Print, Copy, Scan
By nature, multifunction printers all print, copy and scan. What separates the 8600 Plus from the pack is that it can do all of the above with double-sided flair.
The included duplexer unit lets you save paper by printing on both sides of the page. As each sheet comes out, it then gets pulled back in by the duplexer, which runs the paper through the drum a second time on the reverse side. Duplex printing is somewhat slower than standard printing because the unit waits a few moments for the ink to dry between each page flip.
Scanning can be a bit slow, but the results are good quality, clear and evenly lit. Printing, though, is relatively speedy. The rated speed of 20 pages per minute for black text is close to the mark, with dark, sharp, easy-to-read text in "normal" output mode.
In addition to solid printing and scanning performance, the 8600 Plus offers a bevvy of advanced networking features.
Using the included software, you can define network shares and email recipients right from the printer display. For example, you can scan a batch of documents and, using only the printer display, send the scan directly to a network share or email recipient.
The 8600 Plus also makes great use of its Internet connectivity. The HP e-print platform assigns the printer its own unique email address. You can customize the address through the e-print website. Send a supported document attachment to the printer's email address (such as a Word or PDF file), and the job is sent right to the printer. You will receive an email back from the printer reporting on the success or failure of the print job. (You can restrict email senders to a whitelist to prevent unsolicited printer spam.)
You can also access a wide variety of apps -- yes, apps for a printer. The apps run directly on the printer's touchscreen and provide a wide variety of functionality. Some apps, such as DocStoc, let you access boilerplate legal forms and print them directly from the app. Another app prints a crossword puzzle of the day. I particularly like the forms app, which lets you easily print templates for ruled paper and grids.
Many apps are available online, and you can add or remove them from your printer through the HP website. Granted, many of the apps are of dubious value and probably encourage paper and ink waste.
Finally, you can also manage the network-connected unit through its internal Web server. You can manage a wide variety of settings, some quite sophisticated for a mid-priced printer, such as an awake-and-asleep schedule to conserve power.
Unfortunately, like many printers, the 8600 Plus ships with "starter" cartridges that contain less ink than do the retail versions. But consumable costs improve going forward. At a street price of about $35 for the large capacity black cartridge (rated for 2,300 pages), you would run about 1.5 cents per monochrome page.
The three color cartridges can be replaced individually (at a cost of about $15 each), rather than being forced to replace one comprehensive color cartridge just because one color has run low.
If there is one area where the OfficeJet Pro 8600 Plus comes up a little short, it is paper handling. The Plus model comes with only one 250 sheet paper tray, and there's no manual feed input. Therefore, printing a one-off of special paper like an envelope can be inconvenient -- you need to unload stock paper from the tray, realign the paper guides, insert the envelope, re-insert the tray, print the envelope, and then reconfigure the tray again to replace your stock paper.
If you mostly print from stock paper this limitation may not be a problem, but take note if you print on a wider variety of formats with any regularity.
Aaron Weiss a technology writer, screenwriter and Web development consultant who spends his free time stacking wood for the winter in Upstate New York. His Web site is: bordella.com
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