The Xerox Phaser 8500N has nearly everything a colour business printer should, including speed, solid network handling and add-ons for paper capacity and memory. It competes with small-office colour lasers at less than £500, but it's technically not a laser printer. Instead of fusing toner to the page with a laser, it uses a process that liquefies solid blocks of nontoxic ink, sprays the ink onto a drum, and transfers the image onto the page.
This process offers advantages over laser technology: it prints colour faster and cheaper, it makes changing inks easier, and it generates far less waste. It's also supposed to provide better graphics. However, the output quality of the Xerox 8500, while adequate, doesn't measure up to that of colour lasers such as the Dell 3100cn.
There's no way to tell by looking at the Xerox Phaser 8500 that it's any different from a colour laser printer. The putty-white hulk measures 406 by 368 by 533mm (WHD) and weighs 28kg. A door on the front panel reveals a 100-sheet paper-input tray that also takes envelopes and manual-feed jobs; another door exposes the guts of the printer so that you can clear paper jams. On top is a 300-sheet output tray, and at the bottom is a big 525-sheet paper drawer. You can add up to two 525-sheet trays if your workgroup prints frequently -- consider the 8500DN if you need a duplexer for automatic two-sided printing. Along the right side of this machine, behind a plastic pop-off panel, are the power plug, USB 2.0 and Ethernet connectors, and a Xerox SIM card that holds configuration data for the printer, making it easily transferable to a new Xerox printer.
On its top panel, the 8500 has a backlit LCD and a cluster of buttons for navigating through the various print menus. You can access most functions for paper handling, network setup and basic troubleshooting through the software drivers. You'll still complete secure or personal print jobs through the physical interface to prevent others from accidentally picking up your work from the output tray.
A door on the top reveals the ink-feeder slots. Adding ink to the 8500 satisfies one's inner child, as the ink comes in solid, crayonlike blocks packaged in cups that resemble pudding containers with peel-off lids. Insert each block into its matching hole and slide it down the tube, queuing up to three blocks at a time. As with many colour laser printers, every now and then you must clean waste ink by opening a compartment on the side of the printer.
In our tests, we needed only a couple of minutes to get the Xerox Phaser 8500N running. The well-organised, easy-to-use print drivers let you set basic options, such as custom paper size. The drivers also include a TekColor tab with colour-correction options, including Office Color (sRGB Display, sRGB Vivid) and Press Match (SWOP Press, Euroscale Press, Commercial, SNAP Press). The colour tab also lets you calibrate lightness, saturation, contrast and individual colour levels.
The printer-install process puts an icon link to the Xerox Support Centre on your desktop. This umbrella program has a searchable interface that contains all kinds of information about the printer (from the user guide to troubleshooting to ordering supplies) and also houses the printer-status monitor. The printer comes with great network-management software, including CentreWare, which tracks any printer on the network, gives usage statistics, and lets you change printer settings. There's also an accounting tool that tracks print jobs and a diagnostic tool that sends data to Xerox for troubleshooting.
This printer comes with true Adobe PostScript 3 and PCL 5c printing languages and works with many operating systems (Windows 98 SE/Me, NT 4.0, 2000/XP, Server 2003; Mac OS 9.x, OS X version 10.2 or higher; Novell NetWare 5.x/6.5; Linux Red Hat 9, SuSE 9, Fedora Core 1; Unix Sun Solaris 2.8, 2.9, 2.10, HP/UX 11.x, IBM AIX 4.3.3). For graphics pros, the Xerox 8500N is compatible with a variety of colour-matching systems.