This Is Why So Many People Hate HP Printers

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If you've ever owned a printer or worked in an office where you frequently had to use one, you'll know that they're some of the most disagreeable pieces of technology you'll ever come across. HP printers, in particular, have frustrated buyers for years because of issues relating to locked-down hardware, proprietary ink cartridges with DRM chips, and firmware updates that prevent them from using third-party cartridges — sometimes even in cases where they previously had third-party compatibility. To add insult to injury, users have also had to put up with high ink costs and buggy software.

Things like hardware DRM – which has made HP the target of lawsuits — and run-of-the-mill printer bugs are enough to get anyone riled up, but we've almost come to expect these complaints when it comes to printers. Now things seem to have reached a boiling point as many buyers report subscription fatigue and frustration with HP's controversial printer service: an ink subscription that comes with some very frustrating fine print.

HP Instant Ink explained

HP's Instant Ink is a subscription service that provides users with ink on an on-demand basis based on the amount of printing they do every month. Instead of the user buying ink to print pages, the printer tracks how many pages are printed throughout the month and HP automatically sends ink to the user when the levels are low. If you print less than your plan allows, there is a predetermined allowance for rollover, meaning unused pages get added to the next month's printing allowance (via HP).

HP claims that ink expenses through Instant Ink are 50% less than if you were to buy cartridges as you needed them. Another Instant Ink benefit is that HP collects and recycles the ink cartridges at the same time as the new delivery arrives in the form of a return mailing box and label, meaning less e-waste. The printing hardware HP sells to go with the Instant Ink subscription is often heavily discounted to tempt potential buyers into a monthly subscription instead of a once-off purchase. Overall, Instant Ink actually sounds fairly innocuous — you always have ink, and your printer is cheaper. What could go wrong? As with many things, it's all in the execution.

The subscription has left many owners frustrated

There are many complaints on Reddit from users expressing frustration because of what they say are confusing and unreasonable terms associated with the subscription. When you cancel the Instant Ink service, HP disables any Instant Ink cartridges you received during your subscription, regardless of the remaining ink capacity.  While HP does state that any cartridges obtained as part of the subscription won't function if the subscription isn't paid, disabling cartridges entirely goes against the idea that Instant Ink is more environmentally-friendly because HP recycles returned cartridges. Some users on HP forums reported that they felt it was unfair of HP to disable a cartridge they had already bought — this could be indicative of unclear wording relating to the service.

One user on Reddit posted that their printer wouldn't let them print with a cartridge they had bought until they added payment information for Instant Ink in order to cancel the subscription, rendering their printer useless until HP had their credit card information — and that's not a unique frustration.

A key thing to note is that Instant Ink is billed monthly after the month has already passed, meaning in order to cancel, you may have to pay an outstanding balance. You'll also find no shortage of complaints about the Instant Ink billing structure and page rollover. Instant Ink is billed based on how many pages you print per month. While rollover theoretically makes sure that you're not overpaying, HP restricts the number of pages that you can keep for the next month, artificially limiting any potential savings. 

There are other complaints, too

If pay-per-page printing subscriptions weren't enough, Reddit is full of complaints about the connected account and always-online features many HP printers rely on. One Reddit user complained in a now-viral post about an HP Smart account login error that made the printer refuse to print anything at all. The HP Smart account is meant to help users set up and manage their printers remotely and print over a wireless connection, but it seems HP completely locks the printer down when an account or internet connection is not available. 

As it turns out, many users have had similar problems with the HP Smart account and the Smart app that accompanies it. Some users even reported being unable to use their printers without installing the Smart app. HP's drivers and software bugs also seem to be causing a bit of a stir, as one user reports that the printer driver doesn't persist through reboots, and requires a reinstall from HP's site every time the computer restarts — although, this could be a problem with the Windows Print Server, to be fair. 

Something that seems to happen far too often is the printer failing to recognize a non-Instant Ink cartridge if you are trying to move away from the subscription — a problem that often requires HP support intervention to resolve. Not all printer manufacturers have gone this route, though. For example, Brother printers have become popular largely due to their Ink Tank system that helps cut down on ink costs, relatively speaking.