It's getting harder and harder to justify buying a printer these days.
That's not because you don't need to print stuff anymore; of course you do. But single-purpose inkjet printers are looking like Model T's compared to multifunction peripherals that offer flatbed scanning and copying as well as both office document and borderless photo printing and that, in Lexmark's case, start at a ridiculously cheap $60 for a printer/scanner/copier (the X2500) with the once-deluxe option of swapping in a different ink cartridge to switch from four- to six-color photo prints.
Other models add more features for little more money -- making the big jump to $80, for instance, gets you the X3550 with memory-card slots and a PictBridge port to print images directly from your digital camera or a USB flash drive.
So if Lexmark can deliver multifunction convenience for less than three figures, what does it save for its $280 model?
Worth Shopping Around
Well, to begin with, it's not hard to find the Lexmark X9350 selling for less than its $280 sticker. Several online and electronics-superstore retailers we checked stock the all-in-one for $230 or $240.
Beyond that, the X9350 includes just about everything you could imagine in an inkjet. Fax as well as print, scan, and copy capabilities? Check. An automatic document feeder? Bingo. Automatic duplex printing when you want to use both sides of the paper? Roger that.
How about photo printing from cameras or flash-memory cards and a 2.4-inch color LCD to preview and pick images for printing or simple editing with no PC required? Yep. Does that include a USB 2.0 interface for a single desktop, plus an Ethernet adapter for a small office's wired network and an 802.11g WiFi for printing from a passing laptop? You got it.
In fact, the only thing you may miss is more photo-oriented inkjets' array of four, six, or more separate cartridges or ink tanks. The latter save money by letting you replace a single color without having to throw away others that haven't run dry yet. Instead, the X9350 sticks to the familiar double-barreled design of a single black ink cartridge and one tricolor (cyan, magenta and yellow) cartridge, with an optional photo cartridge that replaces the black to deliver six- instead of four-color printing.
As is, the Lexmark's consumables cost will definitely be a line item in your monthly budget, but no more so than most other inkjets: Replacement black and tricolor cartridges are $25 each and the company rates them at 540 and 350 pages, respectively. Skipping the cost of paper, that calculates to 4.6 cents per black-and-white and 11.8 cents per color page.
(Of course, Lexmark's proactive printer driver started popping up "Your black ink cartridge is getting low. Click here to order from our Web site!" messages when the on-screen gauge showed the cartridge still about one-third full after about 250 pages. The optional photo cartridge is $28.)
Taking it out of its box, you'll feel the X9350 is a solid piece of machinery; it weighs about 23 pounds -- there are handy handgrips on the sides -- and occupies 18 by 19 inches of desk space. The printheads' back-and-forth motion makes a faint squeaky sound; you wouldn't want to place the Lexmark next to your phone, but neither is it noisy enough to make you banish it to the far side of the office.
Lexmark's software bundle includes the ABBYY FineReader 6.0 Sprint optical character recognition (OCR) program; NewSoft Technology's Presto Page Manager, a clever way to manage thumbnail views of documents and images; a house-brand, entry-level image editor; and a suite of beginner-friendly menus that guide you through tasks such as sending a scanned document or image as an e-mail attachment or printing photos in various sizes and layouts. Scanning documents into Page Manager or text into Microsoft Word worked beautifully, but we were somewhat disappointed in the quality of pages scanned into Adobe Acrobat PDF files.
The first time we tried installing the software on our Windows XP desktop, we were puzzled by failure messages such as "The Lexmark Printer Driver is not installed. Please reinstall your Lexmark software." Using Windows' Control Panel to install the driver manually and then installing the application software worked smoothly.
Our only other trouble with the X9350 was a couple of paper jams during print jobs, cured by the chore of having to remove both the duplexer and back panel from the rear of the printer and then reaching in to wiggle out the snagged sheet. Except for those, the 150-page input tray and automatic document feeder worked without a hitch. So did duplex printing, though it leaves documents face down instead of face up in the output tray (i.e., on top of the input tray). A second 150-sheet input tray is an $80 option.
Plenty of Possibilities
The supplied software offers enough options and settings adjustments to keep you happily busy for hours. But after an hour's practice with its assorted compass arrows, selection and menu keys, you'll find the Lexmark's front-mounted control panel and adjustable-viewing-angle LCD sufficient to handle many jobs.
These range from specifying an application with which to open a scanned file to choosing images from a flash card and performing elementary brightness, rotation and red-eye removal editing before selecting a page layout for printing photos. In addition to the front-mounted PictBridge a.k.a. digital-camera or flash-drive USB port, there are slots for reading Memory Stick, SecureDigital/MultiMediaCard, xD, and CompactFlash/Microdrive media.
Naturally, the panel also includes a telephone keypad for sending faxes, although more sophisticated faxers can take advantage of up to 99 speed dials, fax forwarding, caller ID with junk fax blocking, broadcast faxing to up to 30 recipients at a specified time, and the ability to create and choose among cover pages.
The 48-bit, A4-sized color scanner's optical resolution ranges up to 1,200 by 4,800 dpi. As a copier, it offers pushbutton, no-PC-needed production of up to 99 black and white or color copies, collated if you like, with N-up, fit-to-page, 25- to 400-percent reduction or enlargement, and poster printing available.
Lexmark advertises the X9350 as achieving speeds up to 32 pages per minute for black and 27 ppm for color printing. We didn't come close to those, but we expected that; the first rule of Inkjet Club is that printers never match their claimed throughput. What we didn't expect was that the Lexmark flagship's speed would be just average and its print quality a notch below average.
Using plain (copier) paper in its Quick Print or draft mode, the X9350 printed a one-page letter with spot-color company logo in 13 seconds. A six-page excerpt from a PDF document mixing text, charts, and images took 42 seconds, while a 20-page text document arrived one minute and 40 seconds. Print quality in this mode barely qualified for in-house proofing, with faint, heavily banded solid-color areas and slightly skewed and blotted text.
Stepping up to its Normal quality mode on plain paper, the Lexmark printed the one-page letter in 20 seconds and the 20-page Word file in three minutes and 45 seconds. (The latter was a surprising anomaly for the top-of-the-line X9350 -- a full minute slower than the $100 Lexmark X5470. Otherwise, the higher-priced model was steadily but not significantly faster.) Using the duplexer to print the 20 pages on 10 sheets slowed the job to six minutes and 32 seconds.
Six pages and the full 55 pages of our Acrobat PDF file took just under three and just over 25 minutes, respectively (roughly matching the $100 all-in-one's performance). The normal mode improved output quality, but not enough to cross from the in-house to the let-a-client-see-it category; we saw occasional artifacts or smudges behind lines of text and somewhat pale, distinctly banded color in charts.
|The thoroughly capable Lexmark X9350 Office All-in-One.|
Oddly enough, though pages were still easily identifiable as inkjet rather than laser or solid-ink output, normal or default mode yielded darker text and clearer colors when making copies than when printing files from the PC. Five copies of a single black-and-white (laser-printed) page took three minutes, while one copy of five monochrome pages using the automatic document feeder took four minutes and 15 seconds. Five color copies of a magazine cover took 3 minutes and 50 seconds.
Extremely Versatile, Entirely Adequate
Switching to inkjet paper brought another step up in quality, although we were dismayed that the X9350's normal-mode output still didn't stand up to that of several inkjets we've tried before. Our sample documents printed at roughly the same speed they had on copier paper, but while text was darker and sharper there were still a handful of minute artifacts or skips if we looked closely. Small graphics like the letter's company logo looked fine, but larger solid areas still showed a bit of banding.
Only by taking the final step up to the printer's best-quality mode did we get inkjet-paper printouts that we'd gladly show to a customer (even though dialog boxes kept popping up to inform us that the Lexmark's peak, 4,800-dpi resolution was only available on glossy photo paper and we'd have to settle for 1,200 dpi). The one-page letter slowed to 38 seconds; the six-page PDF was finished in 3 minutes and 46 seconds. Both were stripe- and smudge-free.
On a positive note, though we didn't have the photo cartridge to sample six-color output, four-color photo prints on glossy stock looked very nice. Using the best quality mode, our 8 by 10-inch prints averaged just under five minutes' print time, while borderless 4- by 6-inch snapshots took two minutes and 20 seconds. Again, it didn't take much leafing through our 2005 and 2006 reviews to find one or two Lexmark and several HP inkjets that were faster, but by then we were in no mood to quibble.
If you're looking for the best inkjet printer/scanner/copier/fax in the world, the Lexmark X9350 isn't it. But if you're looking for a thoroughly capable printer with plenty of convenient features, the X9350 reminds us of the strategy Japanese car makers first used against Detroit: Include everything as standard equipment, so there are hardly any options to pump up the price. And if you can find a dealer with a price around or under $200, the Lexmark is a solid small-office buy.
Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.
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