If you've decided you can't afford a colour laser printer, reconsider: the HP Color LaserJet 2600n costs only £250 with built-in Ethernet networkability. This model is simple to use, and the quality of most of its print samples impressed us. However, its slow performance on some tasks and its potentially high postpurchase costs mean the 2600n best fits small and patient workgroups and home offices. The comparable Konica Minolta Magicolor 2430DL is twice as fast and includes a PictBridge port for instant digital-camera prints, but it lacks built-in networking. For a small office, we recommend the Samsung CLP-510N, which works at more than double the HP 2600n's greyscale speeds and even makes two-sided prints.
The two-tone grey HP Color LaserJet 2600n measures a compact 407 by 371 by 453mm. Two sturdy handgrips in its base make this 18.4kg machine easy to move. In order to keep production costs down, HP cut corners in ways that are difficult to forgive. For example, the control panel on the top-right corner of the machine features a tiny two-line LCD that's hard to read because it's set at an awkward angle and lacks backlighting. The control panel provides buttons to move across the menus and drill down through them, but not to climb back up. After setting a menu item, you have to jump back to the starting point. In other words, to save money on a plastic button, HP designed a control panel that accesses only one menu item at a time.
Still, HP got some of the 2600n's design elements right. The enclosed paper drawer at the bottom holds 250 sheets, and you can add a second 250-sheet drawer for £105 -- pricey but essential for a workgroup that prints a lot. Adjusting the paper drawer's width and length guides for A4 or legal paper was painless. The auxiliary tray for alternative media and envelopes includes a unique, easy-to-feed single-sheet bypass slot. The 2600n's front wall flops out on sturdy hinges to expose the four combination toner-cartridge and imaging-drum units, whose convenient handles make changing components easy.
HP deserves credit for not exaggerating the Color LaserJet 2600n's print speed. Its advertised 8 pages per minute for black text was close to the poky 7ppm clocked by our tests. Colour graphics printed at a more reasonable 6.3ppm. That's fast enough for most home offices, but not for any workgroup of more than a few people. (We tested the 2600n over a USB connection; Ethernet performance may vary.)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)