Low-cost HP fax machines: Avoid

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Technology
September 26th, 2007 • 4:46 pm

I now have conclusive evidence that low-cost HP fax machines are complete an utter crap.

See, I don’t really use faxes much in my line of work, but I do need to have a proper phone/fax machine, just in case. When my last machine broke down, I got my employer to buy me a replacement and, of course, they chose the cheapest model available, which was (at the time) a HP 1020.

From the moment I took that machine out of its packaging, I hated it. It had all kinds of stupid flaws, from the nearly invisible flashing green dot that is the only indication that you have messages in the answering machine to the fact that the fax machine wastes paper for various “reports” and error messages instead of displaying them on the LCD screen.

One of the most irritating aspects of the machine in daily use is the way it handles caller ID. The LCD screen can only display one line, so it only displays the number, even though caller ID information includes two lines (name and phone number). You cannot scroll through the list of the caller IDs of the most recent calls on the screen. If you want to review recent caller ID information, you have to print it on paper! Even the most basic phones let you review recent caller ID information on their LCD screens…

But the worst aspect of it is that, most of the time, the HP 1020 does not even display any caller ID information at all, even though that information is readily available. My other phones in the house are all able to “see” the caller ID of most phone calls without any difficulty. With the HP 1020, which is my main phone in my office, most of the time when I get a call the LCD screen does not display any information, even if I let it ring twice or three times.

For a long time I thought that it might have to do with the quality of the phone line to my office. Then a few weeks ago I read about this new Caller ID application by Apimac that can use Apple’s own USB modem to receive caller ID information and display it on the computer’s screen, without interfering with the phone device that is used to receive calls. Since I had a couple of unused Apple USB modems lying around, I figured I would give the application a try.

I used a phone cable splitter to split the line going into the fax machine and plugged the phone line into the Apple USB modem. I plugged the Apple USB modem into a USB hub connected to my Mac Pro. And I installed Caller ID. Even though Mac OS X did detect the modem port right away, I actually had to reboot the computer before Caller ID was able to use it properly.

But after that, everything worked fine. And I saw that Caller ID, using the Apple USB modem, connected to the exact same phone line as the fax machine, was able to display the caller ID information all the time, even though the HP 1020 still was unable to display it most of the time for the same calls.

Needless to say, I promptly purchased a licence for Caller ID, and I haven’t looked back (at that stupid HP 1020’s LCD screen, that is). Caller ID does not just detect the caller ID information; it actually matches it to the contents of my Address Book database, which means that it actually displays the phone numbers of the people I have in my Address Book along with their full name as recorded in the database. And it keeps a log of all the calls, that can be easily reviewed on screen, without wasting any paper!

The conclusion here is obvious. The electronics chip that is used in the HP 1020 to detect caller ID information sucks. The whole machine sucks. If faxes were more important in my work, I would get a proper machine, from another manufacturer. Or I would seriously explore on-line alternatives. But fortunately with Caller ID I can lay the issue to rest for now.

2 Responses to “Low-cost HP fax machines: Avoid”

  1. AlanY says:

    Almost all of HP’s low end consumer gear these days is terrible. The HP 5590 scanner for instance is absolutely awful. If they’re going to sell something as a sheet fed or duplex scanner, it should be able to work reliably for at least 10 pages without jamming. That’s not even including the awful software.

    It’s sad. HP has really gone downhill. I remember when even their cheap gear was wonderfully engineered. When I had an HP IIP laser printer, I once tripped and my hand came down on the nonremovable front paper tray, knocking it off. I thought for sure the plastic would have been broken, but on closer inspection, it had actually been designed to handle that kind of impact, and it went back on gracefully. I was impressed. Too bad their recent gear is nothing like that.

    These days, a lot of the gear from lesser known brands you’d think would be in the “cheap, knock-off” category is actually quite good. I’ve been impressed with Plustek’s scanners, for instance. In contrast, the HP brand is seriously damaged in my experience.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I feel the same way. I had a LaserJet 5MP that I was able to keep for nearly ten years, and I never had a single paper jam. It eventually started producing print-outs with too many “dirty” black spots, and I replaced it with a LaserJet 1320n.

    The 1320 still seems to be a pretty good piece of equipment, but admittedly it was not the absolute low-end. What has really done it for HP for me in recent years is the software. Thank God Mac OS X includes a number of built-in HP drivers.

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