Thursday, April 18, 2019

HP Color LaserJet MFP M477fdw Issues

Epilogue: 27 September 2019 -- It just gets worse:

I'm preparing to delete ALL HP printer software from my Mac. Without any help from HP.

In the time that has elapsed since this article was written, there was a firmware upgrade, to plug security holes, but apparently not to fix anything that I reported. Particularly damning is that the trivial web site redirect mentioned below in the "Support: Wrong page." section is STILL broken.

My Mac is running a process, "HP Device Monitor" that after running for a day or so grows to a memory size of over 1G, and hoovers up between 25% and 60% of the CPU. This has a measurable impact. For example, switching desktops gets delayed until I force quit the process. This for a detector of "Scan to computer" requests coming in? Unbelievable!

Multiple calls to HP gave inconsistent and incorrect information:

"The HP Easy Start app will enable you to delete HP software." No it has no no such capability.

"You can run the Uninstaller." The only Uninstaller I have is from 2011 when I had an HP Photosmart Premium. I really should have learned from the poor quality drivers for that product, and bought from any vendor other than HP for my color laser printer.

"You have to go find the drivers and apps yourself and delete them." True but pretty much the definition of unhelpful.

I am extremely disappointed with the quality of the software and HP's customer support and bug reporting experience. I strongly advise anyone with a Mac to avoid HP printers. I advise everyone to avoid HP scanners.

Now on to the original article:

Introduction:

To replace a dead monochrome laser printer, a color inkjet printer, and an eleven year old page scanner, I went shopping for a multi-function printer. Reviewing the trustworthy, and well-detailed reviews at wirecutter.com as an upgrade pick, best laser printer, I bought the HP Color Laser MFP M477fdw. This article documents the issues I found.

First off, I must testify that the printing by this unit is stellar! It prints beautiful color pages very quickly. It is a great replacement for my 20 year old Lexmark Optra E310, and for my HP Inkjet printer.

My issues are in the areas of support, software update, setup, monochrome printing, and scanning.

Footote: When I say, "the printed manual" I mean: HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M477 - User Guide.

Support: Wrong page.

Page 112 of the printed manual says to "Get 24-hour internet support, and download software,utilities and drivers" go to: http://hp.com/support/colorljM477MFP. When you go there, you get redirected to HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277n. So somebody messed up the redirect.

If you instead go to https://support.hp.com/us-en and type in "M477fdw" you will get to the right place.

Support: Bad issue tracking.

I ended up speaking with three different people, but that wasn't the problem.

The first person I spoke to logged none of what we did together in the ticket, so the second person had to start from scratch. I was upset, and said, "Just go through your script and I'll tell you what I've already done."

A couple days later, working with the second Tech, it looked like the problem was solved until I did more testing. I planned to call in again, but before I could do that I got an Email saying, "We've been unsuccessful in reaching you."

That was annoying because the proper state of the ticket should have been, "Resolved" not "Waiting for Customer." Checking my missed call logs, I saw an attempt to reach me the day before my second call in. I REALLY would have preferred that attempt to have been to leave a message, not to just hang up.

I replied to the "We're trying to reach you," message angrily complaining that the email reached me a couple hours after I had spoken with a Tech, that the message arrived at 6:00 PM on a Friday when their lines shut down for the weekend at 8:00, that the ticket should have shown the issue was resolved, except that I've done further testing, found more problems and would be calling in next week.

On Monday I received the following apology:

I do apologize for the issues that the scanner has given you so far.
I couldn't reach you because I didn't have your phone number in our system. Could you please provide me your phone number I could assign a technician to address this matter? 

I didn't have time to follow up Monday. On Tuesday saying that they were closing my case.

I called in, and angrily told them re-open the case and that I'd call in on Wednesday when I was home to do further debugging.

When I did call in Wednesday, after having done further testing, convincing myself that root cause was bad Wireless software, I asked to open a complaint. When they told me I'd be called in 3-5 days, I said, "You need a phone number for me," because of Monday's note. But no, they had a phone number in the case.

So somebody is not reading even the most basic information in the cases.

Software Update: There isn't one. But there is.

I did my homework on this printer, and discovered there were issues that were fixed by an upgrade to Firmware Datecode 20190113. The support page (when you get to the correct one) offers up that firmware.

Page 108 of the printed manual gives "Method one: Update the firmware using the control panel". Following this method tells you that there is no update, and that your firmware is up to date. Except mine wasn't. My "Configuration Report" said I had Firmware Datecode 20180201. So method #1 simply didn't work, and any customer that uses it, will think they're up to date, and have problems with known fixes.

Method 2 worked.

Setup: No monochrome printing.

Problems with setup became visible when I wanted to print monochrome only. A Google search turned up a really helpful article on OSXDaily. There IS an option to constrain printing to monochrome. That option wasn't present in my system dialog. Doing a reset of the printing system would fix the problem. (See also the thread in the HP user forum on this same topic.)

As long as you don't mind losing the settings of all your print devices.

Lucky for me, I was getting rid of my two other printers, so a reset wasn't a problem. However subsequent testing, and debugging turned up another problem:

Setup: Just keep trying...

As I get into later, I tried both wireless scanning and hard wired USB for scanning. When I re-configured the printer for USB instead of wireless, the "Black & White" option again disappeared from the system printer dialog.

I was trying many things but I believe the stages of configuration went like this:

  1. Turn off wireless and plug in USB.
  2. Reset printing.
  3. Add printer.
  4. My printer is found.
  5. About 10 seconds elapse and then a progress bar pops up, with the progress fully filled in with buttons, "Configure" and "Cancel".
  6. I press "Configure" and I am prompted to verify if I have duplex, or tray 3.
  7. Configuration completes and I see my printer and scanner.
  8. I attempt to scan using EasyScan, but it hangs contacting the printer.
  9. I perform a scan using the system setup scan.
  10. I retry EasyScan and it works.
  11. I look for the "Black & White" option, and again it's missing.
  12. I open printer utility. It has a bit of trouble finding my toner status but after clicking around it finds everything.
  13. I reset printing again, repeating steps 2-7 above. Still no "Black & White" option.
  14. I restart my Mac (10.13, BTW). Still no "Black & White" option.
  15. I reset printing again, repeating steps 2-4 above. This time there is NO prompt to Configure. In addition to my printer, an M477fdw FAX machine is also found. FINALLY there is a "Black & White" option in the printer dialog.
It seems to me that a printer setup utility should not have this sort of non-deterministic behavior.

Scanning: Wireless is too flaky to use.

My original plan was to make the printer wireless in my home and to have our various household computers, tablets and phones work with it directly. However that plan was abandoned after giving up on getting scanning to work via wireless.

The initial symptom was to get the error message:
Scanner reported an error:An error occurred while communicating with the scanner
I'd get this message mostly after the first page started scanning through the document feeder. Retrying and re-retrying, I could get a scan going maybe one time in three.

Once the scan got going, half the time it would finish. The other half, the scan would abort in the middle with the same error.

Doing a Google search on this problem turned up several reports of 100% failure. There was one where the instructions (for a different HP printer) to turn off the ipv6 protocol. (See: Toggen Blog: [Solved] MacOS Sierra Scanning Fail.)

I tried that solution, by remotely connecting to the printer, and turning off IPV6, but it didn't help.

So I called in to HP. After trying several tests, the HP Tech had me turn off IPV6 from the front panel setups, and to change the "connection speed" from "Auto" to "100TX Full," it appeared that the problem was solved. Alas, it was not.

The communication error would still occur, but much less frequently. You could cope with the problem by restarting any scan that failed. So don't scan any more pages at a time that you'd be annoyed about waiting for a second time.

But a new, subtler and nastier problem arose: Scanned pages missing content with no warning.

No error message is presented, but the scan gets a blank band in the middle. The band appears randomly, of random side, and oddly, occurs at the same point on the page when a duplex scan is done. For example, these instructions for tax preparation. There's a gap in the middle of the page meaning that instructions are lost. So when you scan your papers, you have to look at every page to make sure that they actually did scan correctly.


Scanning: Pages come out crooked.

After having bought the printer, someone called my attention to his findings of lots of very negative reviews of the M477fdw scanning owing to the scans coming out crooked.

I admit that, I leaned very heavily on wirecutter's reviews and didn't do very much research. Wirecutter had flagged the crooked scanning as follows:
...the M477fdw can sometimes produce slightly crooked scans from the document feeder; to keep your results as uniform as possible, be sure to check that the guides are tight against the sides of your document before you start.
I paid very careful attention to the guides when I scanned, but have a different analysis: The HP Easy Scan software has a "Straighten Pages" setting.

When I tested scanning with the USB connection I tested scanning from two different methods: the Easy Scan app, and System Preferences (the "Open Scanner" button from within "Printers & Scanners" preference).

Even with meticulous attention to the guides, I found the pages scanned from System Preferences were always a little crooked, but the Easy Scan pages were fine.

I conclude that the document feeder actually has a problem centering pages that the Easy Scan compensates for, but that generic scanning, say with SANE under Linux will always have a problem.

Scanning: Sub-par performance even when it works.

The M477fdw was intended to replace two old printers and an eleven year old Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M scanner. I really love this scanner. When I updated to MacOS 10.13, I got a warning that the ScanSnap software was going to have poor performance and that I should look for an update. Root cause is that 10.13 is a 64 bit platform, and doesn't like 32 bit software.

I looked for an update but the web site didn't seem to offer one, instead saying something like, "Look for software relevant to a scanner we currently sell."

However, just now, looking to re-find that message, instead I found an update for the ScanSnap software. Alas, it only mentions 10.12, and it's still 32 bit. So a 64 bit update isn't available.

Here is how the HP M477fdw compares against the Fujitsu for my test case:

Duplex scanning of 9 Sheets four of which had blank pages on side B.

Fujitsu S1500M took 24 seconds. File size was 3.8 MB. Everything was very readable. Resolution seemed to be dynamically set for a very good balance of readability and file size. Color vs. monochrome was detected. Contrast was pushed on faint pages. The 4 blank sheets were auto-detected and left out. Slightly shorter pages were auto-detected. Page width and length are always auto-detected.

The M477fdw using System Preferences took 78 seconds. File size was 10.8 MB. I had to hand-set the page size (US Letter), as well as the resolution (300dpi). Fine writing was blurry. All the pages were a teeny bit crooked. One faint page was extremely hard to read, and would ideally have had its contrast pushed.

The M477fdw using Easy Scan took 70 seconds. File size was 11.6 MB. Again, page size, and resolution had to be set by hand. Contrast on one faint page had slighly better contrast, but nowhere near as readable as the output from the Fujitsu.

The S1500M is a discontinued, eleven year old scanner. You can get one on Ebay for under $150. Or you could go with the M477fdw if taking 3 times as long to get a 3 times larger file that's not as easy to read is ok.

I understand that my comparison here is not totally fair. The M477fdw is a multi-purpose machine, and perhaps is inappropriately being compared to a single-purpose scanning device. Even so, a decade is a long time in computer technology. I find the M477fdw scanner a total disappointment.
The observation that Easy Scan fixed skewed pages leads me to believe that a big part of the performance gap is software, and could have been bridged if HP had cared to do so.

How to make things better?

There are several things HP could do to improve on this situation. In order from easiest to most difficult I call for:

  1. Fix the redirect of http://hp.com/support/colorljM477MFP to go to the right page.
  2. Find out why Method 1 lied and said there was no software update. Fix it.
  3. Find out why the printer setup keeps losing "Black & White". Fix it.
  4. Add a "Living Summary" section to all tickets. Require all employees to keep them up to date, and to read them. Regularly perform quality checks of Techs to confirm they are reading and writing that Living Summary. Cynically I say, after 3 times being caught not reading/writing Living Summary, you're fired. But the fact is, keeping that Living Summary going is going to save HP resources, and make customers happier. Multiple wrong emails and failed communications hit my ticket. Everybody's time was wasted.
  5. Perform further cleanups to printer setup and auto-discovery: There is the auto-discovery, and the Easy Setup application. These should use the same underlying code so that Easy Setup is just a convenient interface to ONE install system that JUST WORKS. Support Techs should not insist on download and use of Easy Setup as "the way to fix an install problem." If an HP specific setup is required, be up front about it.
  6. Address Easy Scan vs. System Preferences scanning: We see that page skew is a problem. Ideally the automatic document feeder (ADF) would be fixed not to have skew at all. Or the driver that uses System Preferences would get that option too. If there's real need for Easy Scan than make it a REAL scan manager (for example, look at Fujitsu's ScanSnap Manager) and give customers real value add. As it stands Easy Scan is required for reasons that are not documented, but otherwise adds no value.
  7. Improve the baseline scanning software in the printer to properly detect a page, and not require de-skew software. Allow auto-detect of blank pages, color, and resolution. Of course, manual settings should be available, but the dynamic ones should be available, and a pretty good balance.
  8. Find the REAL root cause of missed bands of text and communication problems via wireless, or OWN UP TO THE FAILURE. At the very least have a real review of the instruction, "Set the communication speed to 100TX Full". I've been inside wireless drivers and ethernet drivers. I do not understand why setting the PHY settings for a hardwired ethernet driver, or even turing off a the ipv6 protocol should have ANY effect on the ability to reliably receive scanned images from a printer. If it's not a TCP session with a rigorous data copy, it surely SHOULD be.

Bottom Line:

My joy of working with an amazing color laser printer was destroyed by:
  1. Failed attention to detail on basic offerings of support web pages, software update, and tracking of open tickets.
  2. Sub-par scanning software both within the printer, and at the application level.
  3. Flaky auto-setup software.
  4. Flaky wireless communication software.

1 comment:

  1. HP Auto wireless connect 
    · Firstly, you can download the printer software on the 123.hp.com/setup and run the software.
    · After that, power on the printer.
    · Secondly, on your computer, carry on with the on-screen prompts until you choose the Connection type.
    · Similarly, choose Wireless and then click Yes to send my wireless settings to the printer.
    · Finally, wait for the connection to finish and thus the wireless setup process is complete.

    ReplyDelete

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