Your small business may not need a scanner as often as it did in the days before digital cameras, but it still needs a fax machine. So while low-priced multifunction peripherals are popping up everywhere, those that stop at printing, scanning, and copying without the fourth function of fax remain better suited for home than office use.
And sending a fax is usually at least a two-page job, thanks to cover sheets, so a fax machine without an automatic document feeder is as burdensome as having to get off the couch and change TV channels without a remote. (Remember those days?)
Lexmark doesn't make TV remotes, but it makes an affordable office all-in-one complete with fax and automatic document feeder. The X6170 costs $250, is rated for a workhorse 5,000-page monthly duty cycle (though its solitary USB port means you'll have to spring for an external Ethernet server if you want to share its printing functions with coworkers), and offers sharp flatbed scanning; convenient color and black-and-white copying of single- or multipage documents; 33.6Kbps color or black-and-white faxing with 100-number speed dial; and handsome if not terribly quick printing in an easy-to-use, desk-space-saving package accompanied by above-average software utilities.
It's not perfect and, like any inkjet printer, its purchase price will quickly be surpassed by its consumable costs for any kind of volume printing. But the X6170 is a solid solution for a small office on a budget.
Plug Your Phone into Your Printer
The X6170 is a handsome gray-black unit, accented by blue-backlit power and function buttons and a two-line control-panel LCD, that takes about 20 by 20 inches of desk space and stands 13 inches high. Your USB cable (not included) and the AC adapter plug into the back of the device, where you'll also find a pair of phone jacks for the wall jack and your desk phone.
The lift-up lid of the 8.5 by 11.7-inch flatbed scanner forms the upper (face-up input) and lower (face-down output) trays for the automatic document feeder, with a cute crater in the lower tray letting you get your fingers under the corner to remove pages. (The otherwise identical Lexmark X6150 is priced at $200 with no automatic feeder, but we think the ability to copy or fax multipage documents without shuffling sheets is well worth the $50 difference.)
The feeder is supposed to accommodate up to 50 pages; we think a realistic maximum is closer to 30, but had little trouble putting a 5- or 10-page (not stapled or paper-clipped, of course) document into the hopper, pushing the copy button, and walking away. The feeder jammed once in our testing, but it took only seconds to open the feeder's cover and pull the paper forward (not backward) out of the mechanism.
Blank paper fits into a 100-sheet vertical tray at the rear, with printed pages exiting face-up in a 50-sheet, pull-out tray at the bottom front. As with other Lexmark inkjets we've tested, the paper feed proved virtually jam-proof if slightly vulnerable to skewing.
Lifting the entire scanner unit reveals the two (black and tricolor) ink cartridges, which snap into place easily, although the low-slung carriage means you'll have to crouch to desktop level to do so if you put the X6170 on the floor, you'll have to lie on your stomach.
What's Your Rush?
The X6170's print engine has the same rated speed up to 19 pages per minute for black and 15 ppm for color and uses the same ink cartridges as the more consumer-oriented X5150 we reviewed in April. The black cartridge has an estimated life of 600 pages and replacement cost of $30; the tricolor is rated for 450 pages for $35, with an optional high-capacity model offering 650 pages for $44.
Like other Lexmark inkjets, the X6170 offers four speed-versus-quality modes quick (300 by 600 dpi), normal (600 by 600), better (1,200 by 1,200), and best (4,800 by 1,200). Using cheap copier paper, the quick mode printed our five-page Microsoft Word document (all text, using various fonts) in just 43 seconds, but in wobbly draft quality; normal mode was only a little slower at 1 minute and 6 seconds, but darker and sharper, with just a bit of inkjet fuzziness around the edges of letters. Better mode was too slow (2 minutes and 34 seconds) for its nearly unnoticeable improvement.
For graphics, however, the combination of normal mode and plain paper yielded noticeable, unattractive banding in solid areas (and took 37 seconds for our one-page business letter with colored company logo; 4 minutes and 46 seconds for our six-page Adobe Acrobat PDF file). Switching to better mode cured most of the banding, but took a leisurely one and a half minutes for the letter and 10 minutes and 34 seconds for the six-page PDF.
Like the X5150's, the X6170's automatic media sensor couldn't tell our low-priced inkjet paper (sold in 500-sheet reams) from plain copier paper, but print quality perked up considerably when we loaded more costly inkjet stock (sold in 100-sheet boxes). Unfortunately, print speed dropped again: The Acrobat document's six pages took six minutes in normal mode, showing just a bit of banding. Using better mode with coated paper looked terrific, but took time over 13 minutes for the Acrobat file, 1 minute and 44 seconds for the one-page letter.
While it doesn't offer borderless photo printing or slots for digital-camera memory cards, the all-in-one performed creditably with our 8 by 10-inch digital prints as long as we avoided cheap paper: Again, it took better rather than normal mode (5 minutes and 45 seconds versus 2 minutes and 41) to eliminate banding on inkjet paper, but better-mode prints on glossy photo paper looked very good and best mode (12 and a quarter minutes) looked excellent.
Good Scanning, Good Software
The X6170 works as a walk-up copier even without a PC, offering good pushbutton controls for enlarging or reducing copies (with zoom from 25 to 400 percent) and choosing darker or lighter contrast. Using copier paper, five perfectly adequate duplicates of a black-and-white laser-printer page took 2 minutes and 45 seconds and making one copy of a 10-page document using the automatic feeder nearly matched that pace at 5 minutes and 35 seconds. Five somewhat banded but fine for in-house use copies of a color print took just under 9 minutes.
The unit's 48-bit color (16-bit grayscale) scanner offers 1,200 by 4,800 dpi optical resolution and did a fine job with the pages and photos we put on the glass. As with the X5150, we give a big thumbs-up to Lexmark's print driver and bundled software; the former offers a good variety of collated, booklet, and handout printing options, while the latter is led by a first-class control panel that steers you through scanning, copying, and faxing jobs and settings.
You can touch up imported images with a supplied image editor, open paper pages in your word processor thanks to ABBYY FineReader 5.0 Sprint optical character recognition software, or print from any Windows application directly to the fax machine. (The X6170 can receive faxes while performing other duties.)
Except for its relatively sluggish speed when printing pages worth seeing by clients or customers (its swifter modes are fine for faxes or in-house documents), the Lexmark X6170 is a capable, convenient way to put print, scan, and multipage copy and fax functions on your desk. It strikes a nice balance of performance and value.
Adapted from HardwareCentral.com.