We’re used to the idea of buying an inkjet printer for the home and a laser for the office, so the idea of an inkjet MFD (Multi Function Device) that is intended for office duties sounds like a strange concept.
The general rule is that inkjets are cheap to buy and have the flexibility of printing photos and all manner of documents but they are expensive to run and aren’t intended for heavy duty use. By contrast, a decent laser is expensive to buy and has a low cost per page, resulting in a lower total cost of ownership when you’re printing thousands of pages per month.
That’s the traditional and rather simplistic view of things but HP is trying to upset the applecart with its Officejet Pro 8500A Plus eAIO which is touted as “an economical alternative to laser printing for the office.”
This is a bold claim, as the Pro 8500A looks like a conventional four-ink printer so it isn’t immediately obvious how HP might manage this trick. There are two print heads with one handling 9-picolitre drops for black and yellow while the other delivers 7-picolitre drops of cyan and magenta. Each head costs £40, however HP doesn’t list the life of these parts so we’re going to work on the basis that they should last indefinitely.
Things take a turn towards the unusual when we look at the cost of the four ink cartridges. It is effectively impossible to buy standard life cartridges so you instead install extended life XL cartridges that can print an enormous number of pages. The three-colour (cyan, magenta and yellow) cartridges cost £17 each and last for 1,400 pages while the XL black cartridge costs £36 and has a claimed life of 2,200 pages. This gives a cost for monochrome text of a mere 1.6p per page which compares well to budget lasers that cost up to 3p per page.
On the other hand, mixed content costs around 5p per page which looks good when you compare it with other inkjets that typically cost 8p per page for mixed content when you use extended life cartridges. On this showing HP has done a neat job of positioning the Pro 8500A in terms of running costs, although the £270 purchase price is somewhat on the steep side.
Installing the heads and cartridges is a simple matter and once you have used the 3.4-inch / 8.7cm touchscreen to confirm your language and location you can leave the printer to run a series of alignment checks. This is quite a noisy process that lasts for a startling 18 minutes, so you may wish to make yourself a cup of tea. Not only does the HP take a long time to carry out the initial set-up but we also found that the Pro 8500A would run a cleaning routine after it had finished most print jobs.
The Pro 8500A delivers all of the features that you would expect to see in an office MFD including a duplex unit, a scanner (which adds a copy function) and a fax, as well as 802.11b/g/n wireless and Fast Ethernet. On the downside, the software package is very basic and consists of the drivers and a copy of IRIS OCR, but there is no photo printing utility. This means that any photo you print will inevitably have a border, and that’s annoying as it seems so unnecessary.
HP claims print speeds of 15ppm mono and 11ppm colour which is rather leisurely, and the results of our tests were uninspiring as ten pages of text took 57 seconds to print. On the other hand, a bordered A4 photo was produced in 40 seconds.
Print quality was perfectly acceptable but wasn’t as crisp and sharp as we would expect from HP and we were left feeling unimpressed.