HP Smart Tank 5101 review: when paper jams hurt

The HP Smart Tank 5101 isn't fast, but the prints are cheap.

hp smart tank 5101

MSRP $250.00

“The HP Smart Tank 5101 has its merits, but it suffers from software problems and cost-cutting measures.”

Pros

  • Extremely low cost per page

  • Includes two years supply of ink

  • Photo prints look good on plain paper

  • The scanner is fast with good quality

  • Optical character recognition works reliably

Shortcoming

  • Serious mobile app bug on iPhone

  • Small icon LCD and buttons are confusing

  • Faded lines in glossy prints

  • Paper jams are difficult to clear

HP’s Smart Tank 5101 is a compact all-in-one printer that comes with enough ink to last a year or more. That’s the best thing about tank printers – they eliminate the ongoing need to order new cartridges. Since the Smart Tank 5101 includes a scanner, it can serve multiple purposes for your home office, including copying, scanning, and printing.

HP is a trusted brand, but not all printers are the same. You want a tried-and-true printer that isn’t too expensive to run and that’s compatible with all your devices. And in my testing, the Smart Tank 5101 has a few more problems than the competition.

design

The HP Smart Tank 5101 is an attractive printer.
The HP Smart Tank 5101 is an attractive printer. Alan Trulli/

HP’s Smart Tank 5101 is a nice looking printer. The off-white edges and brown lid have nicely rounded corners. At the bottom left, four translucent windows show black, cyan, magenta, and yellow ink levels. Like most tank printers, the color is not visible, but HP has added a colored strip to each tank that matches the color inside. This is a nice touch for visual confirmation of which ink is low on the rare occasion.

The output bin is at the front, and a clever rotating arm pops up to hold your prints. The 100-sheet paper tray is at the rear, which increases the depth of the printer.

With all trays open, the HP Smart Tank 5101’s footprint is 17.1 inches wide and 22.9 inches deep. There’s no automatic document feeder (ADF), and the height is a short 11 inches, even when there’s paper in the tray. If you need to copy multipage documents, you should check out our list of the best all-in-one printers.

The display is a bit unusual. It’s a 1.2-inch icon display, which is exactly what it sounds like. Looking at icons on an LCD isn’t very useful when the LED lights and buttons at the bottom of that screen also have icons. The lack of information is frustrating when problems arise.

printing performance

HP's Smart Tank 5101 makes bulk color printing affordable.
HP’s Smart Tank 5101 makes bulk color printing affordable. Alan Trulli/

As HP claims, the Smart Tank 5101 has surprisingly good photo print quality on plain paper. This is important if you want low cost color. Even though the ink is cheap, letter-size glossy photo paper costs about 20 cents per sheet.

The crisp quality and brightness you get from photo paper is worth the expense for your best photos, but everyday photos and documents will be more affordable if you can print them on plain paper.

It’s no surprise that the HP Smart Tank 5101 prints bright, clear photos on photo paper, although colors are a little dull. It can’t match the dynamic range of a six-color printer like the Epson EcoTank 8500, but HP has designed the Smart Tank 5101 to meet the needs of families.

Borderless printing works well, but if I look closely I see light lines in the glossy print. This may be due to the bad paper jam I experienced in the first print. Clearing this paper jam required an unusual and significant effort, which involved disconnecting the printheads and flipping the printer on its face to pull the paper from the bottom hatch. After running printhead alignment several times, the lines remained.

Clearing a jam on the HP Smart Tank 5101 is not easy.
Clearing a jam on the HP Smart Tank 5101 is not easy. Photo by Tracy Trulli/

It’s quick to print black-and-white documents and labels. HP rates the Smart Tank 5101 at 12 pages per minute (ppm) for monochrome, but for an average color document it slows to 5 ppm (12 seconds per page).

It’s slower than most budget printers, and HP’s prices are in the low to midrange range. For example, Brother’s inexpensive, tank-like MFC-J1205W printer averages a sharp 9 ppm for color documents.

special features

The scanner of the Smart Tank 5101 is fast and captures in good quality.
The scanner of the Smart Tank 5101 is fast and captures images in good quality. Alan Trulli/

The HP Smart Tank 5101 is an all-in-one, so it includes scanning and copying functions. It takes some time to understand how to copy. I would develop muscle memory for the controls after some time, but the printer’s control panel is unfamiliar.

In most cases copying works well. The scanner is fast and has good quality. When making multiple copies of the same original, you can output 10 ppm in monochrome and 2 ppm in color.

Most documents have margins and scan well. When I tried a handwritten page that ran all the way to the edge, the right edge was cut off in the scan. I tried again, carefully aligning it, but the side was missing again. Canon’s PIXMA G4270 MegaTank seems more reliable, but it had a similar problem when copying documents with narrow margins. I believe a full page scanner should copy the entire page.

HP’s software includes options for multi-photo scanning and optical character recognition. OCR works well, suggesting that the HP Smart app has been improved since I reviewed the HP Envy Inspire 7955e, which was plagued with some software issues. However, multi-photo scanning appears to be unreliable. It failed to recognize individual images while scanning.

Software and Compatibility

HP includes four ink bottles supplying thousands of printed pages.
The ink refills quickly and lasts through thousands of printed pages. Photo by Tracy Trulli/

Since the Smart Tank 5101 lacks a proper screen, it’s best to setup with the HP Smart app. Make sure you are logged into a network that supports 2.4GHz as the printer requires it. It took me a few tries before I connected, but it wasn’t too much of a problem.

HP includes four full bottles of ink with the Smart Tank 5101, and I was prepared to spend a few minutes waiting for them to go into their respective chambers. But within a few seconds every big bottle was finished. Despite the free-flow of ink, no spillage occurred. HP has designed the bottles and tanks very well.

The printheads need to be installed, which is a quick, but unusual step for a tank printer. Next, I started printhead alignment, which was refreshingly simple. HP simplifies the process by printing a sheet that I transfer to the scanner for automatic adjustments. On paper, it looks good, but I had trouble with the light lines.

With inkjet printers, I usually start testing with a photo from my iPhone. I immediately realized a problem. HP Smart App did not show the proper paper size. There was no option to choose letter-size paper, and it defaulted to 3.5 x 5 photo paper. Paper size options included A4 and some other European paper sizes.

I’m in Canada, so maybe this was part of the problem, but we use the same paper as the US. I have tested several HP printers without facing this problem. There were some other printing issues related to the HP Smart App, but I won’t elaborate on this issue.

HP support provided resolution to my primary concern. If I use Apple AirPrint instead of the HP Smart app, the correct paper sizes appear. This limits the available options because AirPrint is a generic driver, whereas the HP app should provide the best support of your printer’s features. HP is aware of the problem and is working on a solution.

Everything continued to work normally on my Windows PC, Mac and Android phone. However, a large portion of the population owns an iPhone, so this is a notable issue.

Initial Cost vs. Long Term Value

HP's Smart Tank 5101 comes with 2 years of ink supply.
HP’s Smart Tank 5101 comes with a two-year ink supply. Alan Trulli/

The HP Smart Tank 5101 is an affordable inkjet tank printer. Still, $250 may seem expensive compared to inkjets that sell for around $100. However, the cost disappears over time. This is for two reasons.

First, HP includes four full bottles of ink, providing 6,000 monochrome pages and 8,000 color pages. HP estimates it will last for two years. Despite heavy printing I did not notice any degradation in quality. Second, the cost of ink is incredibly low.

While the cost per page (CPP) for ink of a cartridge-based printer like Epson’s Expression Premium XP-7100 is as high as 16 cents, the Smart Tank 5101 averages only six-tenths that per color document. Black and white pages cost about half the price.

Considering that I enjoyed good photo quality when using plain paper, the HP Smart Tank 5101 offers remarkably low costs for color as well as black and white.

Is this the printer for you?

The HP Smart Tank 5101 is a printer with a lot of possibilities. Unfortunately, software issues and some cost-cutting measures like smaller icon displays are preventing this.

Fixing the paper size mismatch should be simple. I hope HP resolves that issue soon. The alignment issue may be more difficult. If it’s simply a matter of getting the software calibration correct, this may be an easy solution. If this is the result of damage caused while clearing a paper jam, this is unfortunate as jams do occur occasionally.

If HP can fix the problems with software improvements, I will update the review accordingly. For now, I’m considering a few points from the Smart Tank 5101’s score. If you can find the Smart Tank 5101 at a discount, it might be good enough for you, but for now, there are better, more affordable all-in-one printers available that might be a better buy.






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