- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

For most of the 27-plus years that I’ve reviewed computer products, going back to a 1983-vintage AT&T-branded desktop with (woo-hoo) a 10-megabyte hard drive, it’s been my operating philosophy that newer is generally better. If Microsoft Windows version 1.0, circa 1986, was interesting, then 2.0 had to improve, and so forth — until, of course, the late, non-lamented Windows Vista blew away that theory.

Comes now a wireless inkjet printer from Hewlett-Packard that should, by rights, be vastly better than its predecessors. It is very, very good, but it falls down on a couple of points.

The product is the HP Officejet Pro 8500 Wireless All-in-One Printer, which lists for $488 but can be found at retail for about $250. It’s billed as a printer for sophisticated home-office or small-business users, thanks to the duplex (double-sided) printing that’s built in, a 50-sheet document feeder and print speeds that begin at 15 pages per minute for monochrome and 11 pages per minute for color printing. “Laser quality at an inkjet price” is the mantra here.

By and large, that mantra holds. The printing is very, very good, sharp and virtually indistinguishable from a laser printer’s output. The printer’s wireless 802.11g networking is fine, so far as it goes.

So why am I ambivalent? I have memories — and, sadly, only memories — of another HP printer reviewed in these pages about a year ago. The HP Photosmart C6380, definitely a consumer model, was selling at the time for about $150 retail and now is available at Amazon.com for roughly half that, $79.99. This may rank as the bargain of the century, but more on that in a minute.

Not having the C6380 at hand — it was donated to charity when we moved homes recently — I can only speculate, but it seems, and quite strongly, that the scanning feature on that printer worked wirelessly, something that doesn’t seem possible on the Officejet 8500. A quick Internet search revealed reports of other users scanning wirelessly via 802.11, or Wi-Fi, connections, so it appears I’m not going batty yet.

No such luck with the 8500. And, granted, I haven’t tried every possible configuration in order to make that work. But then, with the C6380, wireless scanning worked out of the box.

Another feature that would be nice on the Officejet 8500 would be a little pass-through feeder for single, letter-sized envelopes. Other inkjets have had this feature; why not the 8500? Instead, opening the paper tray, removing the letter-sized paper, and setting up for envelope printing is a chore and, frankly, a pain.

On the plus side, along with the C6380, the Officejet 8500 has both an LCD display screen for various menu functions, as well as slots for various types of memory cards from which photos can be downloaded and printed without using a computer. I do wish the card reader would channel back to the computer wirelessly, but that’s another matter.

To be fair, my wireless issues vis-a-vis scanning and the like could be solved were I to connect the printer to my desktop computer via a USB cable. Of course, that also would negate the “wireless” part of the product, wouldn’t it?

So I’ll confess to being at a bit of a crossroads. I want to like the HP Officejet 8500 more than I do, especially since its “street” price is about three times that of the still-on-sale HP Photosmart C6380. Then again, if further wireless tinkering doesn’t avail, I’ll either spring for a cable or perhaps fork over the now-bargain price of $79.99 to get the old Photosmart back.

Unless, of course, I find a better solution.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.