Review: HP Officejet 6500 Wireless All-in-One InkJet Printer

By Eric Grevstad

June 24, 2009

With integrated 802.11g Wi-Fi, the HP Officejet 6500 ($159.99) offers a full feature set and an exceptionally low cost per page.

Different vendors aim to give you different reasons to feel good about buying or using a product. In this case, there are two vendors for one product: The inkjet printer/copier/scanner/fax seen here is not only an HP Officejet 6500 Wireless, but a Staples EcoEasy Edition, one of 3,000-odd inventory items that the office retailer has designated as worthy of environmental note.

Staples' reasons? The $200 printer's power consumption is low enough to earn an Energy Star sticker and its automatic duplexing helps you save a tree or three by printing on both sides of a page. It even comes in a plain brown box instead of colorful cardboard one, in which you're invited to bring your previous printer back to the store for recycling.

It's nice of Staples to try to give customers happy green feelings. For its part, HP focuses on other green feelings--as in greenbacks, boasting that the 6500 not only uses up to 40 percent less energy than under-$600 color laser multifunction products, but delivers comparable savings in cost per page. And considering that inkjets are generally the spendthrifts of the printing world, the HP's savings are almost stunning.

According to our calculations, using what the manufacturer dubs its 920XL series ink cartridges (forget the smaller, regular 920 cartridges, let alone the samples or starters in the box that pooped out after about 230 pages of testing), the Officejet 6500's ink runs about 2.7 cents per black and white and 9.1 cents per color page. Laser printers can beat the former, but the latter is a bona fide bargain, soundly beating typical lasers and inkjets whose color pages generally cost 12 to 15 cents or more.

Even if you up the consumables cost to include coated inkjet paper instead of cheap plain paper--as with all inkjets, paper that resists seeping or blotting sharpens output quality--the 6500 is one of the most affordable all-in-ones you can operate. If you want to sweeten the deal further, HP's online store currently has its $200 list price instant-rebated down to $159.99.

One step forward, one step back

Taking a relatively compact 17-by-19 inches of desk space and weighing about 17 pounds, the HP holds four ink cartridges--the familiar cyan, magenta, yellow, and black quartet--which snap into place in a printhead carriage that you drop into place during initial setup. The 920XL yellow, magenta, and cyan ink tanks are rated for approximately 700 pages and priced at $15 each; the jumbo black cartridge is rated for 1,200 pages and costs $32. The printer's monthly duty cycle is 7,000 pages.

The 6500 can print borderless 4 by 6-inch photos (in about 70 seconds using best-quality mode) and has two slots to print pics from a digital camera's SD/XD/MMC or Memory Stick/Duo flash cards. But its bearing HP's Officejet rather than Photosmart brand indicates its occasional-use-only status as a photo printer: it doesn't have a PictBridge USB port to print images directly from a camera (or a USB flash drive), and while it can print an index sheet of thumbnails from a card, the two-line text LCD on its control panel is strictly for instruction prompts rather than photo previews.

Nor can you replace the black ink with a photo cartridge for six-color printing. And while our review unit was usually quiet in operation, it made an annoying squeaking sound when printing glossy photos.

Speaking of names, we applaud HP for calling the multifunction simply an Officejet 6500 Wireless to indicate its standard 802.11g Wi-Fi, as well as USB 2.0 and Ethernet connectivity, rather than giving it a less intuitive label like Officejet 6500W or Officejet 6510.

But while that's a step forward in understandable product nomenclature, we found that you must check the fine print on one of the box labels to make sure that you're getting a model E709n--there are E709d and E709r versions that lack desirable features of our test unit such as collated output and walk-up (no PC attached) copying, not to mention the rare gift of a USB cable in the box.

We experienced one nasty paper jam during testing, caused by those darn 4-by-6-inch photos--you must stick photo paper so far into the input tray that we missed removing a sheet before reloading letter-sized paper, and the printer tried feeding both at once--but otherwise the 6500 provides paper-handling capabilities that many more expensive multifunctions lack.

The input tray holds 250 sheets, not the 100 or 150 of many rivals. A 35-sheet automatic document feeder facilitates multipage copying, scanning, or faxing tasks. The duplexer that snaps into the back of the unit pulls pages back and forth, with brief pauses for "Ink drying, please wait" messages on the LCD, to produce double-sided documents.

Except for skimping on fax speed-dial buttons (only three, though the device can store 100 speed-dial numbers), the front control panel makes straightforward work of launching color or monochrome copy and fax jobs. A button cycles through three copy quality settings corresponding to draft, normal, and best printing modes, while the LCD menu lets you handle everyday copying choices (lighten/darken, 1 to 100 copies, reduce/enlarge/fit to page) and scanning decisions such as whether to save or e-mail a scan as a PDF or JPEG file.

More sophisticated options for the 2,400 dpi, 48-bit scanner and other controls are available from HP's driver and utility software. We were mildly peeved that OCR scans to Microsoft Word arrived with line feeds at the end of each line, requiring search-and-replace removal even when we instructed the software to flow text instead of preserving the originals' formatting, but PDF creation was a snap and image scanning worked smoothly.

Medium speedy

To its credit, HP posts "laser quality speed" ratings of 7 pages per minute for monochrome and color printing that are more realistic than the usual fantasy maximums cited for inkjets (in the 6500's case, 32 and 31 ppm for black and color, respectively). In our stopwatch tests using a USB 2.0 connection, the Officejet landed solidly in the middle of the multifunction inkjet category.

Draft mode was fast--80 seconds for a 20-page, all-text Word document--but too pale and shaky to recommend. In normal quality mode, the 20-pager printed in 2 minutes and 8 seconds, with a one-page business letter with spot-color company logo taking 20 seconds. Using the duplexer to print the 20 Word pages on 10 sheets stretched print time from a little over two to a little under eight minutes.

Among documents that mix various sizes and colors of text, charts, and images, the five-page ISO 24712 test document took 90 seconds and our 55-page Acrobat PDF file took just under nine minutes.

Except for predictably mediocre four-color photos, output quality was good, with vivid colors and sharp text as small as 6 points, although it took a switch from cheap plain to coated inkjet paper, or to the slower best-quality mode (43 seconds for the letter, 3 minutes and 14 seconds for the five ISO pages), to get rid of some banding in solid-color areas.

Using the front-panel copier controls, five copies of a black-and-white page took exactly a minute. The same number of color copies of a magazine cover took 1 minute and 55 seconds. Taking advantage of the automatic document feeder, three collated black-and-white copies of a five-page document arrived in 4 minutes and 48 seconds.

Overall, the Officejet 6500 Wireless doesn't offer the highest print quality or fastest speed we've ever seen, but it delivers perfectly well on both counts, with a full set of features--including the not-always-included attractions of Wi-Fi, duplexing, and faxing--at a good price. And that's before you consider its exceptionally low cost per page. Add that, and we wouldn't care if it flunked the Energy Star test. We'd give it our most robust recommendation.

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