Tech Review: HP Officejet Pro 8500A Plus

by Neil McAllister on February 18, 2011
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If you’re shopping for a multi-function office device that combines printing, scanning, fax, and copying in one unit, you can’t go wrong with the market leader, right? Maybe not, because our experiences with the HP Officejet Pro 8500A Plus were disappointingly lackluster.

Initial setup was more awkward than for some devices in this class. HP’s installation diagrams were not particularly clear, and the unit comes with no proper manual, either in the box or on the accompanying software CD.

On power up, the printer informs you that it will spend the next 20 minutes aligning and calibrating itself, and it’s not kidding. HP suggests you use this time to install the driver software, but that process finishes long before the printer is ready to go. Similar but shorter calibration pauses seem to crop up unexpectedly and periodically during normal use.

HP’s software is a real head-scratcher. The base printer driver weighs in at a whopping 211MB, and that doesn’t even include the help files. On top of that you have a software updater, an OCR scanning package, and shortcuts to HP’s online services, bringing the total to around 300MB. Talk about bloat! And an extra thumbs-down to HP for sneaking in a custom Microsoft Bing toolbar for Internet Explorer, which claims to cut printing costs but probably actually does more to offset costs for HP. This kind of “spamware” is never appreciated, especially with a business device.

A further word about printing costs: Inkjet printer makers have been criticized in the past for bundling half-full ink cartridges with new printers. Thankfully, HP seems to have given up that practice, although it still doesn’t ship high-capacity cartridges like some vendors do. But in addition to four ink cartridges, the 8500A Plus requires two replaceable print heads, driving up the total cost of consumables versus the competition (and you won’t find any off-brand replacements for the print heads).

To its credit, the 8500A Plus is a pretty fast printer. HP claims speeds up to 15ppm for “laser comparable” black and white, and that really seems accurate for simple documents. For complex documents mixing text and graphics we managed around 10ppm for black and 7ppm for color. Scanning is a little poky, on the other hand, particularly at high resolutions, and duplex printing adds around 8 seconds of overhead per sheet.

Overall print quality is good. Text is crisp, even on draft mode, and colors are impressively accurate. Typical of four-color business printers, though, full-color photo prints tend to look a little flat and muted.

The device’s real Achilles heel, however, is paper handling. My first attempt to use the automatic document feeder mangled my original. Similarly, the first time I tried to print on glossy photo paper, the printer fed two sheets at once, spoiling the print. Flukes? Maybe, but it definitely left me feeling leery of the paper trays, which won’t fly in a higher-traffic business scenario.

All in all, this is a capable multifunction device, but it just doesn’t stand out from the competition. Even if you swear by HP, this isn’t the best HP printer to come along. If you don’t, the Officejet Pro 8500A Plus’s bulky software, costly consumables, and paper-handling issues are reason enough to keep looking.

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