Review: HP Premium Fax All-In One C309A Printer

FB Reminder: I am away on vacation right now. This post has been scheduled ahead of time.
I won’t be moderating comments until end of August 2009. Thanks for your patience!


I received this HP Premium Fax All-In-One C309A printer including cartridges and paper for free from a PR firm to use for a trial period of 4 months, and run tests, without any obligation to review the product on my blog. I am choosing to review the product. While I received the printer for free, that in no way will ever stop me from telling the truth about the product (has it ever?). I know it may be hard to believe, but sometimes free things aren’t always good things… which is not true in this case. There are very good features to this printer and some big drawbacks, all of which I shall cover in this review. This was an incredible opportunity, but as they read my blog, they know that anything I review, will be reviewed honestly. With that being said, it wasn’t all smooth sailing with setting up this printer, due to a Windows Firewall conflict in Windows XP & Vista for example, but for the most part, it fairly easy to set up everything.


  • HP Photosmart Premium Fax All In One C309A
  • $349 CAD debuted in March 2009

Cartridges uses: HP 564

  • The XL costs $45 CAD (800 pages)
  • The normal ones cost $15 (100 pages)

The Test Environments

Between BF and I, we own the range in computing, and can pretty much test anything on any of our laptops except Linux.

We have the following 8 laptops (don’t laugh) between the two of us, and can run it both on XP, Vista and MAC OS (both old and new versions). The only operating systems we don’t have or use are Linux or Windows 95.

For me I own:

  • Dell Inspiron 1525 – Windows Vista
  • HP Mini Netbook 1000 – Windows XP – No CD Tray
  • 13” Macbook – MAC OSX 10

For BF:

  • Toshiba Netbook – Windows XP – No CD Tray
  • Dell Laptop – Windows XP (very, very old)
  • Dell Laptop – Windows XP (very, very old)
  • iBook G4 – MAC OSX
  • 15” newest Macbook Pro – MAC OSX 10

Setting up the printer

Opening the box and removing tape was easy. Just remember to remove the last bit of blue tape from the back, there’s a LOT to remove.

The feeder tray itself felt a bit flimsy in my opinion but the rest of the printer feels solid, and strong.

I checked all the items that were included in the box, the only thing that was missing was the USB cable, which is fine by me. I wanted to go wireless anyway.

You can remove the front plate if you want.. but why would you unless it was broken? Still, it’s a nice feature, if a bit pointless.

Opening the ink cartridges

Putting in the ink cartridges was extremely easy, except for the part where you have to snap the bright orange lid off. That REALLY hurt because I didn’t have a technique down for snapping them off until the last cartridge.

The trick is to use your thumb, hold the cartridge in your other hand, and push HARD on your thumb on the edge of the bright orange plastic tab to snap it. That way, it doesn’t flip back and scrape your hand the way it did mine.

Other than that, removing the tape, the tab, and clicking it in to here a satisfying “SNAP” felt really solid, and good. I hate it when you put in ink cartridges and you can’t figure out if you did it right, and it explodes all over your fingers. Nice. And yes, that has happened to me before.

But HP is known for their excellent printers, so I was extremely pleased to see matching symbols and colours, that made hardware-idiot people like me feel better about the experience.

Once I pressed OK, it calibrated for about 10 minutes, with a handy little countdown which I did not expect – I am used to printers not telling me jack when they’re done.

After it was done I saw the test print page, and was pretty happy with the results (so far).

I decided to only have it go Wirelessly to really test its capabilities – there were 3 options:

1. By cord (USB cable plug in)

2. By Ethernet (you will need a wireless router and Ethernet cables)

3. By Wireless 808.11G Network (We have a MAC Airport and BF has a MacBook Pro 15” and I have a Dell PC with Windows Vista, so we cover the gamut in this review. I will also test with my HP Mini Netbook).

Choosing the wireless option

It was VERY easy to set up the wireless, but typing in the password is a pain.

You can just search for the Wireless network using the little screen, and once you get your network, type in your WEP/WPA and you should be able to connect easily.

You will NOT need to go to the website: to download that program to set up the wireless connection to the printer but if you do, you will need to use Internet Explorer to do so.

That’s another really irritating part of the process.

I wish they had functionality to be able to let us type in the numbers and letters using the fax keyboard instead of a virtual keyboard on the screen. My wireless network password is super long and a mix of letters and numbers, so switching back and forth between numbers and capital letters really sucked, even if it only took 4 minutes to do the entire password.

(Imagine if I messed up typing in a letter or a number? Don’t mess up. You’ll cry.)

The next step is that it prints a report (if you want) saying that your wireless connection was perfectly strong and fine. Woot!

Dell Laptop Setup with Windows Vista

Now I just put in the CD and am going to set up the HP software on my laptop.

That took about 45 minutes for the entire CD to install itself, which is long. And while I didn’t have to click next on anything, and I was doing, except for choosing whether I was using a USB cable or via the network, and selecting the (only) printer on the list.

Cookies will be mandatory at this point. Mr. Christie, you DO make good cookies.

I ran into this problem that sapped energy: Windows Firewall was blocking the printer

You can either turn it off: Control Panel > Windows Firewall > Turn it off

Or you can decide to change the settings to add 2 ports to let it work

Control Panel >Windows Firewall > Change Settings > Exceptions Tab > Add Port Button

Type in the name for the Port you wanted to open for (HP Printer), and the port name given in the error (427 and I’d suggest adding 161 as well).

Click OK and exit

Now the printer should be allowed to access your laptop

The software then bugged and was stuck at 94% taunting me, while I munch on Mr. Christie’s creations.

I ended up cancelling the program (I think it froze) but it seemed to have installed correctly. I clicked on Print and presto! It was sent wirelessly without a problem. PERFECT.

Printing a Black & White Document

So I printed a page in black and white and it worked fine. Pretty standard. Nice and crisp.

Printing Photos

Tried printing a photo but I inserted the photo paper the wrong way glossy side UP instead of glossy side down, so I gave it a second shot.

So far, it’s pretty easy to use. If you are familiar with software in general you should not have any problems whatsoever with using and setting up this printer.

When I restarted the computer just to refresh it, a program tried to run automatically telling me it was confused (in computer speak) and that my program from the previous day did not install correctly. I wish this program had a name because I would have not let it run if I had known because the printer actually did install perfectly.

Then it began to remove unnecessary components, cleaning up the files it left on my computer while installing.

Then it asked for a reboot again.

This was my test pic.

IGNORE the bluish tint!
It’s my camera, but trust me, it printed true to colour and just a TAD blurry because the original resolution wasn’t fab.

It was really incredible, I held it up to the screen and the photo was just like the one on the screen.

HP Netbook Setup with Windows XP

Since my Netbook does not have a CD tray at all, I had to do a quick fix by copying the CD contents to put it in a folder on a USB key to transfer the setup files onto my HP Mini (HP again..).

This is how you copy CD contents into a folder, so that you can carry it wherever you go:

Go to: My Computer > Right-Click on the CD Drive > Click on Explore

Now that you are in the folder, select Ctrl+A to select all of the files on that CD, and copy it to a Folder on your Desktop.

Having learned my lesson from this morning, I went into Windows Firewall (I have Windows XP on my HP Mini), and opened up the ports 427 and 161 so that my printer would have no problem getting to the HP Mini.

This time, there were no major blockages for setting up everything, but even though I had already opened the 427 UDP port, it asked for me to check again which was kind of silly. I clicked on “Retry” again, and it seemed to work all right.

This time, it installed perfectly without my having to Ctrl+Alt+Delete and shut the frozen program down.

I think there’s a glitch with Windows XP and Vista somewhere in their Windows Firewall not allowing the ports to be recognized. It’s an easy fix.

Anyway, it went fairly smoothly because I just ignored the messages (it was fine), and did a test print from my HP Mini with another photo test to make sure it was sending the wireless signals to the laptop properly.

Setting it up on my Macbook 13″

You will need to put in the CD on ONE Apple Macbook first, and then the CD will recognize it’s a Macbook and show you the hidden files that are specific only to the Macbook. Only then, do you have access to copy the information off the CD as Macbook programs, and then use it on any Macbook without a CD tray (or a broken one) thereafter.

So, what to do?

For the step above where you copied the files for your Windows PC, you need to go into Macbook and do the same thing, go into the hard drive section and copy those Mac-specific files onto another folder, so you can transport it to different laptops without CD trays if needed.

So I put the CD into my Macbook, copied the installation files on the CD onto a USB key, and voila!

Now, I just clicked on the .app set up and let her do its thing.

Note, it WILL shut off your wireless connection, so check it right after you double click on the application, so re-connect to your wireless network, and search for the device HP Photosmart.

It will also take a couple of seconds to do this, about 30. The laptop needs time to find the printer in the network so that you can click on it to add as a device.

If that doesn’t work, type in your IP address for the printer and it should be able to connect the device manually using the printer’s ID address.

And now you have to do the automatic setup of about 40+ items.

My printer did NOT like my Macbook because Macbook is not wired like Windows – it automatically ASSUMES that the printer is connected via USB (Hello Apple? Could you make this any harder? I’m surprised it’s so difficult with Apple and easy with Windows).

On Windows, you can easily tell the driver how the printer is attached. On the Mac, the driver assumes the printer is attached via USB and won’t allow you to use it otherwise (in most cases).

It is important to understand that OS X printer drivers aren’t like Windows drivers – where, if you have a driver, it works for any communication protocol. Not so in OS X. There are two types of drivers in OS X – Modern/CUPS, and Carbon/legacy.

Only Brother has switched to Modern/CUPS which allows you to connect wirelessly on a Mac without assuming it’s only by a USB cord. The rest of the printer brands, including HP are still on Carbon/Legacy.

So, if the printer is a USB printer, then the driver was written ONLY for USB.

There are two options
– Use USB with a Macbook from now on
– Update the Macbook printer drivers from HP and see how that goes (

I updated the Macbook printer drivers from HP using Gutenprint ( and just installed the .dmg file from Gutenprint.

Worked like a charm.

Setting it up for Wired USB Connections

Setting it up for BF’s Dell and Toshiba PC and Netbooks
No problems here. Wired USB connections are the easiest. We just followed the directions, plugged in the cord and everything worked without a hitch.

Doing it for the Macbook Pro
BF is more stubborn than I am. His Macbook was not automatically connected to the wireless network, and the software failed to tell him that, and he started getting angry not being able to see the printer in the list of devices.

The printer was actually turned off which is why the Macbook couldn’t locatei t.

And then, his wireless connection was also turned off. He was previously connected to the wireless network, but then when we inserted the CD, it shut off the connection.

Watch out for that.

With that being said, we found the Mac software set up to be a bit confusing if you aren’t a bit of an IT geek like me (BF handed his baby over to me in frustration).

I managed to find exactly what we needed to do, because there are NO MAC MANUALS with this set up. Only PC Manuals which is an oversight on HP’s part.

The steps are you basically have to find the printer, Add the printer, do a test page (no need to set up the fax if you don’t want to, skip that step) and make sure the printer and wireless connection is activated.

For all Macbooks, you STILL need to set up that GutenPrint.dmg file to get it to find the printer wirelessly (

Now for the review.


General Design

We love that it tells us what buttons to press on the screento go back and to head back “home” (the little LCD screen I mean), and BF was surprised at the On/Off button being right in the front. Duh, I know… but many printers I know have an on/off switch at the back where you are afraid to put your hand in fear of the printer biting you. Or something else.

The buttons are clearly marked, easy to press (they don’t feel flimsy), and I like the sounds it makes to tell you whether the paper is properly aligned, whether a job is done, or just in general. It’s kind of like it’s talking to you.

The quality is high

Naturally, printing a photo on this printer will not be the same as going to a photo lab to get pictures in matte or whatever, BUT!.. for an at-home printer, this is pretty impressive.

You can choose borderless photos, scan and print or create any photo you want, and the quality is incredible. Sharp images, great, true colour.. I’m most excited about this, because now I can start making photo montages as art with designs that I create myself in Photoshop of BF and I.

The black and white documents are crisp and while they are not as crisp as a laser printer, the inkjet does a pretty damn good job.

Printing photos from a USB key

This is really cool. I love that I can put photos on a USB key, stick it in, and let ‘er go. You DO have to be sure that your picture is formatted correctly and all that, so maybe doing it from Photoshop after scanning is a better idea.

Still, very cool.

Scanning documents en masse

I scanned exactly 50 pages in 11 minutes and 10 seconds using the automatic feeder, so I just loaded it with my papers and let it go.

Using my Canon LiDe90 scanner, I have to lift the lid, place the paper on the glass, lower the lid carefully so I don’t blow the paper away or have one end bend, and sometimes I have to hold it down while it scans. Then I click a button, and it scans a single sheet of paper within about 30 seconds. Then I lift the lid, and do it all over again. Each sheet takes about 45 seconds to find, arrange, and scan. 45 seconds with 50 pages is around 37.5 minutes. Let’s just say half an hour to be really conservative.

Half an hour, versus 11 minutes is incredible.

Not only that, I don’t have to babysit the scanner to keep feeding, refeeding each sheet of paper on the glass. I can walk away and let the HP Printer do its thang. What’s even better, is that I don’t forget if I have scanned that sheet or not (which can cause jams). Sometimes, I scan 10 sheets in a row, and then forget if I scanned Sheet #5. So I check, and if I’m wrong, I have to redo the entire 10 sheets.

With this, I put it in the feeder and let it go. No mistakes.

It also scans to your computer wirelessly (*drool*) or it scans to a USB key if your wireless is down or on the fritz (like today).

This is where you can insert the SD/XD card or MS/DUO, or CF.. or even USB key to print directly.

In the past, when i wanted to scan something, you had to place it on the glass. Each individual One. Not my cuppa tea now that I’m spoiled by a mass 50-page feeder! If only I could mass scan photos.

Scan and Reprint Photos

I do have to say, I do like that you can scan the photo and immediately reprint it. It’s like making a copy. How awesome is that?

Print Cartridge Costs are fine for me and they live up to the hype

  • The XL cartridges of the inks will give 750 pages (but there are 3 colours)
  • The XL black cartridge gives you 800 pages

With that being said, I should note that the CNET review and bashing of the cost of the inks is misleading because they don’t seem to take into account the proper, RATIONAL cost of a page of coloured inks.

A page of colour does not only cost $0.024 cents, because you have to consider that you are buying 3 ink cartridges, therefore a full page of colour costs 3 x $0.024 or $0.072 cents per page, unless you plan on printing ONLY in red or yellow or blue. 😛

That’s triple what they’re saying. Yet they say the black cartridge “strangely costs almost double at 4.3 cents”.

Actually, the black cartridge is ONE cartridge, giving 800 sheets of black ink, and costs almost HALF at $0.043 cents.

Anyway, all of this is moot. I only buy black inks to refill all the time, unless I plan on going photo crazy and making albums as gifts. So for me, the cost is fine. 800 pages is a lot of paper to print, and a cartridge should last me a good 6 months to a year.

The real benefit from this printer is not so much the printing, but all the other features like being able to print photos and SCAN. SCANNING EN MASSE.


It seems to have a couple of quirks and things they could improve upon.

Need to have a working internet connection that is strong, to use the wireless printing

You need a working internet connection to print wirelessly. Without one or a reliable one because Bell Internet really sucks in Quebec (me!!), you must set it up with a USB cord directly to the printer.

The HP printer actually acts like a laptop on the network (which is why you enter in a passcode for the WPA protection), and the information is transferred over the internet from our laptops to the printer, to get it to print.

Even if you are connected to your wireless router (like an Airport), you must be able to get an internet connection, as in go to the Google page and search something for example, because the wireless printer sends info using that internet connection to your laptop. I tried just connecting to the airport but not having an internet connection, and my printer didn’t even register on the list.

I was hoping you could just connect the devices to an Airport and just let ‘er go… but not so much.

Choosing the right trays can be tricky

When I tried to print a photo again, it got crazy. It went nuts and started printing on the huge 8×11 white paper instead of photo paper. The options for choosing the Photo Tray rather than the Paper Tray disappeared when I right-clicked on the image and clicked on Print.

You have to be really careful with choosing the right paper tray (software and printer doesn’t know that the image you are printing is a photo for example). We chose the one with the regular 8×11 paper, and when we went to go cancel it, it screwed up and started spitting out pages with indecipherable error messages on the top in a couple of lines.

You can only scan 8×11″ documents

And only if they are of thin paper weight. Any smaller, and you’re asking for a paper jam. If the paper is even wrinkled in the slightest, watch out, it can get snagged in the scanning process.

This is not so ideal for me to scan everything I have on paper, only because I do have pay slips and things that are NOT 8×11″.

But, it works for 70% of the paper that comes across my desk.

Scanning is only in JPEG and there is no advanced option for this

The only issue I have with the scanning is that it scans it in JPEGs only, and you cannot choose if you want a PDF format or not. I guess it’s not a huge deal considering I can still see the JPEG clearly when I open it, but I would have liked the option.

Also, I cannot group sheets together, meaning if I wanted to scan 5 sheets as a single file, it comes out as 5 separate JPEG files. No biggie on my end, I just rename them with the same beginning like “Mastercard_” and they all file in the same order on the computer.

Cancelling is not as easy as pressing a button on the printer

It doesn’t like it when you cancel anything on the screen, and you need to cancel the actual job on your computer in addition to the cancellation on the printer screen. And you have to really see the preview to make sure it’s what you want.

There’s no signal sent back from the printer to your laptop to tell it to pause the job.

No paper tray to catch the documents

It also doesn’t have a paper tray or a ‘catch’ to grab the sheets as they are being spit out. This is highly annoying because we have the printer on a box on a floor, and not on a table. So when the paper comes out, it goes flying across the floor.

This is the shot of the paper tray lifted up. See? No catch at the end of it.

You cannot print anything BUT photos from a USB key

This was kind of annoying. We thought you could be able to put documents on a USB key, stick it in and print photos OR documents, but no… it only recognizies photos.

Sometimes, the tray at the top snaps out

I’m not rough with my machinery, but when I put in paper and accidently hit the tray with my hand, the top tray where you feed in the 50 sheets came out. It wasn’t broken, I just had to snap it back in.

The set up screen options can be a bit confusing, and you cannot use the fax pad

They just aren’t logical for my brain, but with a bit of digging you just get used to the interface.

When I set up the wireless, I couldn’t use the fax pad to type in any numbers or letters. That would have been a nice option, because using a virtual keyboard is a PITA (Pain in the ass).

With that being said, you just enter the password once, and you’ll never have to do it again.. but it was kind of annoying to switch back and forth between letters and numbers without being allowed to use the fax keypad for numbers and the virtual keyboard on the screen for letters.


Even if the printer wasn’t provided to me for free, I’d still consider buying it. The mass scanning capability, the quality of the colour photo printing (am v. excited about this), the speed of the documents that DO get printed, and the reasonable price of cartridges for the yield, outweigh all of the cons above.

With that being said, I would like them to do a couple of minor fixes (outlined above), but all in all, a good start to a new generation of awesome printers.

This printer, compared to many others on the market, also received high marks and generally, people enjoy using it because it’s fairly friendly.


About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.