Desktop Photo Labs?
Multifunction devices are small-office workhorses: They print, scan, copy, and/or fax. Now some also aspire to be your all-in-one photo lab, with added media card slots and color-printing enhancements.
Lexmark bills its
All three let you scan digital shots into your PC, print them on glossy paper, and make a few copies. The photography features are a nice addition, but our tests of shipping units show that these color ink jet-based MFDs aren't the best choice for a busy home office.
Like HP's previous PSC series, the Officejet 7130 is designed to make printing digital photographs as intuitive as possible. The unit has slots on the front of the case for CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and Memory Stick cards, so you can quickly remove media from your digital camera, slip it into the 7130, and print photos without involving a computer. Once the storage card is in the MFD, you can print a proof sheet that includes thumbnail images of your photos and lists options for the number of prints (one or two), image and paper size, and borders. You choose photos and options by filling in circles on the proof sheet and then scanning it; the 7130 automatically prints your photos as designated. You can upload the images to your PC and use the included software to view and lightly edit them, too.
Printed photos were very good, with sharp details, natural flesh tones, and realistic colors. For word jockeys, text and simple graphics also printed crisply.
At $499, this all-in-one is significantly more expensive and larger than the Brother and the Lexmark. And while it prints the best-looking photographs of the three, it does so at just over 2.5 minutes for a glossy 5-by-7-inch picture. Dedicated ink jet photo printers are much faster with the same shot, averaging 53 seconds in our recent tests.
The Officejet 7130 would be suitable for light to medium home-office duties, with photo printing as a bonus.
Though it's priced at only $250, Brother's MFC-4420c has features that match those of the more expensive HP, including CompactFlash, Memory Stick, and SmartMedia slots. The unit's LCD panel lets you print a numbered index sheet of all the stored pictures, from which you can choose the photos you'd like to print--though it's not as user-friendly as HP's proof sheet. You can quickly set parameters for pictures--brightness, print quality, number of copies, type of paper, and so forth--on the control panel and then print photos. And unlike the HP and the Lexmark, which use one ink cartridge for all three colors and another for black only, the MFC-4420c includes three separate color cartridges plus a black cartridge so you can replace individual inks.
This small MFD is shaped more like a stand-alone flatbed scanner than a six-function device, a design that is useful and attractive; it would fit well on a small desk.
But the MFC-4420c took over 3 minutes to print a single 5-by-7-inch glossy photo, the slowest of the three MFDs we saw. Our test shot looked slightly garish and overcontrasted, with dark colors bleeding together and flesh tones appearing a bit too pink. This all-in-one's text speeds also were the slowest of the three, and its text print quality definitely was disappointing.
Though Lexmark's new X5150 is not specifically for photos, the company does bill it as photo capable. And the price is right--just $149. The compact, rounded silver-and-black device looks attractive and professional.
The X5150 lacks slots for media cards. It also trades an on-panel facsimile control for a PC-driven one, so sending faxes requires a few extra steps. Lexmark does include a basic photo editor that lets you crop pictures, add text, and do other minor editing. And the X5150 has a handy driver that displays the ink level and the percentage of the cartridge contents a document or ink-thirsty photo has used.
Though the X5150 can print a photo in less than 2 minutes at its best settings on glossy paper, its photos were the least pleasing of this trio. Skin tones were ashen, other colors looked muted, and all of its photos lacked depth and contrast. For text and graphics-filled documents, however, we were pleasantly surprised by the X5150's print quality.
This all-in-one isn't robust, but it's an inexpensive choice to handle quick tasks, including printing the occasional moderate-quality photo.
If you want a good MFD wrapped around a decent photo printer, try the HP Officejet 7130, but even as such it's better suited for just light home or home-office document use. Brother's MFC-4420c, while less expensive, disappoints in speed and print quality on all fronts. Finally, for very light all-around use, the Lexmark X5150 has surprising performance at a good price.
If you are primarily interested in quickly printing quality photographs, however, you'd be much better off purchasing a dedicated photo printer.