level for the printer to track, but HP has sensors that detect ink levels and warn the user if they’re getting too low.
That’s a critical feature because should air be drawn into the tubes that feed the printhead, it might cause blockages. Or, in a worst-case scenario, cause the ink to dry in the tubes or head. In this respect, maintaining good ink levels is essential for all tank printers.
Where this design is less remarkable is the initial configuration, where the process of getting it running is quite convoluted. However, HP does provide decent documentation to help you get through it.
After removing all the annoying blue tape and connecting the printer to power, you can load the inks. HP doesn’t use any sort of keyed connector like Epson, relying instead on the customer to put the right colours in the correct tanks. That process is relatively painless, simply working across the tanks plugging each bottle in and watching the ink glug into the reservoir below.
Some ink is required to prime the system, and we were curious to see exactly how much ink would be used up. From the black 135ml bottle, it took more than half, and we entirely emptied the 50ml colour bottles into the respective tanks. Therefore, a good rule of thumb is that each colour tank and the lines to the printhead represent about 70ml of capacity, which is the same size as the replacement colour bottles, which makes sense.
Once the ink is loaded, the printhead carriage moves to the centre to have the printheads installed, which is something of a fiddly exercise. With that task complete, the printer will print an alignment sheet that you then scan to get the settings back in the printer. This is obviously a well-tested solution, and as long as you follow the provided instructions, it should be achievable by most users.
And finally, you can use the HP Smart app on your phone to connect the printer to a local Wi-Fi network where you can print from any computer on that network, regardless of whether it’s a phone, tablet, laptop, PC or Mac.
The first thing to say about the HP 5105 is that this isn’t a high-speed printer.
The quoted speeds are 12 pages per minute for black-and-white pages and just 5 ppm for colour, which begs the immediate question of why the colour output is so slow in comparison with the black.
The answer is that where the entire print head allocated to black gets 704 nozzles, the three colours are forced to share a head with just 588 nozzles in total, or 196 nozzles for each colour. This is undoubtedly the result of repurposed cartridge printing technology. With more nozzles allocated to the colour side of this equation, it might have been faster at colour printing.
It is also worth noting that those quoted speeds are for ISO print standards and that depending on the specific content you print, the actual speeds experienced can be faster or slower. For monochrome printing, the first page is supposed to arrive as fast as 14 seconds, and a colour print could start in as little as 21 seconds.
Draft printing can reduce print time if you are happy to accept the lower-quality output that mode entails.
HP Development Company
In our testing of the ISO standard page with 5% coverage, the first print appeared on schedule at 14 seconds, and then subsequent prints of the same content arrived every 12 seconds, using standard quality.
Printing a 15 x 10 cm (6x4in) photo in standard quality over Wi-Fi took only six seconds for the printer to spring into action, and the print took a further 72 seconds to complete. A full borderless A4 image at standard quality took around a minute to initialise and then 3 minutes and 44 seconds to print. Using high-quality mode could extend the time for an A4 print well beyond six minutes.
If you want to use this printer for photos, it might be best to send a job to the printer and then go and make a coffee. But for text-only output in black, achieving five pages a minute from this printer without resorting to draft mode is perfectly possible.
There are two prices to consider here; cost of purchase and cost of ownership.
HP wants £209.98 for the printer in the UK, making it at least £60 more than the Epson ET-1810 equivalent. It does come with a little extra black ink, and the replaceable printhead technology is useful, but those don’t justify the price difference entirely.
The cost across Euro varies from a peak of around €230 down to as little as €195 in Germany, depending on where you get it from, with the cheapest source typically being Amazon. Currently, HP hasn’t launched the 5015 in the USA yet, although it can be bought on import.
We’ve mentioned that the two printhead replacements cost £13.99 each, parts that will be needed should the heads become blocked.
The quoted page yields are based on ISO/IEC 24711. In that standard, five pre-defined pages that include words and graphics in black and colour are printed successively until the printer is empty. But these numbers don’t factor in the priming ink that must remain in the system to stop air from reaching the printhead, and it won’t make any allowances for the exact mix of inks any person might use.
While the HP Smart Tank 5105 isn’t specifically designed for photo printing, it can print reasonable-quality images, but the unit cost per print is proportionally higher. That said, the price of bottled ink is a magnitude cheaper than the same volume of ink in a cartridge. It should be possible to print 10 x 15 cm photos with 100% coverage for less than 5p a print, excluding the paper, using the HP 5105.
As for competitors, other than the previously mentioned Epson ET-1810, the price is very close to the Amazon cost of the Epson ET-2850, a design with an automated duplex mode and a colour screen. That printer comes with 464ml of ink by default for approximately £10 more. Or, Epson also has the cheaper ET-2810 without a screen for £50 less but with similar performance.
At closer to £250, the Canon Pixma G4511 is £40 more expensive but offers faster printing, a 20-sheet ADF, offers Faxing, and a very high page yield from the default ink included in the box.
Overall, the HP 5105 seems overpriced compared with the cheaper offerings by Epson and Canon and a little too close to the next tank printer tier that offers many more features and higher print speeds.
At last, we’re seeing HP come out to engage Epson, where it is having the most success, and the HP 5105 is a practical solution for any home or small office customer that would like to worry less about the cost of printing.
The cheapest black printing is still from a laser printer, but the cost of colour printing using bottled inks is a substantially better proposition than the frighteningly high price of cartridges. It’s also better for the environment, even accepting that we feed these machines with pulped trees.
The print quality is good, but there is a slight mismatch between the black and colour capabilities. Black printing is done with square pixels at 1200 x 1200 dpi, and the colour is deposited at four times the density but rectangular using a 4800 x 1200 dpi layout. Therefore colour printing is superior to black, but the parts of a colour print that use black are at a lower resolution than those that don’t.
For general use and occasional photo production, the 5015’s print quality is good, but it isn’t on par with a dedicated photo printer that uses only dyes and has more than three primary colours.
That said, the print speed might not be rapid, but the results are acceptable for many that print occasionally. Prints are sharp and well-defined even on copy paper, and photo output is surprisingly vibrant. The only caveat to using this for photo printing, other than the low speed, is that the black pigment has a distinctly different reflectivity on high gloss paper than the coloured dyes. And, if you view the print from an angle, those differences are very apparent.
Where this product is a bit disappointing is in the build quality department. This construction feels flimsy, and the outfeed support looks especially fragile.
What the HP 5105 is fine for is a limited-duty office printer. It is cheap to run and easy to network, and while cheaper tank printers are available from other brands, this one should be straightforward and inexpensive to source ink for once you’ve consumed the bottles that come with it.
If you’re convinced to buy one, we strongly suggest registering the printer once you’ve got it to get the extended warranty.
Functions: print, copy, scan
Media: A4, B5, A6, DL, envelope, Legal
Connection: Bluetooth Low Energy , Hi-Speed USB 2.0 (device), WiFi 802.11b/g/n, WiFi Direct
Print head nozzles: 704 (black), 588 (tri-colour)
System: 980 MHz SoC and 64 MB of integrated DDR1
Inks: Black (pigment), cyan, magenta, yellow (all dyes)
Page Yield out of the box: 6000 pages black, ~6,000 pages cyan, magenta, yellow composite yield
Quoted ISO print speeds: 12ppm B&W, 5 ppm colour
Borderless print: Yes
Dimensions: 434.66 x 361.53 x 157.26 mm
Weight: 5.03 kg
Warranty/support: 1 year or 30,000 pages limited hardware warranty, extended by two years if you register with HP