Review: Lexmark X6650 Wireless 4-in-1 Printer

by Eric Grevstad

Lexmark's latest low-priced entry is a $130 inkjet all-in-one with a few handy extras and some of the most sophisticated utility software we've seen in this class. But does its print quality and speed fare nearly as well?

In addition to its simplicty of form, the Lexmark  X6650 also appeals to our sense of thrift, since its $130 price buys a copier, scanner, and fax as well as a printer, plus 802.11b/g Wi-Fi for wireless printing on a home network. Or a small office network, of course, although since Lexmark has sorted its inkjets into two groups the X6650 is officially part of the company's Home and Student Series. Its twin in the Small Office Pro series is called the X6675 and comes with a longer warranty and larger starter ink cartridges for $20 more.

The X6650 offers other checklist items for multifunction printer shoppers. There's a 25-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF) on top, so multipage copying or faxing jobs avoid the chore of opening and closing the scanner lid to place one page at a time. A PictBridge USB port and two slots on the front panel for media cards (SD, MS, xD, MMC, and CF) allow printing images directly from USB flash drives or digital cameras' memory cards.

Lexmark X6650 Wireless 4-in-1 Printer
The Lexmark X6650 Wireless 4-in-1 Inkjet Printer

On the other hand, the Lexmark's low price dictates some sacrifices. Wired (as opposed to Wi-Fi) connectivity is limited to USB 2.0, with no Ethernet port for small-office sharing. There's no duplexer for automatic double-sided printing. The control-panel LCD is a two-line mini screen, not a color display for photo viewing and editing.

And instead of higher-end inkjets' half-dozen or so color ink cartridges, which give you both better photo output and the cost-effective option to replace just one color when it runs dry, the Lexmark sticks with the familiar two-cartridge, four-color setup -- black and tricolor ink cartridges, the latter holding cyan, magenta and yellow. You can, however, swap the black cartridge for a tricolor photo cartridge ($32) to switch from four- to six-color output.

Finally, you probably don't expect $130 to buy you blazing speed and stunning output quality, and you're not far wrong. The X6650's output is adequate, but nothing more.

A Little Wobbly

With paper trays extended, the unit measures roughly 13- by 18- by 20-inches. It's relatively quiet in operation -- a bit too loud to share your desk with your phone, but fine on an adjacent table within reach of your swivel chair.

While the 17-pound printer seems solid and sturdy when removed from its packaging, the scanner lid feels flimsy, wobbling from side to side and requiring some care to prop open without flopping down onto your fingers. The loose feeling comes from a pair of hinges that help lift the lid to scan pages of books, which is a nice feature but could have been better executed.

It takes just a minute to insert and snap the two ink cartridges into place, after which the Lexmark asks you to load plain paper to print an alignment page. Software installation is more time-consuming, spanning not only the printer driver but a handy control-panel package that lets you browse documents and pictures, select items for printing, and format them in various ways, with both automatic (one-click fix, red-eye removal) and manual (crop, exposure, hue/saturation) touch-up for photos and the option to launch a document for last-minute editing within your word processor or other application. The ABBYY FineReader Sprint 6.0 optical character recognition package is included as well.

You're in Control

Most all-in-ones we've seen offer separate buttons to start color and black copying, but the X6650's control panel uses a single Start button plus a button that toggles between color and monochrome, so we occasionally forgot to switch modes between one job and the next. (Print jobs arrive in color or black-and-white depending on a check box in the software driver, not the button.)

Otherwise, the front-panel controls are straightforward and helpful, with separate buttons to launch copy, scan, fax or photo functions and OK and arrow buttons to navigate and select from LCD menu options. A slick Photo Proof Sheet option prints a page of thumbnails from which you can pick images for one-, two-, or three-copy printing in a variety of print layouts and sizes.

The scanner offers 600 by 1,200 dpi resolution with 48-bit color depth, and can scan files to your PC, a choice of installed applications, or a memory card or USB flash drive. Fax functions include up to 89 stored address-book numbers, forwarding, distinctive ring and scheduled broadcast faxes to up to 30 numbers.

While Lexmark offers regular black and tricolor cartridges priced at $21 and $23, respectively, most people will want to opt for the high-capacity cartridges. At $26 for black and $31 for color, their estimated lives of 500 pages apiece translate to a could-be-worse, could-be-better 5.2 cents per black and 11.4 cents per color page. The X6650's rated monthly duty cycle is 3,000 pages.

Not All Bad

By now you know to ignore the advertised speeds of any inkjet printer (up to 25 pages per minute for black and 18 ppm for color in this case). In our real-world stopwatch tests, the Lexmark landed in the lower middle of the affordable-all-in-one range: Using normal print-quality mode on plain paper, our one-page business letter with spot-color logo printed in 22 seconds, with the five-page ISO/IEC 24712 test document, which mixes text, graphs and photos, taking 3 minutes and 47 seconds.

A 20-page monochrome Microsoft Word document arrived in just under 3 minutes, with our 55-page Adobe Acrobat PDF file taking 38 minutes and 20 seconds. Text print quality was pretty good, with reasonably sharp if not mistakable-for-laser text as small as four points; color graphics were vivid with little banding in light solid-color areas, but showed more banding as colors darkened -- solid black was positively stripey.

Draft-mode printouts were predictably faster -- 11 seconds for the letter and 50 seconds for the ISO five-pager -- but of poor quality. Switching to best-quality mode on coated inkjet paper produced much better results, with strong solid colors and great-looking gradients, but it tested our patience with the one-page letter taking 43 seconds, the ISO paper took six and a half minutes, and the first six pages of the PDF took 7 minutes and 27 seconds.

Not having the photo ink cartridge, we had to settle for four- rather than six-color prints and the slightly grainy, dull-skin-tones photos that usually result. Nevertheless, images in best-quality mode on glossy photo paper looked pretty good, with 8- by 10-inch prints averaging 4 minutes and 40 seconds, while borderless 4- by 6-inch snapshots appeared in two minutes apiece.

Do You Copy?

While print-job results were acceptable, we were disappointed with the X6650's performance as a copier. At the default, walk-up settings (no PC needed), five black-and-white copies of a single page took two and a half minutes. Five monochrome copies of a three-page document using the ADF took three minutes, while five color copies of a magazine cover arrived in 7 minutes and 45 seconds. The ADF twice pulled two pages at a time instead of one, but otherwise worked smoothly.

Copy quality, however, was unsatisfactory even for in-house use, with faint, washed-out text and pale, heavily banded colors. Using the printer's front-panel controls to specify higher-quality, slower printing and darker copies helped, but didn't dazzle.

All in all, we find ourselves damning the X6650 with faint praise: It isn't the worst choice you can make among multifunction inkjets; it would get a thumbs-down review if it cost more but isn't bad for $130 -- although actually, the $100 Lexmark X5470 we tested in the spring of '07 impressed us more. As is, this is an instance where our best advice is to reach deeper into your wallet and climb the next rung of the ladder.

Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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This article was originally published on Friday Nov 14th 2008
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