Review: Phaser 8200
Price: $1499—$3499 ($2199 for 8200DP reviewed)
Requirements: Mac OS 8-9, Mac OS X, Windows, or Unix; AppleTalk, TCP/IP (LPR), or NetWare; supports PostScript 3 and PCL 5c.
As a small business owner whose company is steadily growing, I’ve recently found my office needing a high-speed color printer. After surveying the choices available, I decided that the Xerox Phaser 8200DP best fit my criteria. My top priority was color print quality because the printer will be used primarily for proofing purposes, and also for printing advertising and marketing materials. As we already have a black and white laser printer, text print quality and speed were not as important to me.
Nevertheless, choosing between the Phaser 6200 (a color laser printer) and the Phaser 8200 (a solid ink printer) was not easy. I had played with both printers in the past at Macworld Expo, and remembered the pros and cons of both print technologies.
The 6200 is faster, offers superior text quality with sharper lines and superior resolution by virtue of its true laser technology, and has more versatile paper handling. In short, it has all of the qualities we’ve come to expect with laser printing, plus the added bonus of color output. The output is more durable and immune to scraping and smudging than solid ink, which can be scraped or smeared if exposed to excessive heat.
The 8200 on the other hand boasts superior color print quality with smoother graphics and far more consistent color tones. I like to think of the 6200 as a better workhorse business printer and the 8200 as a better proofer for when accurate and high-quality graphic output is of utmost concern.
I chose the 8200DP specifically over the other 8200 models because it provides the “photo mode” with higher resolution (1200 dpi vs. 1000 dpi) and higher quality output than the 8200B or 8200N. Also important to me was duplex print mode, which can be added to the 8200B or 8200N but comes standard on the 8200DP.
Setup & Installation
Installation of the software using the included CDs was self explanatory and speedy. All models support AppleTalk or TCP/IP printing on the Mac except the 8200B, and unlike many other LPR printers the 8200 has a bi-directional LPR AppSocket which enables print job monitoring and other features not ordinarily available via LPR. The AppSocket is not compatible with OS X, however standard LPR printing is still supported. An application entitled PhaserPort is included to enable the creation of an AppSocket LPR under OS 8/9, and the interface is strikingly similar to Apple’s Desktop Printer Utility.
The 8200N/DP/DX models all feature USB, Parallel, and 10/100BaseTX connections. Because I planned to print large color images from Photoshop, Quark, and PageMaker, I chose to use a 100BaseTX connection even though I did not need to share the print with any other computers on the network. Configuring the printer’s TCP/IP information via the LCD readout and front panel buttons was very simple. While I could have simply connected via AppleTalk, LPR is faster and by configuring TCP on the printer I was able to take advantage of the Web-based admin interface built into the printer.
Physically setting up the printer was similarly straightforward. A handful of solid ink sticks are included with the printer, but I ordered a five pack of each color based on the assumption that the bundled ink wouldn’t last very long. Each of the four color ink sticks is shaped slightly differently, with a cutout notch in a different corner so that they cannot be inadvertently installed in the wrong ink path.
Let’s just get these out of the way. Here are the gripes I had with the printer upon taking it out of its box and setting it up.
Noise: the printer is a little louder when idle than I’m used to. My LaserJet 4000N is virtually silent when idle. The Phaser, on the other hand, makes a low level whirring noise. After a while I got used to it, but if I had my way it would be quieter when not in use. During use it’s no louder than average, but I don’t mind noise during a print job.
Paper handling: I was disappointed to see that the main paper tray only handles 200 sheets. I read this on the Web but I don’t think it ever really sunk in—my eyes just glazed right over that spec. I have been using printers with 500 sheet primary paper trays for so long now that it never really crossed my mind that a printer might have a smaller primary tray. Of course you can add up to two 500 sheet paper trays, giving you a total capacity of 1200 sheets, which admittedly is extremely competitive for a printer that technically isn’t laser technology. Even so my nitpick with the primary tray is a valid gripe considering that each additional 500 sheet tray costs a cool $550.
Another paper handling gripe I have is the manual feed tray. It’s a single sheet arrangement. That’s right—one sheet at a time. It works flawlessly, feeds consistently, and even has a little motorized “grab” that activates when the page is inserted far enough into the tray, ensuring a good feed. But if you want to print out a series of envelopes, or a couple of glossy sheets or transparencies, it can be a real nuisance to babysit the printer. Even a 15-sheet manual tray would have been nice.
Initial warm up time: when you turn the printer on for the very first time it will take about 15 minutes to go through all sorts of warm up procedures, etc. It will never again take that long, even if you turn it off and turn it back on. However it is not unusual for it to take several minutes to warm up from a cold start. And, when in standby, it can take about a full minute to warm back up. I realize that the print technology requires that the engine heat the ink, and that certain delays are unavoidable; it is however something worth mentioning to those readers who might not otherwise anticipate such delays.
What I did like right out of the box was how simple it is to install ink, and how easy access paths are to the “guts” of the Phaser. I have not yet experienced a paper jam, but if I do it would be trivial to access any part of the paper path. The printer is very accessible and well constructed.
Setting up the Phaser using the LCD display and front panel button keypad was also a breeze. The display is large and virtually all configurable options may be accessed on the front panel. The printer is also very responsive and can queue new tasks while it is processing old ones.
Most impressive of all to me was the Web-based interface and all the software features that come with it. For example, you can configure the printer to e-mail up to three different people in case of a jam, or if it runs out of paper, or if another problem arises. For office environments with dedicated IT staff this is invaluable and very smart.
There are all sorts of other impressive features that have been engineered into this printer. If, for example, you configure the printer for TCP with its own IP address, you can send it—via FTP—PostScript files to print. Most importantly, you can control every aspect of the printer (including monitoring of print jobs) from any Web browser with access to the printer’s IP address, and I like that a lot. The software front-end is very slick indeed. This is easily the most Internet-savvy printer I’ve ever encountered.
The most impressive hardware-related feature for me was the incredibly fast “first page” print time for this printer. Initially when I set the printer up I printed some demonstration pages to make sure everything was alright. These pages shot right out of the printer in brilliant color. I admitted to myself that I wasn’t being fair as those pages were stored onboard the printer, so I tried some print jobs from my computer.
In large part due to the 100Base-T connection, the pages literally flew out of the printer as soon as I hit the Print button on my G4. The printer may not be the fastest in terms of pages per minute, but the first page comes out quite quickly and the processing time is quite low for all but the most complex documents, even at the highest print quality.
Duplex printing is definitely cool on the 8200 and earns a high score on the “wow” meter. The first page is printed face down and spit out about 90%, then just before it is ejected fully, it is sucked back in and the second page comes out face up. This is all done quite rapidly. The first time I ever witnessed this my jaw literally dropped, and I grabbed an employee who is very computer savvy and brought him in to witness. He too was suitably impressed with the show the printer was putting on for us. Something about the speed and quality of the duplexed printing impressed me more than conventional duplexed laser printing. A double-sided full color document generated at such speed does make your spine tingle a little, no matter how jaded a computer user you may be.
Long Term Impressions
Having used the printer for a longer period of time, I have now come to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses more. I’ll try to briefly summarize them and characterize the printer in general terms.
The print quality of the Phaser 8200 is overall quite high, but there are some important considerations. First of all, as with most other color printers, every print quality mode except for the highest one (Photo) is useless. The second from the top (Enhanced) is OK for less critical printing but you can pretty much forget the other modes.
I use Photo mode for everything, even though I am probably going through ink more quickly that I would be if I used a lesser quality for printing everyday jobs. Still, everything looks so much better in Photo mode, including text. Lines are sharper, text suffers less from staircasing and jagged edges, and the colors are more vivid. In this mode the printer gets extremely high marks for print quality across the boards. In short, the output is eye candy.
Do not expect text quality to be on a par with the very best laser printers on the market. Even in photo mode the text/line print quality is not as good as my HP LaserJet 4000 in 1200dpi mode; it is however comparable to the HP in 600 dpi mode and that’s sufficient for most office printing.
If you are working in an industry where fine lines and typography are truly critical, this is probably not the printer for you. I have a couple of friends who typeset music professionally and the Phaser 8200 would never hold up for them because the use so many fine lines, diagonal lines, and unusual typographic shapes on a day to day basis. On the other hand, they don’t need a color printer for music typesetting! If you don’t spend a lot of time with a loop examining staircasing on typographic output, you probably needn’t worry about the Phaser in this context.
The graphics output is entirely different from an ink jet printer. I cannot emphasize enough how different the two print technologies are. When you print out a high resolution image on an ink jet printer (such as the Epson Stylus I use at home for occasional color printing) using plain paper, results are less than stellar. Using premium glossy paper however, you can often attain results that might convince the casual observer that the printer had actually produced a photograph. There is a glossy sheen and a ultra-photo-realistic quality to the output of an ink jet on maximum quality. It’s almost like a “liquid” image.
The Phaser is another kettle of fish entirely. Its solid ink technology looks almost as good on plain paper as on premium paper. It is true that you can improve the output by using better paper, and glossy paper always gives a professional and snazzy look to printouts; but even on glossy paper the Phaser will not yield output that looks anything like a photograph. It aims for a far more accurate proof, warts and all so to speak.
I for one believe that ink jets have a tendency to gloss over inconsistencies and make everything look great. The Phaser will not do this, and even on a very high resolution document the results were less photo-realistic than on an ink jet. I am not implying that this is a bad thing, and in point of fact it is exactly what I wanted in a color printer, as we have been using it for color proofing and it’s critical that any inconsistencies show up before we send the job off to the print shop. Still, if you are expecting the Phaser to give you Epson Stylus lookalike output at high speeds, be advised that the Phaser is not aiming to provide photo-realistic printouts.
Now, does this mean that I am unhappy with the Phaser’s print quality? Not at all. It is accurate and the color tones are exceptionally consistent, as advertised. Print a page with large areas of solid colors and it’s instantly apparent why solid ink has its benefits over other technologies, particularly color laser. Similarly, the output is much less grainy than color laser and there is no mis-registration of colors.
The solid ink also has a glossy feel to it as it is almost painted onto the surface of the page. People seem to respond very positively to it—I have handed out color prints to many people and they have all stopped to rub their fingers over the output because of the way it jumps off the page and catches the light. There is a wonderful three dimensional quality to the output, and the colors are extremely vivid.
The technology is capable of printing a far wider array of colors in the spectrum than color laser, and this is obvious at first glance. Subtle variations in colors are instantly visible as well, and this is important for proofing. For business printing color laser may cut the mustard, but for printing anything more than bar graphs and pie charts, solid ink is clearly a superior technology.
There are some software options that can be turned on, such as “image smoothing,” which at first I was hesitant to use. For proofing purposes these features will only serve to veil any flaws in the document; if however the goal is to create “prettier” output in the vein of the Epson Stylus as discussed above, this feature does offer some noticeable improvements. Images will be ever so slightly blurred and edges will not be as razor sharp, but for photographic output the results are much more photo-realistic.
For final drafts that are not to be used for proofing it is a feature I would leave on by default (unless I were printing a document which was already a little skimpy on sharpness), because the average Joe is going to prefer the output with image smoothing engaged. The result will look more like a photo and less like a computer-generated image.
The printer has remarkably fast print times for the first page as has been discussed. For multi-page documents it can be a little sluggish compared to today’s faster black and white laser printers. Nor is the Phaser as fast as some high-performance color laser printers in the same price range, namely the HP Color LaserJet series. In spite of this, I have never really found myself wanting for a faster printer.
For those who print long textual documents in black and white I can see the printer causing some frustration as compared to a newer B&W laser printer, and if one is printing 100 copies of a color page I suppose there are printers on the market that will get the job done more speedily. For small scale jobs, however, the Phaser is peppy enough and the quality of the color output is so much higher than anything else I’ve seen that it seems unfair to complain. You can get a better photo print out of an ink jet, but in the time it takes an Epson Stylus to print one full page at highest quality, the Phaser could have printed dozens upon dozens of copies.
Networking, Compatibility, and Expansion
The Phaser supports all of the major protocols including AppleTalk, LPR, and NetWare among others. It is compatible with virtually every flavor of Unix (including OS X), OS 8 and 9, and Windows. It also sports USB and Parallel ports. In general this printer is pretty well equipped for small- to medium-sized office environments.
The Web admin panel makes life easy, and its Internet savvy software design lets it print jobs from across the globe, just like in those Xerox ads on TV! Also noteworthy is the compatibility with PostScript 3 and the extensive color management options available to the user.
The printer is expandable and scalable as well. A hard drive may be added (or you can purchase the printer with one pre-installed, in the guise of the 8200DX) which opens up a world of possibilities including collated output, stored fonts, stored proofs, and more Internet printing and document exchanges. More RAM can be added too, although it comes well equipped out of the box.
More paper trays can be added, as discussed. Cheaper models can be upgraded to provide duplex functionality, and the 8200B can be fitted with the networking card. However, I am not sure whether either the 8200B or 8200N can be upgraded to provide the 1200 dpi photo print mode that the DP and DX provide.
Cost Per Page
I have not performed a rigorous cost per page analysis of the Phaser 8200 vs. another color print technology. It’s quite obvious though that it is considerably cheaper than color ink jet given that one need not purchase expensive premium paper, and the ink sticks last much longer than ink jet ink cartridges.
Compared to color laser, Xerox’s own color laser printer supplies cost about the same as the ink sticks for the Phaser 8200 and the estimated page count is almost identical. For example, any one of the four color toner cartridges for the Phaser 6200 will cost you $179.99 and have an estimated life span of 8,000 pages. Five ink sticks of any one color for the Phaser 8200 will cost you $169.99 and have an estimated life span of 7,000 pages. Assuming that Xerox is honest and uses the same life span calculation (in terms of average color density per page, etc.) the cost per page seems quite comparable.
I will say that I have been quite pleasantly surprised by how long the ink sticks seem to last. A lot of the print jobs I have been outputting with the 8200 have had a full page black background and yet the black ink sticks seem to have a remarkably long life span despite my extensive use of black ink on an average page.
On an entirely uncritical note, it can be fun to watch the ink sticks deplete at different rates. I never really gave much thought to how much cyan vs. magenta vs. yellow was on a page before. A quick peek under the lid instantly reveals how much more of a given color you are using on average. The fact that you can reload each color independently, and in small, inexpensive increments, is nice.
Durability of Output
One concern many customers will have is the durability of solid ink output vs. color laser. Laser output is more or less bulletproof. It’s hard to smear, scrape, or otherwise mar the output from a laser printer, color or B&W. Ink jet is, by comparison, fairly delicate and smudges very easily, especially when the page first comes out of the printer.
Solid ink output holds up quite well—the pages do not come out of the printer damp nor do they need time to air-dry. Smudging has not proven to be a problem. Excessive exposure to water could possibly cause smudging, but the real enemy is heat. If you expose solid ink output to excessive heat the ink may melt and run. Heat is how the ink is applied to the page by the printer in the first place, so this comes as no real surprise.
Scraping is also a problem. If you scrape a printed page vigorously you can remove the ink. It’s quite easy to do with a sharp knife, but otherwise the ink is smooth and glossy enough to resist scraping from day to day contact with other objects and in general this is not a concern.
Overall, I am extremely satisfied with the Phaser 8200DP. The software end of things is virtually impossible to fault. The front end is well designed and the printer is very sophisticated and clearly brilliantly engineered, insofar as its brains are concerned.
As for its guts, the Phaser 8200 generates beautiful color output at speeds competitive with, but not exceeding, color laser printers. The image quality is substantially higher than laser with marvelous color consistency, depth, and extremely vivid colors. By comparison color laser looks grainy, dull, two dimensional, and artificial.
The Phaser 8200 is a strange printer, however. It’s not a laser printer in that it does not offer either the paper handling versatility nor the output speed, nor the razor sharp text and line output. At the same time it will not spit out photo-realistic images at high speeds. But in all fairness to expect it to do either is unfair for it was not designed with either purpose in mind.
The real question, then, is who will the Phaser 8200 appeal to? If you need high speed output and more industrial strength office printing, you should go with color laser. If you are willing to wait ten minutes for a single, costly, page of mouth watering photo-realistic output, you should clearly go with ink jet. But if you are willing to compromise a little on speed, don’t mind spending more for additional paper capacity, and what you really want from a color printer is accurate output and the best possible proofs, the Phaser 8200 is almost certainly the printer for you.