- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hewlett Packard continues to refine and even perfect the small-office/home office/cubicle printer, especially when it comes to the inkjet side of things. Unlike color laser printers, which are nice but have a fairly high cost for consumables, inkjets are often half as expensive in per-page printing costs, with little discernable difference in output quality.

One of the firm’s most recent inkjet offerings, the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus has the features a small-office user might savor, along with a stylish appearance, wireless connectivity and - most important - stunning output, and on both sides of a page if desired. It also can send and receive faxes and act as a copier or scanner.

With a list price just one cent under $300, the unit is available online from HP. Some resellers are offering it for $70 less until the end of March. At $229.99, the 8600 Plus represents a good value if you need all of its capabilities.

For many users, the most important thing is output: How does the printed page look? The answer: Stunning. The text is sharp, colors are vibrant and, yes, it’s fast. Going from a press of the “print” command in a word processing program to a finished page takes 20 seconds, and that’s with a wireless connection to the printer, no less.

Indeed, the printing is so fast that the sounds of the print heads moving into place and the paper moving through the printer as ink is applied are just momentary. You do hear the sounds, but the speed means you won’t hear them for very long. To me, that makes what noise is produced a worthwhile trade-off for the relative savings and features you get versus a similar laser, such as HP’s LaserJet Pro 100 MFP M175nw, reviewed here six months ago. Though that laser printer’s list price of $349 was attractive, the cost of supplies was a different story.

Compare: The Officejet Pro 8600 has all of the features of the LaserJet Pro 100, but for more than $100 less right now. Per-page monochrome printing costs about 1.6 cents per page for the Officejet, versus 3.5 cents for the LaserJet. In your first year of use, you’ll probably spend a lot less for ink with the Officejet than you would on toner for the LaserJet, again, with no discernable loss in quality.

Setting up the printer is a relatively straightforward affair: Remove the packing materials, insert the ink cartridges, add paper and connect to a computer. Connections can be made via a USB cable, an Ethernet or a wireless network.

HP claims no cables are needed for wireless installation, and a spokesman said he has seen it done. In my test, it took a direct connection from an Apple Inc. iMac via a USB cable for initial setup. Once the process was completed, wireless printing was a breeze.

Even more impressive was the two-sided printing feature, also known as duplex printing. Snap the duplex module in the back of the printer, set your word processor or other program to print on both sides of the page, and it’s automatic. No more trying to figure out how to reposition a batch of already printed pages to handle the “other” side. Just set up the job and click “print.” Call me a nerd, but I like this feature a lot.

With the included feeder and installed HP software, I could set up a scan using the printer’s touch-sensitive control panel. On the Mac, it also functioned with Apple’s Preview software. But, as with the LaserJet Pro 100, scanning via Adobe Acrobat Pro wasn’t an option. As Meat Loaf once said, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

Overall, the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus is a tremendous machine that will repay owners with reliable service, great printing and a range of scanning and copying features. You can’t ask for much more, and at the price of $229.99, you won’t easily find a better value.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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