Canon Pixma MP490
At a Glance
Canon's Pixma MP490 color inkjet multifunction printer (MFP) has a superlow price ($100 at this writing) and a simple-to-use design that should appeal to home and student users. If you print a lot, however, look elsewhere, as its ink costs are high.
I don't expect much from a machine this inexpensive, so to its credit, the Pixma MP490 has some thoughtfully designed features. A small, front swing-out door protects the three media slots. When you raise the flatbed scanner unit, a vertical support bar automatically props it up, and an animation appears on the color LCD showing you how to replace the ink cartridges nestled inside. Lifting a small top lid exposes the 1.8-inch color LCD and the control panel, which sports a compass-style navigation wheel and clearly labeled buttons.
Other design elements are less successful. The scanner lid is held in place by plastic connectors that are not firmly attached, so it clatters when lifted. The 100-sheet vertical input tray has a rickety plastic support panel that pops off too easily. The page-orientation label on the input tray is confusing. Not surprisingly for such an inexpensive machine, it doesn't have ethernet or automatic duplexing.
The Pixma MP490 produced mixed results on our performance tests. It pumped out plain-text pages at a rate of 8.7 pages per minute (ppm), and graphics at 2.3 ppm--both slightly below average. Text and landscape photos looked nice, but photos of people suffered from orangey skin tones. Scans happened very quickly, but the images showed muted colors and rough textures.
As with most low-priced MFPs, Canon makes its real money by charging more for the ink. The Pixma MP490 ships with standard-size cartridges. The 220-page replacement costs $16 or a costly 7.3 cents per page. The 401-page, high-yield black cartridge costs $22 or 5.5 cents per page--better, but still no bargain. Color inks are more reasonable: High-yield cyan, magenta, and yellow each cost $17 and last 750 pages (2.3 cents per color, per page), while the standard-size cartridges cost $10.49 and last 325 pages (3.2 cents per color, per page).
The $100 price range of this MFP means tradeoffs. The high ink costs are bearable if you print infrequently; otherwise, look for a model with lower-cost inks (and a higher purchase price), such as HP's OfficeJet 6500 Wireless ($199 as tested; $150 without Wi-Fi).