Lexmark OfficeEdge Pro5500 delivers business-class features and speed

The Lexmark OfficeEdge Pro5500 colour inkjet multifunction printer is one of the most convincing alternatives to a low-cost colour laser printer that I’ve seen to date.

Designed to serve a small workgroup of two to five people, it is expensive for an inkjet, priced at $399 (as of January 30, 2012) compared to $299 for its current closest competitor, the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus e-All-in-One. However, Lexmark’s MFP is speedy even at scanning (a common bottleneck), and it overflows with paper-handling and productivity features, including USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi connectivity. Its ink costs are also cheap overall, especially compared with those of any low-cost colour laser.

Any business inkjet had better be fast. The OfficeEdge Pro5500 one-ups the competition by being fast in scanning as well as printing. In our tests it photocopied a simple text document at a brisk speed of 6 pages per minute. When it came to our hardest scanning test, which uses a full-page colour photo, the OfficeEdge Pro5500 took just 68 seconds–one of the fastest scan times we’ve seen here.

Print speeds were also very fast, and in one case they were record-setting. On the PC, the OfficeEdge Pro5500 achieved a rate of 12.9 ppm printing monochrome pages consisting mostly of plain text with a few simple graphics. Colour photo printing averaged 2.9 ppm. On the Mac, the Lexmark’s text speed slowed to a somewhat less spectacular 10.4 ppm, but it far surpassed all of the competition otherwise, printing a four-page PDF at a rate of 3.5 ppm and a full-page colour photo at 1.3 ppm.

Did all of that rushing lead to sloppy-looking output? Happily, no. On plain paper, black text appeared very crisp and dark, while photos looked a little yellowish and somewhat washed-out–disappointing, but not surprising, from an inkjet. Also not surprising: Switching to Lexmark’s own photo paper produced superior results. Colour copies on plain paper seemed a little grainy. Colour and monochrome scans were adequate, coming out slightly dark, and looking noticeably fuzzy around curves and fine lines.

A note about scanning: On a PC, the Lexmark Printer Home software gives you standard one-click options for scanning a photo or a document. The alternative–and Mac users’ only choice–is the TWAIN scan driver. That driver is pretty straightforward, except for its Original Types settings, which range from the obvious (‘Magazine’) to the puzzling (‘Press’). When we got awful results scanning traditional, silver-halide photos in our tests, and we wanted to make adjustments, we weren’t sure which Original Type to choose: The ‘Inkjet Photo’ setting seemed unsuitable, but the only other reasonable option, ‘Retail Photo’, was ambiguous–albeit the correct one, as it turned out. Lexmark ordinarily provides very detailed documentation, so the complete lack of it here surprised me.

Paper handling on the OfficeEdge Pro5500 is nearly flawless. It welcomes legal-size media, with a like-size scanner platen and full support of duplex printing and scanning up to that size. All components–the 300-page slide-out input drawer, the 150-sheet output tray, and the 50-sheet automatic document feeder–are both roomy and sturdy. A second, 550-sheet input tray costs $179. One of this machine’s few deficiencies is that the scanner lid does not telescope to accommodate thicker media. Also note that while the OfficeEdge Pro5500’s monthly duty cycle is an impressive 30,000 pages, Lexmark’s recommended monthly page volume of 500 to 1500 pages is more in line with what to expect from it or any other small-office or small-workgroup inkjet.

The easy-to-use front control panel consists of a 4.3-inch touchscreen colour LCD; a few context-sensitive, navigational touch controls on either side; and a power button. The Sleep mode confused me initially, because my first impulse was to tap the blacked-out touchscreen, in vain. Pressing the power button is the correct answer, but you have to wait 7 or 8 anxious seconds for any feedback (other than a little internal humming). Also on the front of the MFP are slots for Memory Stick, MultiMediaCard, SD, and XD Picture Card, as well as a USB/PictBridge port.

Software benefits for this machine include SmartSolutions, an ever-growing collection of Web and customizable workflow capabilities, all available from the front control panel. IT types will like the internal Web page and Lexmark’s universal print driver for easing deployment, plus PCL and PostScript support. Mac users don’t get much else, but PC users get Abbyy FineReader Sprint for turning documents into editable text.

The ink costs for the OfficeEdge Pro5500’s front-loading cyan, magenta, yellow, and black cartridges are economical for the most part. The printer comes with generous starter supplies: a 1000-page black and 900-page colours. The standard-size cartridges include a $26, 625-page black, which works out to a reasonable 4.2 cents per page. Each colour costs $22 and lasts 500 pages, or a rather pricey 4.4 cents per colour, per page, upping the cost of a page with all four colours to 17.4 cents. The high-yield inks are a far better deal, since the $37 black cartridge lasts 2500 pages (1.5 cents per page), while each $34 colour lasts 1600 pages (2.1 cents per page). A four-colour page from high-yield supplies costs a bargain 7.9 cents per page, bested only by the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus’s 7.2 cents per page.

The Lexmark OfficeEdge Pro5500 sets a high bar for business inkjets, with scan speeds even more outstanding than its print speeds, and very few shortcomings otherwise. The real worriers should be those competitors that make low-end colour laser printers, which are often slower and universally have more-expensive toner.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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