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Multifunction Printer Feature Comparisons

Wireless Printers.

It used to be rare to find a wireless multifunction printer for less than $100. Now it is a standard feature; all the models we researched boast wireless capabilities.

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If your household has more than one computer, wireless enables everyone to use and share the device.

Is a wireless multifunction printer hard to hook up? Not really. Connecting wireless devices to a home network was a real hassle in the past, but it's clear from the many expert and user reviews we read that almost everyone found their printers, regardless of brand or model, pretty easy to connect to a home network. A number of consumers, though, admit to having called customer support for help.

Setting up the connection is one thing; maintaining it is another, and some consumers were confounded by several wireless multifunction printer models that struggled to stay connected. We read a number of complaints on Amazon about the HP Deskjet 3050A and the Kodak ESP C310 that refer to communication problems between the wireless multifunction printer and the base computer. Users report faulty connectivity issues and having to maneuver around the problem by connecting through the (wired) USB port.

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Print Speed.

One of the metrics that multifunction printer manufacturers like to fudge the most is the number of pages per minute, or ppm, a printer can spit out. Manufacturers usually display the ppm for printout at the lowest quality setting (draft quality) using only black ink; it's not uncommon to find cheap all-in-one printers that claim print speed at 20ppm or more. But if you prefer higher quality print settings or need to print in color, the print speed quickly plunges to about 5ppm to 10ppm, perhaps even slower. Although you shouldn't put much stock in manufacturer claims regarding print speeds, we found that the Best and Good models on our list maintain a respectable pace.

An expert at PC Mag praises the Brother MFC-J430w for quick text and graphics printouts, but notes that photo print speed is quite a bit slower. PC World also lauds the MFC-J430w's print speed, saying it shoots out text prints faster than most comparable devices. The Canon Pixma MG5320 likewise pushes out text prints quickly, according to CNET, although the review warns that color graphics and photo prints take considerably longer. Computer Shopper reports that print speed for the Pixma MG5320 in "standard" mode is about five times faster than in "high" mode, with barely any loss in document quality.

Epson's Stylus NX430 is well liked by users and experts for its overall performance, but PC Mag pans the pokey print speed. Testing by the site's experts found that the Stylus NX430 needs nearly 3 minutes to print a 4x6 photo, whereas other printers manage the task (same photo) in 1 to 2 minutes. CNET, however, is impressed with the NX430's print speeds for text and color graphics, saying they bested the competition in expert testing.

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HP's PhotoSmart 5510 proves capable in terms of office document print speed, according to PC Mag. In testing, the PhotoSmart 5510 was nearly as fast as the Brother MFC-J430w, a PC Mag Editor's Choice, but photo print speeds were merely average. Pocket-lint also cheers the speed of text printouts, noting that black-and-white text printing is nearly as fast as the manufacturer's claims of 32 pages per minute. The other HP multifunction printer we researched, the Deskjet 3050A, won't set any print-speed records, but it prints at a fair speed for its value. A CNET test found a faster-than-average pace when printing text, color graphics, and photos.

Despite the Kodak ESP C310's failure to impress expert reviewers, its print speeds are solid. A CNET expert terms results "average," whether printing text, photos, or graphics. PC Mag, however, asserts print speed is one of the ESP C310's strong points, and notes it can print a 4x6 photo in less than a minute.

Ink Systems.

Frugal shoppers will no doubt be concerned about the cost of multifunction printer ink. How much you spend on ink depends in part on how much printing and copying you do, but the type of ink system the printer uses also affects ink cost. Some printers only have two inkwells, one for black and one for color. Other printers use a combination of one black inkwell and three color inkwells, and still other printers have more than three color inkwells. Printers with more color inkwells are more cost-effective than those with only one inkwell. If you happen to print a lot of color documents that tend to use cyan colors more than magenta colors, you'll run out of cyan ink more quickly. This isn't much of a problem if your multifunctional printer has a separate inkwell for cyan ink. However, if the printer only has a single color cartridge, you'll have to replace the whole thing even if there's still plenty of magenta ink in the cartridge.

Among the models we researched, the Epson Stylus NX430, Brother MFC-J430w, and HP PhotoSmart 5510 e-All-in-One feature one black and three color inkwells. The HP Deskjet 3050A, Canon Pixma MX410, and the Kodak ESP C310 use one black cartridge and one color cartridge. The Canon Pixma MG5320 uses four color cartridges and one black cartridge.

As for ink prices, standard ink replacement cartridges typically cost between $12 and $15, but printer manufacturers typically offer "high-yield" ink cartridges that have about twice as much ink, but only cost a little more than standard cartridges. For example, you can buy a standard black ink cartridge for the Brother MFC-J430 for about $15, but a replacement high-yield cartridge only costs about $21. High-yield cartridges are common so you should be able to find them for any multifunction printer you buy, saving you money and trips to the store.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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