Xerox Phaser 8400N
At a Glance
In most ways, Xerox made the Phaser 8400N solid-ink printer a strong candidate for sharing in an office. For $1299, it comes equipped with a generous 128MB of memory and a 100-gigabit ethernet interface, a 525-sheet main feeder and a 100-sheet auxiliary tray. For additional paper capacity you can add one or two more 525-sheet feeders at $399 each. The $499 internal hard drive option supports "walk-up" features such as storing a confidential print job in memory until you go to the printer and enter a PIN, and printing the first copy of a long job so you can proof it before running the whole job. It's easy to use the control panel's special features, thanks to the backlit LCD and the precise prompts in the menus. The printer also has a fair number of tip sheets stored in its memory; for example, while standing at the printer you can print a sheet on how to set up a network connection, how to move the printer, and so on. Xerox also provides a handy reference guide meant to sit in a pouch attached to the printer, and offers extensive on-screen documentation with videos of common tasks.
The defining characteristic of Xerox's Phaser 8400N is its solid-ink technology: It prints by painting the imaging drum with waxy crayon-like blocks of colored material, instead of electrostatically attaching powdered plastic toner, as most laser printers do. The technology has several consequences, good and bad. The inks can be dropped into their shape-coded slots while the printer is operating, so you don't risk running dry in the middle of a job or ever have to take the 8400N offline to replace a toner cartridge. On the other hand, the waxy ink scratches off more easily than does plastic toner fused to paper. Also, when you first fire up the 8400N, its inks take a while to melt--we timed it at 10 minutes from a cold start until the "ready" indicator illuminated, whereas most color lasers can begin printing 15 to 20 seconds after they're powered on. The smell of melting waxes might bother some people; you might consider isolating the 8400N in a utility room.
The solid-ink technology proved especially well-suited to informational graphics and other illustrations that depend on large blocks of bold, bright colors; it didn't perform as well on photos and other documents that require subtle shading or blending of colors. In our tests, the 8400N printed color photos with accurate colors but noticeable loss of detail, and it made a blotchy, almost sponge-textured mess of gray-scale photos; line art looked very jagged. On the other hand, the 8400N produced impeccable black text. It printed text at a sluggish 9.7 pages per minute--more than 4 ppm slower than the average of recently tested color lasers. Color graphics were another story: The 8400N printed those pages at a ripping 5.4 ppm, almost half again as fast as the recent average.
Two minor complaints: The 8400N's power switch is deeply recessed on the back of the printer and is difficult to reach. Also, though the case is 16 inches wide by 20 inches deep and weighs almost 60 pounds, it provides only two handholds. We'd feel safer moving it if there were enough handholds for two people.
The Phaser 8400N is a good fit if your office prints a lot of informational color graphics.