HP Officejet Pro 8500A Plus

The HP‘s (NYSE: HPQ) Officejet Pro 8500A Plus colour inkjet multifunction printer (for printing, copying, scanning, and faxing) may look expensive at $300 (as of November 17, 2010), but you get a lot for the money. It’s a comprehensive small-office machine with excellent speed and print quality, and low ink costs. The machine’s touch controls and legal-size scanner lift it above competing models such as the Canon Pixma MX870 and the Lexmark Platinum Pro905.

The shiny, all-black Officejet Pro 8500a Plus might look a bit like something out of a sci-fi flick, but there’s nothing alien about using it. The entire control panel–from the large, 2.4-inch colour LCD to the surrounding controls (which light up only when needed)–is touch-sensitive. The menus shown on the LCD are laid out logically.

Paper-handling features include a front-mounted 250-sheet input cassette and a 150-sheet output tray directly above it. Automatic duplexing is included for printing, copying, and scanning, the latter two via the 35-sheet automatic document feeder. Most ADFs can scan legal-size media, but the Officejet Pro 8500A Plus’s flatbed scanner is legal-size as well. For loading digital images, you can use the USB/PictBridge port or the media card slots for MMC, MS/Duo, and SD Cards.

HP’s installation software made setting up the 8500A Plus a breeze, even when we connected the printer wirelessly. Bundled with the multifunction printer are the IRIS OCR program and HP Marketsplash Print software for use with the company’s online document design center. HP’s unified control center application handles general printing, copying, and scanning chores.

The Officejet Pro 8500A Plus is also ePrint-enabled, meaning that you can send the MFP print jobs as attachments via e-mail; and it has access to HP’s Web-based apps for printing an ever-widening variety of things, including news digests, puzzles, movie tickets, and maps.

The help files that the installation program provides are mostly very good. They consist of an HTML-based user guide sprinkled liberally with helpful, animated how-to’s. The guide covers two different versions, so we were surprised that one of the few things not illustrated was how to figure out which model number you had.

Speed and print quality shine on the Officejet Pro 8500a Plus. Crisp-looking plain-text pages sprinted out of the machine at 10.6 pages per minute via the PC and 9.3 ppm via the Mac. Snapshot-size photos took about 4 ppm on letter-size plain paper and a little under 2 ppm on HP’s own letter-size photo paper. A 22MB, high-resolution photo took nearly 3 minutes to print from either the Mac or the PC.

Regardless of platform or paper type, photo quality was smooth and detailed, with a slightly cool, but mostly accurate colour palette–save for orangey fleshtones in plain-paper prints. We noticed little difference in results when we shifted between the printer’s default and higher-quality settings. Copies emerged quickly, as did scan previews; however, full scans decelerated to merely average speeds. Copies retained colours and sharpness well for the most part, but colour scans looked a little murky.

Ink costs typically fall as printer prices rise, and that’s certainly the case here. With the standard $26 black (1000 pages) and $20 cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges (900 pages each), black costs 2.6 cents per page, and each colour costs 2.2 cents per page. A four-colour page would cost just 9.3 cents. The higher-yield cartridges–a 2200-page black for $36 and 1400-page colors for $26 each–drop those numbers to 1.6 cents per page for black and 1.9 cents per page for each colour, making the cost of a four-colour page just 7.2 cents. Note that if your print volume is low, it won’t pay to buy cartridges that may expire before you empty them.

The HP Officejet Pro 8500A Plus may cost a lot, but its features and performance justify the investment. You’ll also save over time on the inks.

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