The Presto Service and HP Printing Mailbox Review – Part One

My ex’s grandfather is 88 years old. Papa, as we call him, was stationed in Pearl Harbor and Saipan during World War II, and to this day he won’t ride a plane because of experiences during the war. This means that he doesn’t travel anywhere unless it is accessible by car or rail. Papa has three children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren, and they live in various places around the country. He does not have a computer and to the best of my knowledge has never expressed interest in owning one. But by not having one, Papa has missed out on all of the family emails which have included pictures and stories of the great-grandkids – most of whom live out of state and are only seen once a year, if then.

Papa is not the type to sit down and write a reply after getting a long-winded email; he enjoys phone calls. But that doesn’t mean he’s happy about missing out on reading the latest family stories or seeing family pictures as they are sent to other relatives with email accounts. Most of the time, a local family member will print the latest picture or story and take it by his house, but I suspect that he would prefer to not have to rely on getting the news second-hand. When I first heard about the Presto Service and HP Printing Mailbox, I had no doubt in my mind that this was the type thing that would be perfect for Papa and other people like him.

The HP Printing Mailbox is similar in concept to a fax machine, because it prints the data sent from a particular source. The source in this case just happens to be a carefully maintained “white list” of allowed email addresses which can communicate with the printer through the Presto Service.

Are you ready to see what heck I am talking about? Let’s open the box…

Be warned – the box is huge and heavy. At approximately 20″ x 17″ x 12″, and I’m guessing about 20 pounds, it’s definitely something that a stronger friend or family member will want to be around to open.

Now let’s start unpacking!

Included in the box are the HP Printing Mailbox, an HP 95 tri-ink printer cartridge, power cord, phone cord, paper starter pack, setup poster and user guide.

-Prints email, including photo attachments from almost any email program
-Automatically retrieves & prints pages
-Simple installation?just plug into power & standard phone line
-Simple alerts for ink & paper replacement
-HP Thermal Inkjet Technology
-Paper Tray – Letter size (8.5 x 11 inch)
-Input Capacity – 50 sheets
-Output Capacity – 25 sheets
-Print Cartridge – HP 95 or 97 Tri-color Inkjet Print Cartridge recommended
-Print Quality – 600×600 dpi
-Print Speed – 10 pages per minute (max)
-Phone Connection ? Standard phone line (no separate line required, does not work with VOIP)
-Modem – 56K data modem
-1 year limited hardware warranty, HP Customer Care service and support for hardware

The mailbox basically looks like an overly simplified printer, doesn’t it? Everything comes carefully insulated, taped and wrapped – finding all of the pieces of tape is an adventure, but setup shouldn’t be too difficult as there really aren’t that many pieces. The entire device is approximately 18″ wide x 15″ deep x 6.5″ tall, and it weighs about 13 pounds. The body is largely composed of varying degrees of HP gray plastic which although should work with most decors.

There are three buttons on the front (which we will cover later), a slot from which the printed paper exits into the tray…and that’s the extent of? exterior things to fiddle with.

On the back of the printer are two phone jacks – one for the incoming line (from the wall) and one for an extension line, so that the owner will still be able to keep a phone in that location. The socket to the left of the phone jacks is the power port; the red plastic plug on the lower right needs to be pulled and discarded…

The clear protective plastic sheeting on the front needs to be pulled, but I am leaving it in place for now because after I write this portion of the review the Presto will have to travel from my house in Texas to Papa’s in Florida.

Opening the front paper and printer cartridge compartment, you’ll notice the red plastic insert that needs to be removed and discarded…

…much better! Up to 50 blank 8″ x 11″ sheets can be stored in the paper tray.

Okay, now it’s time to get everything working! The included phone cord is a generous 20′ or so, and the power cable is approximately 10′ long.

Cables are plugged in, and the device is almost ready to operate. A tone will play and the two indicator lights on the front will flash back and forth as paper and ink levels are checked.

After setup, a red indicator on the front shows that the printer needs ink. Oh yeah, I need to add that. 😉

Opening the hood again, the?HP 95 printing cartridge gets unwrapped and ready for insertion. This is a tri-color ink cartridge; the HP 97 tri-color cartridge can also be used.

Okay. Ink’s in place…

…paper’s in place…

..the low ink’s light is extinguished – we are ready to roll. While we’re here, let’s look at those front panel buttons: volume down, up, and stop.

Once everything is set up and the Presto has been plugged in, it will use your phone line to connect to the presto service. My only question up to this point was what number the device was dialing. Mentioned in the terms of service was this nugget, “Because during your use of the Service the device you use may place outgoing telephone calls, you may be billed by your telephone service provider for these calls. Although the Service attempts to find a local telephone number, a local telephone number may not be available. In addition, your telephone service plan may charge for local telephone calls. You will be responsible for any telephone service charges. You and those with your permission to use your account will be able to indicate a preference for a telephone number by changing the settings of your account on the Service.

With that in mind, I was on the lookout for a place where I could state a preference for the number dialed during the setup. I’ll talk about what I found at the end of the review.

Moving to my computer, I began the process by visiting Here’s a quick walk-through…

Since I was setting up the Presto for Papa from my home in Texas, I clicked the second option.

I will now be the Presto account manager, so my information was entered along with Papa’s.

This is the point where I got to choose Papa’s first email address. 🙂

I like how everything becomes personalized for “Chuck”. I wasn’t sure what font would be best for him, so I chose “large”. I’ll be able to adjust that later if needed.

This is the point where I begin to enter the only email addresses that will be allowed to access Papa’s account. This step ensures that he will not receive any unwanted SPAM, although there is nothing I can do to filter out chain letters and internet advice, should a white-listed sender forward to him.

For every Presto friend, up to two emails addresses may be added and two phone numbers may be given. The “Phone Number” is the number that will show on the email sent, but if a mobile phone number is added for a sender, then Papa will be able to accept pictures snapped and sent from that white-listed mobile.

Ah yes, payment for the service. There are two options – monthly which is $9.99 and annually, which is a discounted $99.99. After this step credit card information is entered; only MasterCard and Visa are accepted.

That’s the end of account setup, now it is time to set user preferences.

This is the Presto account Home screen. It shows when the last call was made, when the next call will be made, the Printer’s ink status, and whether the paper is okay or not. Under this status information are the five sections of Papa’s Presto service over which I, as his account manager, can make changes: his friends list, the styles and print sizes of his letters, the Printing Mailbox’s settings, his Newsstand, and his Profile. There is also an option to set up additional email addresses, so I also made one for his wife, Barb.

Out of curiosity, I clicked the “Order Ink” button…

The HP 95 tri-color ink 14ml cartridge is $34.99, the 7ml cartridge is $24.99.?Keep in mind that neither cartridge will last for very long if a lot of messages are coming in. I’m trying to think like the average cost-conscious senior citizen. 🙂

We’ve already seen his Presto Friends list, so let’s look at Printing Mailbox Settings. The first tab allows me to set up to three times that the Presto will dial in to see if there are any waiting messages. I have his set for 6am and 8pm,?but up to five call-in times can be set.

The Security tab is seems to be tripped when a call is made by the box from a new number. Shortly after using the Printing Mailbox the first time, a message came in with a new security code – the number used to call the Presto service. I suspect that when it is set up at Papa’s house, it will ask for a new “security code”.

The Newsstand area allows you to chose from various newsletters, games, and other “subscription” services. All of these are included in the monthly cost of the Presto Service, but something to consider is that subscribing to any of them will drain those pricey ink cartridges even faster.

The Styles and Print Sizes section allows the choice of various decorative page styles. Call me Scrooge, but I was searching for the one that looked least ink-intensive. 😉

There are seasonal and special occasion styles…

…and there are calendar styles which can be set. Incidentally, anyone sending an email can set the style in which it will be delivered. They just have to include the theme name in the email subject line; all of the available styles and how to specify them are listed.

Once everything was configured, seven pages printed in large print with confirmations and information. Is it telling that I was concerned about depleting the printer cartridge? There wasn’t much usage shown on the online meter, though. 😉

There is a full set of FAQ’s here, but I’ll touch on some of the most important quickly…

1. Emails sent can include GIF, JPEG and BMP attachments, so in other words – no forwarded power point presentations, movie files, music files, or other attached bits are going to make it through.

2. If the Printing Mailbox runs out of paper, then the messages that haven’t been printed will not be lost; they’ll print once paper is added. On the other hand, if the ink is running low and the message prints ugly, garbled, or not at all – there is no option to reprint the email. The original sender will have to be contacted and asked to resend.

Multiple email accounts can be added to the Presto Service, but the settings and friends list for the original account will rule. This is especially handy if there are more than one person living together and they each want to receive messages specifically addressed to them.

As of now, the only major thing I can see that would bug me is that if you know an important email is coming, you have to wait until the next scheduled time to receive it; it would be nice if there was a manual “fetch” button. But take that request with a grain of salt, I am a confirmed email junkie. 😛

Update 12/25 (See comments section below): ?Holding stop while pressing the volume up button twice forces the printer to dial in and check for mail, a handy feature if you can?t wait to receive something.?

Since I never found a place that specifically listed the numbers dialed to reach Presto, I called their customer service and spoke with Tyler. He told me that there are actually two toll-free numbers that the Presto Service dials. If it fails to get through on either number, it will then prefix them with a 9 and then with an 8, for numbers that require either?prefix to dial out. He also told me that up to five email addresses can be set to a Printing Mailbox, and as I suspected – settings are the same for all addresses.

The combination of multiple email addresses and the ability to dial out from a prefix line would also make this a nice gift for someone in an assisted living situation or a nursing home.

Well, that concludes part one of this review. The next step is for me to box everything back up and send it to Papa in Florida. Stay tuned…

The Presto Service and HP Printing Mailbox is available directly from
MSRP: $149.99 for the HP Printing Box, $9.99/month or $99.99/year for the Presto Service, and $34.99 for the 14ml tri-color cartridge
What I Like: Formatted emails without internet service or a computer, this is a great way for seniors to stay in touch with family, up to five different times to “fetch” emails can be programmed in per day, up to five email addresses per mailbox, calls are to a toll-free number, no SPAM – incoming emails must be on white list
What Needs Improvement: I would like to see a manual?email “fetch” button Update (see comments below): ?Holding stop while pressing the volume up button twice forces the printer to dial in and check for mail, a handy feature if you can?t wait to receive something.?

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

10 Comments on "The Presto Service and HP Printing Mailbox Review – Part One"

  1. What a fantastic idea!! The printer itself seems quite reasonably priced, although I think the yearly service charge could be a bit lower.

  2. Yah, the yearly service charge seems a bit steep at first…but all things considered it’s not too bad.

    Since the Mailbox can call in up to five times a day on Presto’s toll-free number, chances are that you might actually “use” that $10 a month in their toll-free phone service. 😛

  3. Yeah true. No I definitely think this is an awesome idea.

  4. I couldn’t believe it when I saw your Presto review, as I had just read about it in Walt Mossberg’s column in the Wall Street Journal this week and ordered it for my wife’s elderly parents. A number of years ago we set them up with an all in one computer, but it became more and more difficult for them to use it as they grew older. We’re always sending them email but they never get it because they never go on their computer. So when I saw this service I knew immediately it was exactly what we needed to send emails that would print out automatically.

    For those interested, note that other vendors also sell the HP Printing Mailbox. I ordered it from Amazon for $99.


  5. Raleigh, thank you for mentioning that there are less expensive places to get the printer. It should also be stated that there are less expensive places to get the cartridges, too.

    It’s the Presto service that matters, and I think it is fairly priced for what it delivers. 🙂

  6. You mentioned that you wished there was a way to manually force the printer to check for new email. According to Walt Mossberg’s review ( “Holding stop while pressing the volume up button twice forces the printer to dial in and check for mail, a handy feature if you can’t wait to receive something.”

  7. Carguy, thank you for that tip! I’m not sure how I missed it, but I am glad you let me know. 🙂
    I’ll add your info to the review.

  8. Anyone have a problem with the presto dialing out???

    I now have a second machine for my
    dad, as the first one quit dialing out. This one now seems to be doing the same thing. worked fine foir a few days then quit. Two days later it dialed out and now nothing.

  9. No problems on as of yet (knocking on wood). I assume you called their Customer Service? :-/

  10. Presto is a really neat service. I had the chance to chat with Preto's original founder over coffee. He's a really great guy!

    We're currently working on a similar service that involves having photos physically mailed to your own "Papa". That way, you dont have to make the upfront investment of the printer.

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