Mighty Multifunction, Passable Printing

By Eric Grevstad | Posted April 01, 2005

When your pockets get full of loose change, do you dump your pennies into a jar or drop them one at a time through the slot of a piggy bank? The slot option may be OK if you have only a few cents, but dumping is much quicker and more convenient.

We feel the same way about copying or faxing five- or 10-page files: Pushing single pages through a sheet-fed scanner makes you long for a flatbed scanner with an automatic document feeder — add it to your must-have list when shopping for a small-office multifunction machine with printer, scanner, copier and fax.

And speaking of saving pennies, Lexmark's X7170 delivers such a machine for $249. That's the same price as its predecessor, the X6170, but we should note a few differences: The new model is much faster, with more powerful software, and most retailers actually sell it for $199 or less.

All Work and Some Play
Though it's a small-business workhorse instead of a family or consumer combo, the X7170 is more digital-camera-friendly than its predecessor: An optional photo ink cartridge switches the unit from four- to six-color printing for more vivid photo prints, and a front-mounted PictBridge port allows direct printing from new cameras.

Inkjet aficionados (OK, printer geeks) will also note that the new Lexmark breaks with the company's tradition of a vertical paper or input tray at the rear, offering instead a horizontal 150-sheet drawer at bottom front. From here, paper performs a tight U-turn to exit face up on a 50-sheet output shelf with a pullout extender or paper stopper; Lexmark's printer driver defaults to last-page-first, page-one-on-top order.

As a rule, we prefer the "real paper tray, like a copier" feel of a drawer to a consumer-inkjet-style vertical tray, so we were baffled when our X7170 balked during initial setup: After we installed the ink cartridges, loaded paper and powered on the unit, it printed its automatic-cartridge-alignment page and then froze with a paper-jam error message, even after we removed the paper, opened the front and rear doors, and poked and prodded to confirm there wasn't a scrap of paper anywhere in the unit.

Restarting the unit and calling tech support didn't help, so we finally left it alone for a few days and moved on to the next product awaiting review; after that, it powered up and worked perfectly throughout our tests.

Not only PictBridge printing but most scanning, copying, and faxing jobs can be done without a PC connected to the unit, thanks to reasonably intuitive front-panel controls and a two-line backlit LCD. Labeled buttons start color and black-and-white scans; flip between scan, copy and fax modes; specify the number of copies (one through 99) and lighten/darken and zoom control (25 to 400 percent) and perform speed-dials for the 33.6Kbps fax with 100-page memory.

Setup is simple as well — although, from experience with other multifunction printers, we wasted a few seconds looking for the car-hood-style prop that would let us close the top after inserting the ink cartridges. It turns out there isn't one, and a gentle push does the trick. On the other hand, if you're not gentle when lifting the lid of the 8.5 by 11.7-inch flatbed scanner, the whole lid — automatic document feeder included — comes off.

The scanner offers a crisp 1,200 by 4,800 dpi optical resolution with 48-bit color, although when placing originals on the glass, you must align them with the left rear instead of a more convenient front corner.

Make Room
The X7170 takes about 19-by-17 inches of desk space and stands a foot high; it has a single USB interface — USB cable, predictably, not included — as well as jacks for your phone line and desk phone. As with virtually all inkjets, you'll spend much more than its purchase price trying to fulfill its monthly duty cycle of 5,000 pages — replacement black and tricolor ink cartridges, rated for roughly 475 and 450 pages respectively, are priced at $25 and $30. The photo cartridge, rated for 135 prints (4-by-6 inches), costs $25.


The Lexmark X7170 Office Productivity All-in-One
Fast, Not Pretty — The Lexmark X7170 Office Productivity All-in-One prints pages at an impressive rate, but the quality of the print isn't nearly so good.

While there's just the one, 150-sheet paper drawer, you can feed individual envelopes or 4-by-6-inch photo paper through a spring-loaded slot built into the exit tray above it. The 50-sheet automatic document feeder works smoothly.

Perhaps the best thing about the Lexmark is the Productivity Suite software that comes with it. The various modules or applications let you select photos for various print layouts or for use with ABBYY FineReader 6.0 Sprint optical character recognition (OCR) to import scanned documents into your word processor. The software suite also helps you manage Word, Excel, and other documents as well as images — whether saving one or more files as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file or using NewSoft's Presto PageManager 7.12 to flip between thumbnail and readable views of files, arranging multiple files in a "stack" or saving them in an executable "wrapper."

Swift But Not Sharp
Officially, the X7170 prints up to 22 pages per minute for black-and-white and 15 ppm for color printing. That's only an extra three color ppm over the older X6170, but in our stopwatch tests the newer device proved far faster — making five monochrome copies of a laser-printer page in 94 seconds versus 165; five color copies of a magazine cover in just under four minutes versus just under nine; and printing a six-page PDF on coated inkjet paper in four minutes versus six.

Unfortunately, the X7170's print quality — especially on plain paper, but also on coated stock — trails that of other inkjets we've tried lately, including Lexmark's P6250 and HP's admittedly more expensive Officejet 7410. Draft mode on plain paper is fast (one minute and 49 seconds for a 20-page Word document) and text is closer to black than some models' gray, but with sketchy, wiggly fonts and pale, stripey graphics. The printer is also a bit noisy to have next to your phone, though quieter than many clunking color lasers.

Normal mode on plain paper is all right for in-house documents — it printed our one-page business letter with a spot-color company logo in 19 seconds, the 20-page Word file in two minutes and 37 seconds. But some lines of text still looked a bit compressed or uneven and graphics still showed plenty of banding.

The only plain-paper printouts that passed muster were in best-quality mode (33 seconds for the one-page letter, three and a half minutes for a six-page PDF), and even those were merely in the good-inkjet rather than the mistake-for-a-laser class.

Switching to coated inkjet paper brought pretty good results in normal mode, though to get rid of banding again required best mode — and about twice the time of normal printing, at 95 seconds for the one-page letter and just over eight minutes for the six-page PDF. Best-mode photo printouts on glossy paper looked quite nice, but our 8 by 10-inch prints averaged a leisurely six minutes with four-color and 11 minutes with six-color ink. A six-color, 4-by-6-inch borderless photo took four minutes and 40 seconds.

The X7170, then, scores as a space-saving scanner, fax, convenience copier and in-house printer, and earns an extra star for its savvy document-management software. But its print quality, though it would have dazzled us a couple of years ago, is no match for today's most impressive inkjets.

Pros:
Fast, full-featured printer/scanner/copier/fax with automatic document feeder, photo printing capability and versatile document management/OCR/PDF software

Cons:
Except in its slowest modes on coated paper, print quality is decidedly inkjet instead of laser-like

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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