consumer aio's (all in one) printers - an exercise in compromise


HP OfficeJet 7680

After considerable research for several customers on the latest generation of new top of the line all-in-one's (AIO's) nobody quite gets everything completely right.  You may find yourself supplementing the purchase of an AIO with a dedicated hardware device, to make up for performance or quality short-coming of a particular feature of an AIO.  Today's trend seems to indicate many top of the line devices will not scan Legal sized paper (on the flatbed).  That's unfortunate, if you're a small law or real estate office.  In fact the only model that I could find that does are the Office Jet Pro L7680 (but not the lower sibling L7580) Brother AIO's, and prior generation HP OfficeJet 7410.  Here's a sampling of the top of the line AIO's from the top tier manufacturers:

HP Officejet Pro L7680:  By far the benchmark in the marketplace, this is the AIO to beat.  Printing is fast, scanning is fast, it offers wired and wireless networking capability, and it uses individual ink tanks for lower cost per page.  Scan speed however, is not as fast as the top of the line Canon.  Jan 2009 Update: PCNS has seen a trend with the L7590 and L7600 series OfficeJets - major hardware failures.  PCNS recommends avoiding the L7580 and L7600 Series!  If you must buy one of these devices, purchase an Extended Warranty!

Canon MP830: The top of the line Canon has the fastest scanning speeds, but color graphics print quality, according to CNet review, "leaves something to be desired."  Duplex printing with black ink is another sore spot, because, according to user reports, it uses Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow to form a light black so black will not bleed through the page when printing duplex.

HP OfficeJet 7410:  The prior generation OfficeJet 7410 has good reviews, plus it will scan Legal documents, but cost per page is high because it uses the older tri-color ink cartridges.  The HP Director has quite a bit of problems with Internet Explorer 7. Not only on this model, but older OfficeJets, especially if they are network attached.

Epson RX580:  The top of the line Epson AIO RX580 is decidedly for photo printing and scanning, but according to pcworld.com, "falls short on quality for other tasks" - sub-par copy quality and printing on plain paper.  Text printing speed was 3.9 pages per minute.

Brother MFC-5460cn:  The top of the line Brother MFC-5460cn multi-function, though rated at 30 pages per minute, in real world tests by itreview.co.uk, it didn't reach 1/10th of its advertised speed - 2.2 to 2.7 pages per minute.

Lexmark X9350:  The fastest Lexmark AIO, the X9350, itreview.co.uk gave it good marks, except the driver installation was rough, causing Windows XP crashes.  Even with new drivers from the web the Presto Page Manager caused problems, and consumed large amounts of PC memory - their advice make sure you have at least 1,000 megs ram installed on your PC.  They also experienced an intermittent WIFI Connection, and a less cost effective Tri-Color ink cartridge design.  A plain page one page letter took 20 seconds to print, according to a report at wi-fiplanet.com.

Dell AIO 966:  Cnet.com reports subpar print quality ink system not ideal for printing photos, consumables available only from Dell.  This AIO uses a tri-color cartridge.  Among the strengths was an excellent quality scanner.

Monochrome Laser AIO's

A monochrome laser AIO may be a good way to go if performance is a criteria, and you already have a fast color printer.   A monochrome laser will use fused toner (which does not bleed when it gets wet), and it prints faster than the majority of color inkjets.  While the gap is narrowing, monochrome lasers in general print at a lower cost per page, and it can be used to proof documents and drafts before sending the print job to the color printer.

HP LaserJet AIO 3050:  This laserjet AIO features Black and White laser printing, Color Scanning - sheet feeder ONLY, and dedicated fax. Regretabbly, user reports have stated the Scanner Capabilities could be better.  The toner cartridge, when you replace it, also contains the image drum. Some feel the image drum is replaced unecessarily, one workaround may be to have to toner cartridge refilled by Toner Plus, Cartridge World, or CRS PrinTek.

HP LaserJet AIO 3052:  The laserjet AIO adds a flat bed scanner.  There are no reports I could find indicating if the Scanner capability is as weak as the 3050.

Color Laser AIO's

Color Laser AIO's are the upper end of the spectrum.  Don't be surprised to pay upwards of $900 for a Color Laser AIO. In general a Color laser aio will print more slowly than a monochrome aio (because the paper has to pass over 4 toner cartridges, and there is increased overhead in processing four colors).  You should not consider buying a Color Laser unless you plan on using the printer - at least 50 to 100 color printouts a month.  Toner becomes stale and can "cake" if unused for long periods of time.  This will result in having to replace toner cartridges prematurely, which will cost a lot more than ink cartridges, offsetting any potential savings over inkjet cartridges.  Color Laserjets cannot print on Photo Paper, and while the gap is narrowing, some Color Lasers do not print photos on plain paper as well as inkjets.

Factors to consider
Make a bullet list - here's an example:

Required Criteria
   --Crisp Color Text Printouts Fast
   --Scanning of documents and conversion to PDF
   --A fax machine that can operate with the PC shut off
   --I want individual color ink tanks, no tri-color cartridges
   --A network interface so both of my pc's can use it

Not as important
   --Photo printing quality unimportant (I have a photo printer already)
   --Copy performance unimportant (I use a separate copier)
   --Don't need to scan legal paper
   --Don't need to print on both sides of the page (duplex)

Questions to Ask Retailers

Does it need to scan legal paper through the sheet feeder AND flatbed?

Can it connect to my wired or wireless network?

Does it use a tri-color ink cartridge or does it use individual ink tanks?

Does it scan and will it save documents as a PDF?

Does it have OCR software to "read" documents and translate them my Word Processor?

Will it send and receive Faxes without help from the PC?

Does it contain fax memory in case my paper supply runs out?

How many sheets of paper does the sheet feeder hold?

How much does ink (or Toner) cost and what is the page yield?

Does it print duplex?  Is that an extra cost option?

If one of the color ink tanks or toner cartridges runs out, can I continue printing in black and white?

Inkjet Tips

Always print in color at least once every two weeks.  This keeps ink flowing through the system and prevents ink from drying on the print heads.

Kim Komando, in her nationally syndicated radio show in June 2007, reported many Inkjet drivers remind you too soon that it is time to replace ink tanks or cartridges.  The worst offender was Kodak.  Kim recommends letting the ink cartridge (or tank) run completely dry.

Review Links and Articles

User review of OfficeJet Pro L7680
Cnet.com review of OfficeJet Pro L7680

Canon Pixma MP830 Review

Review of Lexmark X9350
Additional review and OS crashes with Lexmark X9350

Brother MFC-5460CN Review

Epson Stylus Photo RX580 AIO Review

Dell Aio 966

Kodak EasyShare 5300 AIO

Review of LaserJet AIO 3050

PC World Truth or Myth #14 - Will individual ink tanks save money in the long run?  (scroll down to Myth #14)