Xerox Phaser 8400: It's Crayon-tastic - Page 2

By Eric Grevstad
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Avoid the Draft
Of the four, Fast Color mode is certainly legible but definitely drafty, with pale colors and gray instead of black text; it shows off the Phaser engine's speed — 30 seconds for six (white-background) PowerPoint slides, under 5 minutes for our 55-page Acrobat manual — but isn't very practical. It is, however, the only mode in which the solid-ink printer kept pace with its laser rivals when printing our 20-page, just-black-text Word document (1 minute and 34 seconds).

We weren't wild about Standard mode, either, not because its printouts were poor but because it was oddly noisy, causing our test unit to emit two buzzy beeps with every page. In the other modes, the Phaser made a bit too much fan and engine noise to place right next to your desk or phone, but was quiet enough for most office locations and much less annoying than the thunking, clunking four-pass engines of HP's Color LaserJet 1500/2500 cousins.

Quality-wise, Standard-mode pages looked reasonably dark and crisp, if a little thin. To maximize the attention-grabbing glossy or painted-on effect praised above, we did most of our printing in Enhanced or second-best mode, which made everything except large photo images look spectacular — and which, except for our 20-page text file (2 minutes and 32 seconds, about a minute behind recent color laser tests), yielded impressive speed in the bargain.

Six full-page, light- and dark-background PowerPoint slides took 51 and 93 seconds respectively — 50 and 29 seconds, also respectively, less than our previous record-holder, the Samsung, without a trace of banding. The 55-page Acrobat document printed in half the time (7 minutes and 50 seconds) of most four-pass color lasers we've tried, though HP's one-pass Color LaserJet 3500 was just a couple of minutes behind.

Slowing all the way down to Photo mode brings unnoticeable refinement for everyday text and graphics jobs, while still printing our 8 by 10-inch digital-camera shots in a laser-competitive 40 seconds or so — but, as mentioned, without matching the detail of (usually far slower) inkjet images. Switching from cheap copier stock to high-quality plain paper helps a lot, however.

Leave It On and Let It Learn
Like its color-laser competitors, the Phaser 8400 is too big to share your desk with your keyboard and monitor — about 14.5 inches tall, with a footprint of 16.5 by 21 inches — and too heavy for one person to move with ease. We're too buff to let that stop us, though we'll admit that at 60 pounds the Xerox is a bit easier on the biceps than its 70-plus-pound rivals.

A photocopier-style, 525-sheet drawer at the bottom holds letter- through legal-sized paper; you can feed special stock or envelopes (taking advantage of the driver's options for cover sheets or between-job separators, perhaps) via a 100-sheet fold-down front tray. Pages exit face down atop the printer. One or two more 525-sheet drawers ($399 apiece) can be installed beneath the main unit; a top-of-the-line, Ethernet- and duplex-enabled Phaser 8400DX ($2,499) comes with both a second drawer and a 20GB onboard hard disk, able to store print jobs for the driver's proof (just one copy) and password-secure options.

You don't want to move or tilt the 8400 once it's set up, since the melted ink reservoir can spill, and you might notice its snuffed-candle smell when warming up each morning. The printer's power switch is awkwardly recessed behind a plastic panel by the parallel and USB interfaces, but that's intentional — Xerox urges you to leave the Phaser turned on, so its onboard clock can learn over a few weeks' use when it's safe to enter sleep mode and when to anticipate the 9:00 a.m. (or whenever) call to duty.

A front-panel LCD and up, down, back, cancel, OK, and help buttons make it fairly simple to navigate a variety of setup menus and help screens, though the oversized buttons sometimes annoyingly took two pushes to register. As usual, we relied on the software driver for routine quality-mode, N-up printing, and watermark options. Pre-press pros will admire the driver's choice of vivid- or monitor-matching sRGB or four-color commercial, Euroscale, or Specification for Web Offset Printing (SWOP) color palettes; the LCD menu includes both RGB and CMYK palette printouts, though Xerox notes the 8400 doesn't support every Pantone color. The company's printer-detecting software setup and downloadable PCL and notebook-walk-up drivers are a cut above the competition's.

We're great fans of the new, priced-for-small-offices crop of color laser printers, but we're even more impressed with the Phaser 8400. It's not quite the ultimate printer; it performs credibly but not spectacularly in the monochrome-laser and inkjet arenas of jumbo text jobs and color photos, respectively. But its terrific text, glorious color graphics, and environmentally friendly ease of use make it the best office color printer we've seen yet.

< Back to Page 1: Wax On, Wax Off

Adapted from HardwareCentral.com.

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This article was originally published on April 21, 2004
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