An impressive piece of hardware recently found its way into our eager hands: the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus multifunction inkjet printer. Unfortunately for HP, we had just finished our review of the Lexmark OfficeEdge Pro5500 when it arrived — the fastest, smoothest, and most expensive inkjet we’d ever tested.
Can the Pro 8600 Plus go toe-to-toe with rival Lexmark’s versatile champ? Not quite, but it comes close, and its significantly lower price point makes it a compelling option for small-business owners with big printing needs.
So Easy a Child Could Do It
Setting up the Pro 8600 Plus is simple as simple can be. The colorful 4- by 3-inch LCD touchscreen walks you through the entire process with the help of animation, and we were up and running on our wireless network in about 10 minutes. The CD containing the printer’s software automatically detected the network settings from our PC, eliminating the hassles that sometimes come with manual setup. Direct USB and Ethernet connections are also available, and the front of the printer features various memory-card slots. (You can also skip the PC-connectivity options and use the Pro 8600 Plus as a standalone copier, scanner, and fax machine.)
We opted to use Wi-Fi vs. USB connectivity so we’d have access to the bevy of features available only when the Pro 8600 Plus is connected to a network. Registering your printer at HP’s ePrintCenter website gives it a unique email address; if you forward a common-format file type (such as Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, or PDFs) to the email address, it’ll spit out the paperwork on your connected printer. It’s an amazing feature that could really come in handy for road warriors.
HP’s AirPrint feature lets you print directly from iOS devices, and a number of web apps are available straight from the touchscreen. Most are trivial — giving users the ability to print out news or Sudoku puzzles — but some could prove very useful, such as printable form templates from HP and the ability to access Box’s cloud-based storage and Google Docs.
Brass Tacks and Printing Speeds
Extras aside, when it comes down to it, most small businesses buy printers for speed and value. The Pro 8600 Plus delivers both in spades.
Using the same test files we used for our Lexmark OfficeEdge Pro5500 evaluation, the Pro 8600 Plus spat out papers at speeds just a hair slower than the Lexmark’s blistering pace. Straight black-and-white text documents printed at about 17 pages per minute, while documents that integrated lots of colorful images, borders, and graphs printed at a brisk 8.5 ppm. That’s extremely fast for an inkjet. Obviously, more intricate pages (with multiple columns and pictures) printed at a slightly slower rate, and printing two-sided duplex pages took about twice as long. In all cases, the output looked great, with text remaining crisp even when we used a miniscule six-point font.
Full-page color images printed and scanned at about 2 ppm. For the most part, printed images looked very good, but we noticed some slight banding in areas with lots of color. Additionally, some graininess could be spotted, especially in busier or finely detailed pictures. Overall, however, the image quality was excellent for standard business uses.
A Scanner Slowly
Scan speeds are a notorious choke point for multifunction printers. Although the Lexmark printer managed to scan pages nearly as fast as it printed them, the HP Pro 8600 Plus didn’t. Papers scanned as PDFs processed at about 3.5 ppm, and papers saved as editable documents processed at about 2.5 ppm. The I.R.I.S. optical character-recognition technology used to create those editable documents was spot on, though; we never saw a single error in scanned text, although formatting issues arose with embedded pictures. That’s the norm with OCR, however, and those scan speeds are fairly average for an inkjet.
Copying hit roughly 10 ppm speeds, depending on the formatting and colors involved. Duplex copying is supported: The feed tray, which holds 50 sheets of paper, can read both sides of a two-sided paper and spit out a two-sided copy. Duplex copying took a good deal longer than straightforward copying, however. The main paper tray holds 250 sheets.
The touchscreen makes navigating the options a breeze, although it was a bit finicky, and we often had to push on it really hard to get the screen to register our inputs.
Strong Performer at a Strong Price
The Lexmark OfficeEdge Pro5500 can now be found online for around $300, but you can find the HP Pro 8600 Plus for as cheap as $200. The ink costs for the printers are about the same.
So, does the HP Pro 8600 Plus unseat the Lexmark OfficeEdge Pro5500 as the best of the best? It depends on your budget and usage needs. Both printers clearly outshine most inkjet competitors and deliver laser printer-esque speeds. In terms of raw performance, the Lexmark printer still holds the crown, but if you don’t mind putting up with slower scan speeds in exchange for cost savings, the HP Pro 8600 Plus is a versatile performer that we think would be a excellent choice for any small business.
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