The HP Officejet Pro 8500A Plus is the successor to the Editors' Choice Award-winning HP Officejet Pro 8500 Wireless all-in-one inkjet we reviewed in 2009. It gets a slight makeover--all black is the new white-and-black--and adds to the already expansive feature set of its predecessor. With the $399 Officejet Pro 8500A, you can send print jobs via e-mail and also directly from iOS devices. These two additions make the Officejet Pro 8500A Plus an incredibly versatile all-in-one printer, but for busy small and home offices, we prefer the Epson WorkForce 840. It lists for $100 less than the HP Officejet Pro 8500A Plus and provides similar features and speeds and crisper text, all in a more compact design with double the paper capacity.
Design and features
Like Johnny Cash, the HP Officejet Pro 8500A Plus comes dressed in black. Its look suits both home and office settings, though you'll have to clear some room for it. It's big and bulky, weighing a hefty 28 pounds and measuring 20 inches wide, 17 inches deep, and 12 inches high. The Epson WorkForce 840 is more compact and 6 pounds lighter by comparison, and has two indented side handles that make it easier to lug around than the Officejet Pro 8500A Plus.
A single 250-sheet input tray protrudes 4 inches out of the front of the Officejet, while a 50-page automatic document feeder (ADF) resides on top. The HP's ADF holds 20 more pages than the Epson WorkForce 840's, but the WorkForce 840 has two 250-sheet input trays. The capacity to hold the equivalent of a full ream of paper is convenient for busy offices, as is the ability to stock two different types of paper. Hewlett-Packard sells a separate 250-sheet paper tray that connects to the bottom of the Officejet Pro 8500A Plus, but that adds $79 to the bill. Lastly, like any modern multifunction printer, the Officejet Pro 8500A Plus features a PictBridge USB port as well as a pair of multiformat media card slots for printing directly from a digital camera.
The HP's ample 4.3-inch touch-sensitive color display makes navigating the print, copy, scan, and fax functions a breeze. The screen is larger than on the Officejet 8500 or the Epson WorkForce 840, but the WorkForce 840 surrounds its color LCD with a larger 7.8-inch touch panel that provides additional navigation buttons. The HP's entire touch panel, on the other hand, resembles an iPhone on its side and measures 6 inches on the diagonal. In the end, both printers do admirable jobs of providing a simple and clear menu system for navigating the printer's many functions. However, HP makes it easier than Epson to enter text with its full QWERTY virtual keyboard; entering data like a wireless password on the Epson requires scrolling through the alphabet for each letter and is akin to entering your initials for a high score on an old arcade game.
Navigating the menu system to find your desired task and settings is quick, but the initial setup process for the HP Officejet Pro 8500A Plus is not. It took 20 minutes for the drivers to install from the included CD before the printer was ready for action. This is in stark contrast to the speedy installation we experienced with HP's new LaserJets, such as the HP LaserJet P1606dn and the HP LaserJet M1212nf, which both feature HP Smart Install in which the requisite drivers are stored on the printer itself and automatically install when you connect the printer to your PC. After installation, the printer takes more than 2 minutes to warm up and perform various checks before it's ready to accept a job. In contrast, the Epson WorkForce 840 is ready to roll within 15 seconds after you press the power button.
In addition to a direct USB connection (like most vendors, HP does not include a USB cable with the printer), you can set up the Officejet Pro 8500A Plus on your network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. We tested the Wi-Fi connection and the process was easy; using the printer's touch screen, we navigated through a few setup screens to find our network, quickly entered its password using the virtual QWERTY keyboard, and established a connection within a minute. Macs and PCs alike on our network were able to see the printer without the need to install any additional software.
Once you connect the printer to a wireless network, you can use HP's AirPrint feature to print from any iOS device without an additional application. Using AirPrint, you can print out a photo from your iPhone photo library by simply choosing the connected printer and hitting Print. You can't adjust any print properties, however; our Hipstamatic test photo printed with a portion missing on both letter-sized paper and 4x6-inch photo paper.
In addition to AirPrint, the Officejet Pro 8500A Plus also features HP's ePrint technology, which enables you to send jobs from any connected device to the printer using the uniquely assigned e-mail address. You can find this address using the control panel (Wireless > Web Services > Display Email). It's a convenient feature, to be sure, but it comes with a few restrictions. For one, the printer must be on and also connected to your network. For another, it can't print Web pages, although you can simply copy and paste the text into a document as a workaround.
Along with the standard Copy, Fax, and Scan options listed on the home screen of the Officejet Pro's control panel, you get a fourth icon labeled Apps. Our test unit came preloaded with 21 apps that let you print new pages from outlets like the Financial Times, Yahoo, Reuters, and USA Today. Others from DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, and Disney let you print coloring pages, paper airplane templates, and other crafts. You can install additional free apps, but you must do so from HP's ePrint Center Website after creating an account. The craft pages were a hit with this reviewer's kids, but we doubt many business users will find them useful.