Many Office Functions, One Low Price

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted June 16, 2006

Some people call them MFPs for multifunction peripherals. Some call them AIOs for all-in-ones. We usually end up calling them printer/scanner/fax/copiers, but if Lexmark has its way, we may have to start adding photo printer into the mix.

The Lexmark X8350 succeeds the model X7170 we tested in March 2005 as the top of the company's inkjet-based multifunction lineup. But while that machine was all business — small business, anyway — Lexmark calls the X8350 an Office All-in-One Plus Photo, with features such as six-color borderless printing, digital-camera memory-card slots, and a color preview LCD. These target home-office entrepreneurs who stop work at five o'clock to organize their photo collection or help the kids with school reports, as well as small offices that create flyers or handouts with photos (e.g., real estate agents).

Complete with walk-up (no PC required) copying and faxing and a flatbed color scanner with automatic document feeder for multi-page scans or faxes, the X8350 sells for $200. That's not shockingly low these days, when multifunction units are chasing printer-only inkjets down the stairs to under $100, but it's affordable enough for a thumbs-up with some competitive units costing $300 or more — especially when you have to stop and think to decide what the X8350 lacks.

OK, it doesn't have networking. And, um, there's no automatic duplexer for double-sided printing. And, er, what else? Oh, yeah, the input paper drawer is kind of skimpy. Any other complaints? Uh, hmm, give me a sec ...

Cost Per Page? Well, It's an Inkjet
Taking roughly 18- by 21-inches of desk space and standing 10 inches tall, the X830 connects to a PC's USB 2.0 port (cable not included). Like the X7170, it skips most Lexmark inkjets' vertical paper path for a photocopier-style front drawer, from which paper performs a U-turn to exit (face up, first page on top) on a pullout output tray.

We experienced two paper jams in our time with the printer, but a bigger gripe was the input drawer's shallow capacity — with just 100 pages of capacity, you'll need to flip up the exit tray and reload the unit fairly often. Digital camera owners will also grumble that loading 4- by 6-inch photo paper obliges you to reach well into the drawer and out of sight to push the media into place.

Photo buffs will be happier to see Secure Digital/MultiMedia Card, Memory Stick, SmartMedia/xD, and CompactFlash/Microdrive slots on the front panel, along with a USB port for a flash drive or PictBridge-compatible camera. Insert a card, and both the Lexmark's control-panel LCD and pop-up PC software will offer to print some or all of your photos or a thumbnail sheet (which you can't mark up and then scan to print selected images, as with some HP all-in-ones), or copy them to the computer. The LCD also offers a miniature (2.4 inches diagonally) slide show.

For the best skin tones and other subtle hues in printed photos, you can replace the Lexmark's black ink cartridge by inserting a photo cartridge (not included) alongside its regular cyan/magenta/yellow color cartridge. Lexmark says the $25 photo cartridge is good for 130-odd 4-by 6-inch prints.

You can buy replacements for the supplied, short-lived black and tricolor cartridges for $20 and $22, respectively, but cost efficiency will steer you to higher-capacity black ($25) and color ($30) cartridges rated for 475 pages. As with every inkjet device on the planet, coming anywhere near the X8350's rated 5,000-page monthly duty cycle won't be cheap — we calculate 5.3 cents per black-and-white and 11.6 cents per color page, plus the cost of the coated media that inkjets much prefer to plain paper.

Avoid the Draft (Mode)
The X8350's specification sheet promises speeds of up to 25 pages per minute for black and 19 ppm for color printing. Also as with every inkjet device on the planet, we couldn't reproduce those results in real use, with our stopwatch clocking a 20-page, all-text Microsoft Word document at one minute and 37 seconds on plain paper.

The same draft-quality mode (which Lexmark calls Quick Print) produced a six-page Adobe Acrobat document with text and color illustrations in 50 seconds. But neither was usable for anything but the most casual in-house review, with wobbly text printed in light gray and heavily banded or striped images in faint pastels.


Lexmark X8350 All-in-One
The Lexmark X8350 all-in-one printer packs big features into a small price.

Stepping up to Normal mode on plain paper slowed the 20-page document to two minutes and 47 seconds; a one-page letter with spot-color company logo appeared in 28 seconds, while a 55-page PDF took just under 20 minutes. Such performance is on the sluggish side, but not as unbearable as the cheapest inkjets' — much slower than HP's Photosmart 3310, but that all-in-one costs twice as much.

Print quality was pretty good, with some banding in solid color areas and text in the at-a-glance-you-might-think-laser, look-closely-it's-definitely-inkjet class. Swapping the cheap copier paper for coated inkjet stock made a big difference: Normal mode took 46 seconds for the one-page letter and three minutes and 53 seconds for the six-page PDF, with only barely perceptible color banding and sharp text except for a few stray dots in small-font serif characters.

The combination of coated paper and Best mode rewarded our patience with a terrific company letter (91 seconds) and razor-sharp six PDF pages (eight minutes and 24 seconds), though our 8- by 10-inch photos were disappointingly grainy even in Best mode on coated stock.

The same prints on glossy photo paper, however, were wall-worthy (well, cubicle if not living-room wall) with four-color ink and downright impressive with six colors, though the latter took roughly five and a half minutes each. Six-color glossy 4-by 6-inch prints arrived in just under three minutes and looked great, with the caveat that Lexmark's minor-touchup image editor isn't kidding when it says "Note: some cropping may occur." Think cutting the crusts off a sandwich. <

Step Right Up
That said, Lexmark's software bundle is first-rate, with options that walk you through tasks such as scanning a document to a PDF file, e-mail attachment, or word processor via Abbyy's FineReader OCR (optical character recognition). Newsoft's Presto Page Manager helps you preview, sort, and organize documents, while Lexmark's Windows driver offers a variety of N-up, poster, banner, and other printing options.

Even without the software, the X8350's front-panel controls and LCD make it easy to perform a color or black-and-white copy, complete with zoom, fit-to-page, and collating options. Ditto for the 33.6Kbps fax, with no phone handset but with 160-page memory and pushbutton access to the first five of 89 speed-dial numbers, and all modern conveniences.

The 48-bit, 1,200 by 2,400 dpi scanner is neither the fastest nor sharpest around, but what you put on its 8.5- by 11.5-inch glass will be perfectly suitable for digital document storage, e-mailing a photo to Grandma, or newsletter or Web publication. Using plain paper, the Lexmark produced five adequate color copies of a magazine cover in four minutes, while the automatic document feeder handled one monochrome copy of a five-page Word file in two minutes and six seconds.

Overall, we'd rate the Lexmark's balance of print quality and speed as just OK, but its other aspects — from document feeder and flash slots to office-productivity software pack — are way better than OK for its $200 price. It'll fit well into a home office with equal emphasis on home and office.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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