Review: HP Color LaserJet 2600n Vs. Lexmark C522n - InformationWeek

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Review: HP Color LaserJet 2600n Vs. Lexmark C522n

Before you look at another inkjet, consider one of these surprisingly affordable, network-ready color lasers.

Still printing in monochrome? The time has come to give serious consideration to a color laser, especially if your monthly print volume includes a lot of color documents. Sure, you’ll want to keep an inkjet on hand for photo printing, as lasers still fall short in that department. But for everyday business documents printed on plain paper, you’re much better off with one of the latest lasers.

I tested two budget-friendly models: HP’s Color LaserJet 2600n and Lexmark’s C522n. Both sell for under $500, though there’s definitely a get-what-you-pay-for margin in terms of speed, support, and print quality. That said, either model would make a colorful addition to your office.

HP Color LaserJet 2600n
With a price tag of just $320, HP’s Color LaserJet 2600n costs less than some high-end inkjets. That alone makes it a killer buy for SMBs, but price isn’t the printer’s only advantage. It’s relatively compact (by color laser standards), easy to use, and equipped for both USB and Ethernet connectivity. However, it struggled with photos (as many color lasers do), and it’s definitely not the fastest printer on the block.

With a footprint of 14.6 x 16 by 17.8 inches, the printer requires a bit less desk estate than Lexmark’s C522n. Following the straightforward instructions on the included quick-start poster (there’s no printed manual, only an electronic help guide that gets installed along with the drivers), I spent about ten minutes unpacking the 2600n, removing its various protective tapes, and connecting it to my network. Calibration, which the printer performed automatically, took five minutes more. Once that was done, HP’s setup software quickly located the LaserJet on my network, and I was ready to print.

Actually, I had to double-check to make sure the printer was even on, as it’s completely silent when idle. Unlike the Lexmark, which takes upwards of a minute to awaken, the 2600n perks up and starts printing in just a few seconds, after which it quickly returns to sleep mode. Thankfully, the two-line LCD -- which displays handy toner gauges for each of the four cartridges -- stays lit to let you know the printer is operational. I had an easy time navigating the setup menus thanks to simple front-panel controls.

The 600 x 600 dpi LaserJet has a rated print speed of 8 pages per minute for both color and black documents. If you find its 250-sheet paper tray insufficient, you can supplement it with an optional secondary tray, which adds space for another 250 sheets. I liked the primary tray’s plastic paper gauge, which shows you when the supply is running low. A priority slot lets you bypass the tray with manually fed single sheets.

The printer can accommodate a wide assortment of paper stocks and sizes, including a variety of glossy photo papers -- one area where HP leads the less-photo-friendly Lexmark. It has a duty cycle of 35,000 pages per month (ample for most SMBs) and color toner cartridges that are good for 2,000 pages apiece at five percent coverage (the black cartridge yields 2,500 pages). HP sells color and black cartridges for $82.99 and $75 each, respectively. Although that’s less than Lexmark charges for its cartridges, the yield is also 33 percent lower.

Razor Sharp
As for print quality, text looked as razor-sharp as you’d expect from an HP laser, while graphics and photos exhibited glorious color. I initially spotted some light banding in our color documents, but the 2600n automatically performed a second calibration after sitting idle for awhile, after which the banding all but disappeared. Even so, photos lacked the razer-sharp edges I’ve come to expect from high-resolution inkjets.

What’s more, printing was on the slow side. A 10-page PageMaker document with a mix of text and graphics took about 90 seconds to output. Lexmark’s printer kicks out pages significantly faster.

Indeed, much as I like the low price and commendable feature set of the 2600n, the Lexmark C522n offers faster printing, higher output resolution, and onsite repair, all for just $100 more.

HP Color LaserJet 2600n
Hewlett-Packard Development Company, Inc.
Price: $320
Summary: Even the smallest of businesses should have no trouble affording this color laser, which earns high marks for its Ethernet capabilities -- and low marks for slow performance and spotty color.

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