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You might think that pretty much any color inkjet multifunction printer would satisfy pretty much any user--after all, the point of these printers is that a single fairly compact machine can do it all: print, copy, scan, and (sometimes) fax. But just as some people favor flip-flops and others wingtips, different users want different things from an MFP. Some offices look for a top-notch scanner and precise color reproduction.
Others need to print unusually wide documents. And still others want a printer that can be displayed in public without looking like a plastic box of ugly.
Wouldn't it be great if you could test-drive a few MFPs to see which one was the best match for your needs? PCWorld set out to do just that: We identified three different kinds of users, gave them two MFP models that promised to meet their specific needs, and let them use each one for a week. Read on to find out which printers they liked better, and why--and to learn how you can find your best fit, too.For an interactive chart of our current most highly rated inkjet MFP models, see "Top 10 Inkjet Multifunction Printers."
MFPs' Infinite Variety
The models we chose for our users to audition reflect the wide variety of MFPs that are currently available--and the users were just as distinctive. To San Francisco-based Zeta Communities, a sustainable-building firm whose design and promotion needs entail a lot of copying, scanning, and printing, we assigned two small-office printers, an Epson WorkForce 840 All-in-One Printer and a Lexmark Pinnacle Pro901.
Two wide-format units that can print and scan media at sizes up to 11 by 17 inches, the Brother MFC-J6710DW and the HP Officejet 7500A Wide Format e-All-in-One, went to Steven Newton, who develops online and print content for the Oakland-based nonprofit, National Center for Science Education (NCSE).
Finally, for the 440 Brannan boutique in San Francisco's trendy South of Market district, we supplied the HP Envy100 e-All-in-One and the Lexmark Genesis. A bustling environment where people come in and go out constantly, 440 Brannan needs an MFP that can juggle a multitude of tasks and look good while doing it.
The Best Features Now
What should you look for in one of today's multifunction printers? Here's a rundown of features worth considering.
All inkjet MFPs combine a printer base and a scanner--usually one that is designed for letter/A4-size paper, though you can find units with legal-size or even wide-format scanning platens.
One model--Lexmark's Genesis--takes this feature a huge step beyond the ordinary: Its Flash Scan feature, rather than employing a device that moves across the page to capture image data, uses a built-in 10-megapixel digital camera to take a picture of whatever you want to scan. That novel approach gives the Genesis a huge advantage in speed. Choosing color imaging or a higher dpi (dots per inch) setting causes traditional scanners to slow down, sometimes to a crawl. The Genesis scans nearly instantaneously, regardless of the complexity of the data. This new approach to image capture elevates the Genesis above its ordinary-printer foundation; other advantages include its large touchscreen and Lexmark's growing collection of proprietary SmartSolutions automated tasks and Web applications.
You can find MFPs in every price range that offer wireless connectivity. Assuming that you already have a wireless network installed, adding a wireless printer to it can make sharing among multiple home or small-office users surprisingly easy.
On some machines, however, certain features are not available via wireless; for instance, Epson's WorkForce 840 scans to a Mac via USB only, not wirelessly. Also, wireless printer performance is subject to the same factors that challenge all wireless networks: physical obstacles, distance between the PC and the printer, and other Wi-Fi traffic.
Printer touchscreens are getting bigger, more common, and more sophisticated. Though some people prefer the positive feedback of pressing a real button, touchscreens feel more natural to most people, and they can reduce button overload by showing only the controls that you need at a particular time. Of the six models used in our real-world tests, only the Brother MFC-J6710DW lacks a touchscreen. Epson's WorkForce 840 employs a hybrid screen, in which the user controls a regular 3.5-inch LCD by using backlit, context-aware "buttons" that appear on the surrounding touch-sensitive panel.