For a small business on a budget, cheapest is not always best. The new HP OfficeJet Pro 8600 Plus multifunction printer makes a case for spending a little more to get a lot more.
At a time when plenty of inkjet printers cost less than $100, the HP OfficeJet Pro 8600 Plus bucks this race-to-the-bottom. And for good reason; although you can buy one of the many cheap inkjet printers on the market, what you will typically end up with is, well, a cheap inkjet printer.
The OfficeJet Pro 8600 Plus takes aim squarely at the SOHO market. With a street price just north of $200, it is not the cheapest inkjet out there, which is exactly the point. Rather, it is well-built and feature-rich, with a few compromises. Let's take a look at what this color printer has to offer.
The Color Inkjet's Look, Feel and Heft
Weighing in at 27 pounds, it is clear right out of the box that the OfficeJet Pro 8600 Plus is not a lightweight. You'll want to set the small business printer on a solid desk; when printing, it's robust enough to shimmy and shake a weaker foundation like a minor tremor.
The sleek, dark gray unit has a neutral but professional appearance, and it requires very little assembly. Besides removing strips of protective tape, you need to insert the two-sided printing duplexer unit by simply snapping it into the rear of the unit. The power transformer is integrated into the printer, so there is no "brick" to fumble around with, just a slim power cord.
The rear also sports an Ethernet jack, a telephone jack (for fax), and a USB port for connecting directly to a host computer. Thanks to built-in wireless networking, many small businesses can forego using any of these connections.
Small Business Printer Setup and Software
The OfficeJet Pro 8600's initial setup is simple but time consuming. On first power up, the printer goes through a long software initialization routine. At this stage you flip open the front face and install the four starter ink cartridges includes with the machine -- black, cyan, magenta and yellow. Each snaps into the printhead easily thanks to a spring-loaded catch mechanism.
The HP OfficeJet 8600 Plus multifunction printer is sturdier and more feature-rich than your average inkjet printer.
HP is fond of touting the new touchscreen color display. It sure looks slick, but actual operation presents some caveats. For example, on first setup you will be asked to choose a language. The pressure-sensitive touchscreen display demands a somewhat firm press to register.
Like pressing touchscreen buttons on an ATM, it is a little too easy to miss your mark. Click the wrong language button and suddenly you're stuck with an incomprehensible display -- a situation that, according to some online reports, is difficult to reset.
On the plus side, the detailed screen makes it easy to walk through the setup without need of a manual. Everything is right there -- the unit even shows video animations of procedures like installing the ink. Connecting to a wireless network could not be easier. The display simply shows which networks are within range, and you click the one you want.
If needed, you can type in a network password using an on-screen virtual keyboard. Once online, the printer can update its own software, which you should do to enable the HP e-print and apps functionality (more on that later).
The unit ships with a CD of drivers and basic OCR software for both Windows and Mac. You can get started printing without installing anything, in fact. Insert a USB thumb drive or memory card into one of the front slots and instantly print supported file formats (like PDF and JPG) without any computer at all.
Print, Copy, Scan
By nature, multifunction printers all print, copy and scan. What separates the 8600 Plus from the pack is that it can do all of the above with double-sided flair.
The included duplexer unit lets you save paper by printing on both sides of the page. As each sheet comes out, it then gets pulled back in by the duplexer, which runs the paper through the drum a second time on the reverse side. Duplex printing is somewhat slower than standard printing because the unit waits a few moments for the ink to dry between each page flip.
The 50-sheet automatic document feeder on the scanner unit performs a similar feat for incoming documents. It can automatically scan both sides of a page, which you can then either split into separate files or printouts, or combine into double-sided output.
Scanning can be a bit slow, but the results are good quality, clear and evenly lit. Printing, though, is relatively speedy. The rated speed of 20 pages per minute for black text is close to the mark, with dark, sharp, easy-to-read text in "normal" output mode.
In addition to solid printing and scanning performance, the 8600 Plus offers a bevvy of advanced networking features.
Using the included software, you can define network shares and email recipients right from the printer display. For example, you can scan a batch of documents and, using only the printer display, send the scan directly to a network share or email recipient.
The 8600 Plus also makes great use of its Internet connectivity. The HP e-print platform assigns the printer its own unique email address. You can customize the address through the e-print website. Send a supported document attachment to the printer's email address (such as a Word or PDF file), and the job is sent right to the printer. You will receive an email back from the printer reporting on the success or failure of the print job. (You can restrict email senders to a whitelist to prevent unsolicited printer spam.)
You can also access a wide variety of apps -- yes, apps for a printer. The apps run directly on the printer's touchscreen and provide a wide variety of functionality. Some apps, such as DocStoc, let you access boilerplate legal forms and print them directly from the app. Another app prints a crossword puzzle of the day. I particularly like the forms app, which lets you easily print templates for ruled paper and grids.
Many apps are available online, and you can add or remove them from your printer through the HP website. Granted, many of the apps are of dubious value and probably encourage paper and ink waste.
Finally, you can also manage the network-connected unit through its internal Web server. You can manage a wide variety of settings, some quite sophisticated for a mid-priced printer, such as an awake-and-asleep schedule to conserve power.
Unfortunately, like many printers, the 8600 Plus ships with "starter" cartridges that contain less ink than do the retail versions. But consumable costs improve going forward. At a street price of about $35 for the large capacity black cartridge (rated for 2,300 pages), you would run about 1.5 cents per monochrome page.
The three color cartridges can be replaced individually (at a cost of about $15 each), rather than being forced to replace one comprehensive color cartridge just because one color has run low.
If there is one area where the OfficeJet Pro 8600 Plus comes up a little short, it is paper handling. The Plus model comes with only one 250 sheet paper tray, and there's no manual feed input. Therefore, printing a one-off of special paper like an envelope can be inconvenient -- you need to unload stock paper from the tray, realign the paper guides, insert the envelope, re-insert the tray, print the envelope, and then reconfigure the tray again to replace your stock paper.
If you mostly print from stock paper this limitation may not be a problem, but take note if you print on a wider variety of formats with any regularity.
Aaron Weiss a technology writer, screenwriter and Web development consultant who spends his free time stacking wood for the winter in Upstate New York. His Web site is: bordella.com
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