Copy Shop in a Box
The MFPs tested by the
Our Best Buy, the
The increasing popularity of MFPs may be part of a larger trend toward combo devices, as reflected in the rise of cell phones with added camera and PDA features. Amber Shore, a printer-industry analyst at market research firm ARS, says manufacturers are vying to fulfill tech consumers' desire for several functions in one machine. Shore adds that higher-end photo or laser printers will always have a niche simply because general-purpose MFPs don't produce the high-quality prints and razor-sharp documents that users have come to expect for their photos and for professional publications.
Except for the
The print engines in all-in-ones tend to lag about a generation behind the engines in stand-alone alternatives. For example, our Best Buy color ink jet printer, the $50 Canon i320, prints text at 4.7 pages per minute and graphics at 0.7 ppm, which is faster than both the $300 HP PSC 2210 (3.6 and 0.6 ppm, respectively)
Multifunction printers are getting cheaper, too. Whereas the average price of the trio of color ink jet MFPs tested in our February 2002 roundup was about $366, the average price of the six MFPs with color ink jet printers in this review comes in at less than $225.
The trend toward more-advanced features at lower prices that we've observed in printers for the past several years applies to MFPs as well. Low-cost MFPs such as Lexmark's PrinTrio X75 are pressuring Canon, HP, and other vendors to lower the prices of their existing models and to introduce low-end units. We rated the X75's print quality for text as Good and for graphics as Fair; it also scored Fair for copy quality. The X75's low price encouraged us to accept the quality of its output, which is lower than we would normally expect to obtain from a device equipped with a dedicated black-ink cartridge. Nevertheless, going for the rock-bottom price represents a false economy; for just $40 or $50 more, you can get a much better product.
There's another noticeable change as well: The latest multifunction printers are far less bulky than their predecessors. Brother's MFC-4420c-the smallest MFP in our roundup, at less than 16 inches wide by 18.5 inches deep by about 5 inches high, and the lightest at a lithe 17.5 pounds-will help keep your workspace tidy. Most of the devices stand 10 to 13 inches tall. At almost 20 inches tall, the HP LaserJet 3330mfp towers over the other six machines-but it has two input trays, with a total paper capacity of 250 pages, while all the other models tested have only one input tray.
Note that last month's reviews of the Brother MFC-4420c and the Lexmark X5150 "
In our print tests, the Canon MultiPass MP730 came out on top thanks to its great-looking photo prints, which showed rich, accurate colors and details. Judges also gave it high marks for clean-looking and well-formed text and line art. HP's PSC 2210 was next best for print quality, both color and black-and-white. The low-priced Lexmark X5150 and
The LaserJet 3330mfp printed much faster than the other machines we looked at, reflecting its laser printer engine and its 32MB of on-board memory. Of the products we reviewed, it's the only one that has enough speed, paper capacity, and connectivity options to handle the document-processing needs of a workgroup. The next-swiftest printer overall was Canon's MultiPass MP730; the slowest of the bunch were the Brother MFC-4420c (for text) and the
None of the multifunction printers we looked at can match dedicated scanners in graphics quality. If you need a scanner to digitize documents for storing, copying, or faxing, an MFP will deliver good-enough results. But if you want to capture photos or other art for reproduction, we recommend that you get a stand-alone flatbed scanner.
Slow scans may give busy office workers pause, but users who want high quality will find that it's time well spent. The HP PSC 2210, for instance, scanned our 100-dpi color test print in 120 seconds-several seconds longer than the average time-but our judges deemed it the best for scan quality. The Brother MFC-4420c earned top scores for text scan quality, but the device ranked fifth in monochrome scanning speed.
HP's PSC 2210 recorded the slowest times in our scanner tests, and the company's LaserJet 3330mfp was next slowest (at 89 seconds for our color print). The PrinTrio X75 did surprisingly well in the speed contest, placing fourth, with a scan quality of Good. Judges rated the X5150 and A940 Fair for color scan quality.
All of the MFPs in this roundup contain a flatbed-style scanner (which requires you to lift a lid to place your document on a glass), although the Canon MP730 and HP LaserJet 3330mfp have automatic document feeders as well. A flat scanning glass works well for most tasks-and it provides the only way to scan pages in books or magazines-but an ADF comes in handy when you're scanning lots of documents at once, or when you want to scan a sheet that's longer than the scanning glass. The seven multifunction printers we tested have a built-in advantage over most dedicated scanners available in the same price range: All of the MFPs provide legal-size scanning areas. In contrast, dedicated scanners with legal-size scan beds tend to be expensive.
For small and home offices, the copying function may prove to be a multifunction printer's killer app. Sure, you can generate copies if you have separate scanners and printers, but MFPs make copying as easy as pushing a button-and you don't have to bother with turning on two devices or fiddling with driver settings.
These devices won't meet the needs of a busy office that generates hundreds of photocopies a day-for one thing, all of them have an upper limit of 99 copies per job. But small businesses and home offices should find the speeds to be at least satisfactory for their needs, and they should be delighted with the devices' convenience.
All seven of the MFPs we tested include fax capabilities: The Brother MFC-4420c, Canon MP730, HP LaserJet 3330mfp, and HP PSC 2210 have faxes that work without a PC, while the Dell A940, Lexmark PrinTrio X75, and Lexmark X5150 require your PC's modem to send and receive fax documents. We did not formally test fax quality or speed.
Fax capability isn't cheap: The four MFPs with built-in faxing are the highest-priced devices in our roundup. If you don't mind turning on your PC to send or receive faxes, the low-cost Dell A940 and Lexmark X5150 or PrinTrio X75 are worthy alternatives. They use their own fax software along with your PC's modem. Unlike built-in faxing, software-based faxing can accommodate as many pages as your PC's memory can hold. On the other hand, PC-based faxing requires an analog phone line in addition to any broadband Internet connection that your computer may use.
All of the MFPs in our roundup have optical character recognition, which turns faxes and scanned documents into editable text. The OCR software bundled with these devices is generally serviceable; but in our informal tests, the Abbyy FineReader engine that is part of the Dell A940's driver offers the best character recognition (it's also included with the two Lexmark MFPs). FineReader worked seamlessly with Microsoft Word 2002 and made fewer character-recognition mistakes than the other software we looked at. In addition, FineReader kept columns, tables, and other formatting in the original documents intact. The OCR programs included with the other MFPs were light versions of full-featured packages.
Color-ink cartridges cost a few dollars more than their black-ink counterparts, and they generally yield fewer pages. The Brother MFC-4420c and the Canon MP730 use separate cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges that cost about $13 each. The Dell A940, HP PSC 2210, and Lexmark X5150 and PrinTrio X75 use tricolor cartridges that cost about $30 to $35. In addition, the PSC 2210 takes a separate photo cartridge that you can use in place of the standard black cartridge; the three colors of dye-based ink it contains increase the range of shades the device can print, and they adhere better to photo paper. Again, the number of pages these cartridges are rated to produce ranges from 275 to almost 500, but your mileage will vary depending on your output resolution.
Dell and HP tied for the highest scores in tech support; both companies offer 24-hour help, including weekends. Most of the vendors offer to send you another unit quickly (usually the next business day) if your machine stops working during the warranty period, though this policy is subject to change.
Finally, like most printers, these MFPs lack the necessary USB cable to connect to a PC. Expect to spend another $15 to $20 for the cable, if you don't already have one.
With MFPs becoming cheaper, smaller, faster, and more functional, the general-purpose printer may be an endangered species.
Today's multifunction printers rival single-purpose printers in price and performance, but their scanning and photocopying abilities lag behind those of their freestanding counterparts.
It figures. In a product category in which versatility is key, the multifunction printer with the most workmanlike performance across the board earns our Best Buy nod over MFPs that made faster prints or generated higher-quality output. The
Honorable mentions go to the
Not long ago, you wouldn't have expected the same-quality prints and scans from a multifunction device that you get from a multifunction device that you get from a dedicated printer or scanner. But in just the last year, the quality gap separating all-in-ones from their single-purpose counterparts has narrowed.
The photo print output of the