A review of the HP Scanjet 4890

 I love blogging – it’s such a great way to vent!
Yesterday after work I went into CompUSA to return an external hard drive that died on me and was pleasantly surprised to find that this time I had actually bought a replacement warranty and got to use it!  Hooray!  I get to replace my drive for only $20 with another 2 years replacement warranty – COOL!
So while I was there, since I was so happy I decided to look over scanners.  For about 10 years I have been waiting till the technology got good enough to be able to scan in my thousands of slides from my Navy days.  Some of these pictures were really great and a lot of special memories are in them.  I couldn’t wait to go digital!  I have had several false starts over the years – ebay proved to me that you get what you pay for.  Anyway, today felt like a good day to take the plunge.
I looked over the scanners and found two that had the highest resolution.  An HP and an Epson.  The specs were almost identical but the HP Scanjet 4890 had just a tad more resolution so I went with that.
I had 21 days to take it back – no questions asked – so as soon as I got home that evening I wanted to start scanning slides to see how well it worked.
Unpacking was easy and the hardware was simple – Praise God for USB!
The software was another story.  It took FOREVER to install.  Then it crashed and sent a watson report on the problem.  Since I have been having a recent problem with Office automatic updates recently on this machine, where the installs fail over and over, I wondered if that might have been the cause.
So I spent several hours doing all the window updates I could find and hoped this would fix the Office updates – but it didn’t.  So sad.  It was past midnight and I still hadn’t scanned in a single slide.
The next day, a Saturday, a beautiful clear blue sky Saturday at that – one we havent seen for several months this year.  I hoped that I would simply get it installed and then have time for a bike ride or something to enjoy the beautiful weather.
I proceeded to try to install the driver again.  It took forever but this time it got further – to the point where it asks you to plug in the scanner.  I did so and it said it couldn’t find the scanner.
Now mind you this driver has some very annoying characteristics as it runs.  First off, the auto-run file throws up a splash screen and proceeds to grind your hard drive and take about 30 seconds to get to its main screen.
This screen is the first chance you have to tell it you want to cancel.  If you do, you get another screen where you can actually exit.  This whole minimal case scinario takes at least a full minute to cycle through so you don’t want to put that drive disk in your drive unless you mean business.
If you chose to install the driver you go into this pair of progress bars – one seems to show Kbps – the speed it is copying files?  Typically this was 1-2!  Not very fast considering I am reading the CD with a Plextor PX 716A drive which is supposed to be pretty fast.  The other progress bar moves incredibly slow and is followed with a %.  While its doing all this slow file transfer work it flashes to you all these bits of text like "waiting for user input" when it isn’t even waiting for me on anything.  Numerous displays of Installing this, copying that, verifying this, registering that over and over – obviously it is an agrigate of several submodules of setup.  They know its slow, they must have, because while it is working it is flashing me these cuite pictures of support personel and happy users with macromedia flash.  Its like the designers thinks that a user who is suffering sucking performance will be appeased with a slide-show while they wait – while it monopolizes your machine to do so.
After the second failure I decided to go to the HP site for help.  Naturally I have to create an account and give them all the details of my life along with the joy of rejecting all their promotional offers via email. phone, or mail.  I haven’t even gotten to ask a question and I have to sell them my marketing info soul.
So I get in and look for clues on why its failing to see the hardware and crashing during setup.  Not much help there so I decide to go for the online chat support.  Actaully there was lots there but its like navigating a maze what with all the models etc.  Its always easier to just talk to someone.
I get Michelle and she tells me to do it manually.  Mind you, I am still at the point where it failed to find the hardware and has a popup with some lame text in it along with a technical command line on the titlebar which is conviently cut off on a message box that cannot be resized.  Nor can I copy/paste the text in the messagebox.  So I have to manually type it all into the chat window for Michelle.
To do the install I  first I have to kill this one. When I try to close the messagebox another instance of the same one comes back up in its place.  There is no way out of this app!  I try to go to the task manager but this setup app is such a hog that it appears taskman can’t come up.  All I see is the icon in the tray.  I try to open it again several times and all I get is more taskman icons in the tray.  This is amazing to me!  Here we have a setup app, dead in its tracks continuing to suck up all my CPU time yet it is doing nothing!  Who writes this stuff?
After several minutes of talking with Michelle, taskman (all 4 of them) finally pops up.  I attempt to kill the setup process – uh no luck.  I can’t kill this setup.  Mishelle suggests I remove the disk from the CD drive.  I do so and setup instantly pops up a messagebox that says the CD is not in the drive – duh.  I get the wonderful choice of Continue, Try Again, or Cancel – but it doesn’t matter which one I pick, another messagebox of the exact same kind replaces that one.  ARG!
I put the disk back in and the setup app exits – YAY – but wait friends – there’s more!  The splash screen comes up and I am again back in setup.  After the obligatory moments of waiting for it to load enough of itself to let me cancel it I finally get out.
Michelle suggests I try a safe mode install.  I do – half hour later – same problem no luck.  Because I have to reboot I leave Michelle and she gives me a service ID to reference our wonderful online experience for later.
Looking at event viewer and from some of the garbage on the error messageboxes I gather that maybe there is a bad file on the disk.  But when I look at the file with notepad, its fine – though it takes a long time to load.
So I begin to suspect my Plextor PX 716A and go to the plextor site and refresh my firmware which is updated from v107 to v109.  Maybe this was the problem?
So just as I am about to try this painful install for the third time I decide to take the CD ROM drive out of the loop entirly and copy the entire disk to my HD where I can run it  – hopefully much faster from there.
This does run much faster as far as file transfers go but the setup is still a hog and it still takes forever.
This time, the software recognizes the presence of my scanner and goes into this long wait telling me the scanner is initializing itself.
Now its already about 10AM and my wife, who wanted me to take my daughter to run some errands while she catches up on laundry is getting tired of waiting for me and decides it makes more sense for her to run the errands and me do the laundry.  So during all this stuff I am flipping laundry which gives me nice breaks while I wait for this most painful driver to get loaded.
After comming back from switching laundry I see a messagebox telling me that the scanner cannot be found – it timed out waiting for it to initialize itself!  Ho boy.
So I am out of ideas.  Maybe my Office auto update bug has something to do with this?  Ok.  I uninstall all of Office.  Then try the driver install again – from the HD and this time…. after two more loads of laundry – it works!!!!  It actually installs the driver successfully!
So lets try it out baby!  I put some slides in (actually I still had them in from the night before) and I press the film scan button on the scanner.
Up pops this splash screen – "HP invents" – yah, HP invents crappy drivers!  Once again I wait several seconds for this mondo driver to open itself.  I get a dialog that asks me info like where to send the output, what format I want the output, etc.  I make the entries and hit OK.  When it gets there I see this UI something like the attached picture.
So its kind of wierd.  After some time the scanner loudly scans my slides and gives me a preview of them.  IT automatically selects MOST of the slides but several of the darker ones are not selected.  Now what do I do?  I am only given this choice to accept all of the slides.  I notice that the resolution defaults to 200 dpi.  Kinda low.  I notice a + button to the left of the scan window (its gray so I’m not sure it its a button or what) so I click it to enlarge my preview – maybe I can tell if 200 dpi is good enough.  The scanner rescans the section to zoom in to and after about 20 seconds, I see a larger picture just showing the selected slide.  This is great!  Ok lets zoom in some more!  I click the + button again, the scanner rescans again and 20 seconds later – whalla!  I see the SAME picture again.  Apparently I can’t zoom in any more than once.  I can’t inspect my detail!  How can I tell if I have enough resolution? What the heck, I just accept all and see what I will get.
It scans everything and then asks me if I want to scan some more or quit.  I check my target directory fot he output files and nothing is there.  Hmmm…  So I click to quit.
AFTER I quit, I see the target files appear.  Only now can I really inspect my scans closely to see if I had enough resolution.
(as an after thought, I think the application is expecting me to select a smaller area to yet zoom in more.  I haven’t tried this yet but it makes sense – but wouldn’t it have been much easier to discover this if the + button were disabled when I don’t have a selection to zoom to?)
I went back and tried some higher resolutions and the scans take forever – after another load of laundry even!  I think this must be why they default to 200 every time you scan.
I notice there are all kinds of features in the scanning software but most of these belong in a digital imaging application.  Auto exposure fix, auto alignment, color ballancing, cleanup, red eye, etc.  Its handy to have this there but its not the primary purpose of a scan driver.  I get tools I don’t use at the cost of slowing down the load of my driver to make every scan as painful as the last.  I tried using the simple TWAIN scan interface windows provides but that interface can’t access some of the higher resolutions and it can’t tell the scanner you are doing slides, which requires the backlite to turn on.  If I could, I would have bypassed  this whole bloated, busted driver and just used TWAIN.
On my second attempt to scan I decided to save the files as PNG type.  The scan was successful but when I quit it crashed trying to write the first PNG file.  The resulting PNG file was corrupt.
I am very tempted to take this scanner back.  The hardware is probably great but the software makes using it such a pain I can’t believe it.  I need to spend more time with this because there are likely some shortcuts I can learn to make this a little easier but what a bad first impression!  How long is it gonna take for me to scan 4000 slides?  How many times will it crash while doing so?
This pictures I did get scanned looked fine though – so I really do think the hardware is fine.
I think I will try the Epson and see if they know how to write drivers better.  Unfortunately, finding out this bad news only wasted a beautiful Saturday for me and I am not anxous to waste another one again soon.
My advice to HP:
Polish doesn’t just mean the bits on the screen look cool.  It means the product operates like someone cared.  Poping up the same error dialog over and over is always a turn off.  Locking up the system resources to simply copy files and register objects is lame.  Loading tons of useless macromedia flash files and images to entertain users while the sucky stuff takes forever to run is going in the wrong direction.  Commiting the user to waiting for all the resources in the world to be loaded before you give them a chance to cancel is equally stupid. Adding features that just bloat the driver and don’t really belong in a driver works against flexibility and efficiency.  It would have been better to just include an imaging app that interfaces well with the dirver so a user can chose to use it or not.
So far I see no way to batch scan my slides efficiently.
Admittedly its hard to write good drivers.  These days there are layers of interfaces to work through and tons of different hardware and OSs to support.  Being a software design engineer, I can certainly appreciate this – but com’on, graying out a button when its not appropriate to use is certianly NOT hard to do and doing so shows you really care about your customer.

About sanfords

Ex Microsoft Dev for 20 years. Currently retired at my ranch in Idaho near Kooskia. I like coaching Chess for kids so let me know if you are interested in those services.
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