Ink-jet printers and all-in-ones

Introduction

The last couple of months have seen a plethora of inkjet printers launched. Interestingly, all-in-one scanner/printer/copier combinations are becoming more prevalent with new offerings from Lexmark and HP tested. Due to sheer numbers, the inkjet market is dominated by PC people, rather than Mac users. The way PCs are often sold, with all kinds of additional hardware thrown in to sweeten the deal, means that the great majority of inkjets in the world are the very cheapest available. In the world of Macs, printers are rarely bundled, as we prefer to choose superior products. So if you want a printer for your Mac you have a decision to make instead of just taking whatever is being offered with your computer. This means that Mac people are more clued-up on price and performance issues than your average Joe. As a whole, we’re likely to pay a little extra for better quality and features. However, the latest range of printers shows that you can get a more-than-decent printer for under £100 - in some cases well under that. Inkjets are divided into two main groups: everyday and photo printers. But the difference between them is narrowing to the point of overlapping. You get close to photo-quality from some very inexpensive printers. Four-colour printers are getting close to the quality of six-colour (photo) printers. Another thing that’s blurring the difference between normal and photo printers is the new hybrid type that can use either four- or six-ink printing, depending on cartridge selection. All in one
The fastest growing area of inkjet printing is now the all-in-one (AIO) models that incorporate both a scanner and a printer. This makes sense from a space-saving point of view, and it means that a simple colour photocopier function is available. Small offices will find this a boon, and the simple-to-use software makes it ideal for almost all users. A price and features war is already on the go, with the cheapest all-in-one printer selling for just £79 including VAT! The Lexmark x1150 is certainly the cheapest AIO we looked at, and it’s easy to be suspicious of such a good deal. It isn’t a very fast machine - in fact it’s dead slow - but the quality is passable and its features are fine. You’d think that you’d be lucky to find a scanner or a printer at this price that was worth buying, so finding something that does both things at a reasonable quality is quite a find. While I can’t recommend the scanner for any serious work, the printer is capable of good results if you ply it with glossy paper and are prepared to wait. Our tough test page, a worst-case scenario, took almost 24 minutes to print at the best glossy paper settings. Mono-printed pages are zippy, taking as little as 12 seconds, and colour copies can be done in Quick mode in 83 seconds - but the quick copy mode sacrifices a lot of quality. For an extra £50 the x5150 offers a much more robust AIO solution. It has a better scanner, and is much faster on the test - printing the page in half the time of the x1150, although that’s still over ten minutes. It took 1 minute 40 seconds to make an A4 copy at default settings. Squeezing in between the two Lexmark models is HP’s PSC 1205, at £99. It’s very compact and similar in its capabilities to the x1150. However, it is considerably faster. The quality suffers from not having the six-colour option, but it’s as impressive as the more expensive Lexmark. The most expensive AIO model we tested was the PSC 2175, at £169. Not so very long ago £169 would buy a reasonable inkjet. So what you get with the 2175 is an amazing bargain. It sports an optional six-colour ink set, a high-resolution scanner, and a host of memory-card slots. You can print direct from the memory-card slots - including contact sheets - at the touch of a button, without starting-up your Mac. All of the AIO models are good printers. If you want to save a bit of cash then you can’t really argue with the £79 Lexmark model. It isn’t fast, and the quality isn’t great, but boy is it cheap. There are certainly advantages to paying a little more for the HP 1205, and you get a boost in quality with HP’s 2175. The Lexmark x5150 is a reasonable deal, but it’s undercut by the £99 HP model. The AIO market is booming, and well worth considering. Print only
Plain old inkjet printers still have their place. Lexmark is, as ever, the cheapest in town, and like the AIOs you can get reasonable quality, but you’ll likely have to wait. Printing our test image at the top resolution slowed the Lexmark models to a crawl, taking over 20 minutes to squeeze out an A4 image. This makes the Lexmark model ideal for people with more time than money. At just £59 the z705 is cheap, but for another tenner you get a six-ink version. However, both models can be used with either four or six inks, so there’s really nothing to choose between them. Canon has two similar models in the i450 and the i470D. Both do a great job at photographic images, despite sporting only four inks. The i450 is £99, and scored similarly to the i470D in speed and quality tests. The i470 however has additional features for printing from memory cards and compatible cameras, and is £179. Unless you’re completely computer-phobic paying an extra £80 for a memory-card reader is poor value - using iPhoto or Photoshop is much more sensible. The i450, however, is excellent value, giving simple, fast, high-quality prints for under £100. If A4 isn’t big enough for you to express your creativity, Canon’s i6500 offers A3+ with edge-to-edge printing. It comes in at double the speed of the smaller Canons, but unfortunately at triple the price - but it has the potential to be used professionally when paired with a RIP. If you want big prints, this is an excellent, though pricey, solution. Epson is also getting into the computerless printing same racket. The new Stylus Photo 935 offers direct printing from a wide selection of digital cameras and just about any memory card you care to mention. A traditional six-colour photo printer, the 935 gives predictably near perfect images - but I’m not sure if all the added connectivity is worth the high price tag. It has Bluetooth connectivity that’s compatible with some cameras, but Bluetooth printing isn’t yet supported by OS X. It’s certainly a lovely printer, but more suited to technophobes than your average Mac person.
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