HP Tango First Impressions

Posted on December 3, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Hardware, Mobile with 29 Comments

HP has transformed its PC business over the past several years. And it’s doing so with its printer business as well.

I have to be honest: When HP asked whether I was interested in looking at a new kind of printer, I wasn’t even sure how to respond. My wife and daughter both still print fairly regularly, but the network-attached laser printer I kept in my previous home office was purposefully left behind when we moved. I just don’t need to print all that much.

(My wife disagrees with this assessment, pointing out that I now just email her documents, like shipping labels and boarding passes, that I need to be printed out. Fair enough.)

More to the point, printing seems so … 20th century. One of the big promises of the “office of the future” was that it would be paperless. But in the decades since this prophecy, paper usage has only increased, both at work and at home. And this despite the digital transformation that’s happening all around us.

And it’s not just hipsters, which I define as people who are nostalgic for a time they did not experience. In our race to digital, we’re discovering that paper makes sense in many cases. That sharing via a physical object is more special. That writing with a real writing implement on real paper doesn’t just feel better, is in fact literally better when it comes to memory retention.

So what the heck.

To my surprise, HP’s new printer series, called Tango, is in fact quite interesting. Tech companies use terms like “reinventing” and “reimagining” perhaps a bit too much. But in this case, it applies: Tango is indeed a, ahem, rethinking of what home printing should be in this era of smart homes and smart devices. It is what HP calls the world’s first smart printer.

What makes it smart?

First, it’s a modern device that works with the other smart devices in your home. Not just your PC or Mac, but also your smartphones and tablets and, via an digital personal assistant compatibility and an interesting extensibility model, your other smart devices too.

Setup typically occurs via a smartphone, though there is a Microsoft Store app for you old-timers. I recommend sticking with the phone, however: Once you’ve set up Tango, your PCs and Macs will automatically connect and will work as you expect.

The smartphone integration goes beyond setting up and basic printing. You can scan and copy documents and photos with HP’s app, called Smart, and it does all the usual straightening and edge correction you would expect here in 2018. You can also print from anywhere. So if you scan something at work, say, you can print to your home-based Tango from there. It will print immediately or, if the lid is closed, when you come home and open it up (or add paper or whatever).

Like recent renditions of Amazon’s Echo lineup, or like all Google Home products, Tango will appeal to minimalists from a design perspective and will look natural in your home, and not like a gronky printer from the past. There’s only one cable, and that’s for power. You couldn’t connect to this thing via Ethernet or USB if you wanted to.

This simple design extends past the superficial. The device itself is devoid of hard buttons and uses a series of lighting guides and nearly invisible soft buttons to help guide the user through printing tasks in a context-sensitive way.

In keeping with our interconnected world, HP has also rethought printer supplies. Tango keeps track of its paper and ink usage, and will alert you via the smartphone app when supplies are low. Better still, you can subscribe to an inexpensive HP service called Instant Ink that will simply send you ink cartridges when your current supply is getting low.

Perhaps most exciting, Tango interacts with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa—Siri support requires a level of extensibility that isn’t/wasn’t available, but it will come—and with IFTTT to enable some interesting possibility. Voice control, obviously: You can use your voice to print non-traditional documents like shopping and to-do lists, calendars, coloring book pages, puzzles, and more. But a growing collection of IFTTT services, made by individuals, will expand this capability dramatically. I’ll be paying special attention to that in the near future.

HP sells two versions of Tango, the base unit, simply called Tango, for $149, and Tango X, which adds a home-friendly linen cover, for $199. Quite reasonable.

Tango X comes with a linen cover

So far, I’ve only set up and configured the Tango X review unit, connected to it via a variety of devices, and printed a few test shots. Initial set up is as simple as HP described: You just plug it into power and then insert the color and black and white ink cartridges once it’s powered up.

Configuration occurs via the HP Smart app, which I installed on my Android phone. This app connects the printer to the home Wi-Fi. And once configured, it provides ink cartridge and paper level estimates, and will denote when the printer is not available, because the lid is down, perhaps, or because there’s no paper.

When the Tango’s lid is up, it’s available for printing, and the lid itself does double duty as an angled paper tray with resizable guides.

I test Tango, I displayed a photo on my phone and then select the normal Print option from “More” (“…”) menu. The Tango printer appeared in the resulting screen alongside “Save as PDF” and “Save to Google Drive.”

So I selected it and hit the Print button. On the printer itself, a yellow light appeared pointing up at the open lid, where I need to add some paper. This is a nice visual guide, and there are similar cues that occur as needed on the device.

Once the paper was inserted—I used one of the 4 x 6 photo paper samples that HP supplies in the box—it began printing. A red “X” soft button lit up, allowing me to cancel the operation.

And a blue light shined out of the bottom of Tango where the photo was emerging. Nice.

The resulting photo print is of excellent quality and very similar to what we see from my wife’s older inkjet printer upstairs.

I’ve got a lot more to test here, but I’ll save the rest of my experiences for the review. For now, I’m really impressed at how HP is bringing its printer business into the 21st century. Not too shabby for a legacy product line that many thought might disappear overnight.

 

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Comments (30)

30 responses to “HP Tango First Impressions”

  1. Avatar

    jwpear

    Has HP somehow managed to squeeze more pages out of those ink cartridges? Will it continue to print b&w if it is out of color ink?


    I've become so skeptical of any printer these days due to the crazy ink cartridge prices. It costs about $65 to refill our current Canon printer (MG5220) with five ink tanks. I swear it seems we get less than 100 pages on a cartridge (much fewer photos), but that's totally subjective. We're always replacing ink.


    I've noticed newer printers, this HP included, have gone back to combining the color cartridge. I'm skeptical of this practice. Is this just a way to squeeze more money out of consumers because they have to buy a new cartridge when only one color has run out?


    We need a way to assess the total cost of ownership, or yearly cost of ownership, for these things.

    • Avatar

      lvthunder

      In reply to jwpear:

      I don't know about these consumer printers, but the printers photographers use some of the reviews have a price per page breakdown. Typically the more you pay up front for the printer the cheaper it is per page. If you don't print a lot and you aren't printing photos it's best to get a laser printer instead of an inkjet.

  2. Avatar

    Oasis

    I bought a Samsung Laser printer over a year ago as I got tired of replacing ink cartridges and I had an Epson Photo printer with the blade cartridges and when I could find them they weren't real cheap and if you don't use them the just dry up and guess what, you replace more of them. I will never have to replace any of the toner cartridges on this one as i have printed maybe 100 pages and they are good for about 6-700. Would never buy another non toner printer, just an excuse to screw you regularly.

  3. Avatar

    bart

    The biggest issues I have always had with wireless printers (no ethernet connection), is that they are incredibly unreliable. For some reason it prints one day, but not the next.

    I'll be very interested to hear how you find the reliability on these printers Paul.

  4. Avatar

    FalseAgent

    I left HP for Canon a long time ago. Haven't had to look back. Honestly, I don't care for fancy lights and designs. I just want to print without the printer throwing a hissy fit at 5am in the morning.

  5. Avatar

    locust infested orchard inc

    At $149, this printer had better produce top-quality photorealistic prints, else purchasing this printer will be a case of Tango & (excessive) Cash. :-D


    For those in the UK, purchase of this HP printer will be a case of, "you know when you've been Tangoed". :-D

  6. Avatar

    bassoprofundo

    I don't know about others, but I find myself using the scan portion of my AIOs these days more than actual printing. I try to keep receipts, important docs, etc. all stored electronically. So, in addition to not having out of control ink costs, I'd like a consumer/small-office printer with an ADF that isn't completely janky. Even the expensive models these days come with some piece of crap, jam-tastic ADFs that die way before the print mechanics too. I've had this on my last 3 printer purchases. Anyone have any recommendations there, or do they all suck?

    • Avatar

      Patrick3D

      In reply to bassoprofundo:

      The large sheet scanners like Fujitsu's ScanSnap are nice if you need to scan multiple sheets at once but can be quite expensive (> $400.) I bought a $100 Brother DS620 mobile scanner that is about the size of a pencil case but wide enough to fit a sheet of paper. It just requires a single USB cable and works perfectly fine for scanning receipts, documents and photos. The only downside is it can only scan one item at a time. The nice thing though is you can tuck it away in a drawer when you don't need it out.

      • Avatar

        bassoprofundo

        In reply to Patrick3D:

        Thanks for the input! I'd love to get something like the Fujitsu and move my existing AIO down to the basement where my wife can access it without barging into my office. She teaches music lessons privately out of the house and is always coming in to make copies using the flatbed. I could easily get by with that plus a cheaper mono laser, while my wife really needs a legal sized flatbed. Unfortunately, it's a little rich for my blood given the single purpose use case. Maybe Santa will bring me one... :)

    • Avatar

      pmeinl

      In reply to bassoprofundo:
      You could get a dedcicated scanner device like the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 - very quick and reliable


  7. Avatar

    mmcpher

    I have a couple of Canon's I use at home, or away from home via Google Cloud Print and/or a Canon print app, and there's a lag but they work. But I have the "wireless" printer tethered to the wifi router via USB, which seems to have improved the reliability. I don't imagine there's some new wifi magic built into Tango, that can't be incorporated into other, more full-featured wifi printers. The main thing, of course, are the damn cartridges that are constantly running out while they are running up in price. I expect Tango will be doing this same dance. I assume that the "inexpensive" ink service is relative to the exorbitant "regular" costs. I considered trying a Epson home printer that had a large ink reservoir. That would be a real change. The other issues with home printers are the clankiness of the software, the unreliability of their staying online, and damn paper tray feed. Still, the absence of the wired connection is encouraging and maybe too, the app will be better than I'm used to, with simple options as to type, size, etc. And the phone scanning still has a ways to go but is improving all the time.


    I would also hope the Tango will send an intelligible error message to the app when things get sideways. My printers, whether they were HP's, Canon's or Epson's, instead "communicated" via a series of rapid-cycling multi-colored lights. Just for laughs, apparently.

  8. Avatar

    Trickyd

    I'd be interested in a colour laser version - I presently use an HP colour laser in a similar mode as Paul has described using wireless and the HP smart app and it works great - photo printing is surprisingly good and fast - and general purpose prints like boarding passes etc are much more durable than from inkjet.


    The problem I see with Inkjets for occasional print users is that the ink cartridges often expire and stop working long before you've emptied them or even used them at all in some cases and invariably this happens just when you really need to print , so I've found colour laser cartridges cheaper overall and more convenient for my limited usage < 1000 pages per year.



  9. Avatar

    roho

    I'll never buy another HP ink jet printer. The one I had (now in a landfill) wouldn't let me use non HP cartridges. HP printers are a scam to get you buy overpriced ink. I don't need fancy lights and a fabric cover, just cost effective price per page.

    • Avatar

      MikeGalos

      In reply to RoHo:

      Not to mention a history of buggy drivers that don't get fixes since updates make it less attractive to buy a replacement printer.


      Personally, I've also given up on HP's printers and have switched to Brother for general printing and Epson for color matched photo and larger format printing.

  10. Avatar

    MikeGalos

    Honestly I'm not seeing what's so "21st century" here.

    Wireless, network attached printers aren't new.

    Printing from devices isn't new.

    Automatic supply reordering isn't new.

    Bad paper feed design isn't new.

    Maybe it's the $50 cloth cover or having colored lights?


    Seriously, not seeing anything particularly interesting.

  11. Avatar

    RM

    Some cool features, but my printer will automatically open so I can print and it cost about the same price a few years ago.

  12. Avatar

    rvanallen

    About a year ago, tried a similar HP printer device with rear angled paper feed and Instant Ink. Never cared for angled tray units as they tend to produce more jambs and double-feeds. Bottom feed path has never failed me. The Instant Ink program can get expensive -- and quickly. You'll need to determine monthly usage and avoid ink overage charges. Perhaps the ink program has gotten better but recommend some analysis before automatically signing up.

  13. Avatar

    jaredthegeek

    I picked up a color laser printer for $100 on sale at Staples. Its not photo quality but its going to do 700 pages with the "starter" toner it came with. That's more than I print in a decade. It does clouding printing and I can not imagine an instance where i would need a printer to interact with my google assistant.


    I have however been looking at smallish photo printers. Although I like digital and its great there are still a lot of people in my life that would prefer a physical print.

    • Avatar

      jdmp10

      In reply to jaredthegeek:


      I wouldn't put too much hope in that 700 pages statement especially if you use the printer that infrequently. You may be lucky to get 500 pages and even that's stretching it. I need a small-ish printer I can set up and stash away easily since my wife and I rarely have a need to print but outside of work and the local Kinkos, we have no other access to a printer. Ebay has older Epson models going for less than $50 that are also wireless and compatible with ePrint and Airprint and the aesthetics of this I could care less about.

    • Avatar

      lvthunder

      In reply to jaredthegeek:

      Physical prints are best. What type of smallish photo printer are you looking for? Something that just does 4x6?

  14. Avatar

    difelicem

    For me it's not he printer tech that needs updating, (though the ones you discuss above sound nice) it's the cost of consumables

    • Avatar

      lvthunder

      In reply to difelicem:

      Why do you think print magazines and newspapers are going under? Ink is expensive. There is no getting around it. Also in printing tech all the R&D is spent on the ink. The printer itself just holds the ink and paper.

      • Avatar

        SvenJ

        In reply to lvthunder: I don't think ink is especially expensive, it's the darn cartridges it comes in. Or maybe it's the way these companies make money. A complement of cartridges for my printers, HP or Epson, generally costs nearly as much as the printer did. If it weren't so ecologically insensitive, I could save money by just buying new printers every time I ran out of ink, and get upgraded printers.


    • Avatar

      bluesman57

      In reply to difelicem:

      I bought an Epson Eco-Tank printer about a year and a half ago, and you refill the ink tanks with $12 bottles. Has worked great so far. Epson's scanning software is also superior.

    • Avatar

      Daekar

      In reply to difelicem:

      This. Our printer is several years old and does everything we need and want, including printing from smartphones, but the cost of ink is insane and the primary reason why we rarely use it. In fact, if we didn't need to periodically print out tickets for the symphony or rock concerts, I doubt we would bother having a printer at all.

  15. Avatar

    justme

    Biggest bugbear hounding printers is the price of consumables. And subscribe for ink? Uh, no. Just...no. Tell me when I'm low, thats fine. If you are feeling generous, let me know which cartridge needs replacing. I can do the rest, really.


    <oldtimer>And I will set my printer up on my desktop first and foremost. Now you kids, get off my lawn!</oldtimer>


    I'll wait for your full review, but apart from the novelty of setting up the printer with a phone app, I dont see anything that is ground-breaking. I dont need the lights nor want digital assistants to print (I know digital assistants are used by many folks who consider them a boon. Maybe that is the ground-breaking tie-in. They do nothing for me.) Print what I want. Scan what I want. When I press the button. Reliably.


    Oh, also not paying $50...for a fabric cover...for my printer.

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