Published: June 29, 2010 11:00 PM
By Vincent Alzieu

On the left, the Brother MFC-9320CW is an all-in-one colour laser printer with a network connection, Wi-Fi connectivity, a fax, a document loader and more. It's a model Brother hopes will to win over those currently using black and white laser printers or inkjet printers. |
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On the right, the Lexmark Platinum Pro 905 is an inkjet printer offering black and white printing at under 1 pence per page. That's cheaper than any laser printer, according to Lexmark. It has a touch-screen, programmable functions, two paper feed compartments, a fax, a document loader and more. It's marketed as a genuine alternative to laser printers.

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15 want this Me too!
4 separate toners
| 4 separate cartridges
16/16 ppm: B&W/colour | 16/10 ppm: B&W/colour
Printer + scanner + copier + fax
| Printer + scanner + copier + fax
Wi-Fi | Wi-Fi + duplex printing + touch-screen
Laser
| Inkjet: 2 picolitres

BACKGROUND

These two professional-quality colour printers both have a 64 MB internal memory and both got five stars in our product tests. Does that really make them as good as each other? Can they really be compared against one another directly, or are they designed for different types of use? Let's take a closer look.

The main question to address is whether inkjet printing can offer a genuine and credible alternative to laser printing for business or professional use. Both printers have similar basic functions with a document loader, network connection, Wi-Fi connectivity, a fax and more, but what we really need to know is which type of technology does a better job: inkjet or laser?

So what about print speeds, quality and, above all, the cost of printing per page? The problem in trying to compare these two different types of technology is that inkjet and laser printers aren't tested using the same lifespan standards. We therefore had to re-test the Lexmark using the laser standard in order to be able to compare the two. So which printer works out cheaper when printing a test page with 5% coverage? Read on to find out.

 

HANDLING: LEXMARK WINS


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There's clearly a generation gap between these two printers. While both have all the basics you'll need for office use (fax, document loading systems, decent paper capacity, network connection, Wi-Fi etc.), the Lexmark offers touch-screen control and has a selection of user-programmable functions. Brother will probably get round to that one day, but for the moment the MFC-9320CW has a pretty old-school interface.

Too many buttons: Lexmark: 1 button. Brother: 39. Enough said.

Tiny black & white screen: the Lexmark has a touch-screen that displays the essential information about a given function. It's clear, has nice icons and is in colour. The Brother screen is black and white and only displays text.

Two paper feed compartments for Lexmark, but one for Brother: however, it all comes to pretty much the same thing in the end, as the Lexmark has two 150-sheet compartments and the Brother has one 250-sheet compartment.

No automatic duplex printing: the Brother doesn't offer this function whereas the Lexmark does. It may not sound like much, but double-sided printing can be very important for business users.
 
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Touch-screen: Lexmark wins with its large, colour, touch-sensitive screen, which makes Brother's display look so last century. It really is better too, as the Lexmark feels totally natural to handle, and the interface is quick and easy to get the hang of. The screen could be a little more responsive, as it's not the fastest we've ever seen, but it's still more pleasant to use than a whole load of buttons.

Web-connected programmable functions: this is the new feature in this model. You can programme your own custom settings and create corresponding buttons in the touch-screen interface. For example, you can automatically archive bills as PDFs on your laptop, store paper photos as JPGs on a different computer, look for pictures online in a shared account (e.g. Flickr) and much more besides.

PRINT SPEEDS: BROTHER WINS

The laser printer is faster: for continuous printing, this Brother laser printer is almost twice as fast as the Lexmark. One advantage the Lexmark does have though, is that it can automatically print on both sides of the paper ... even if that does affect the print speed.

Colour print speed (pages per minute)
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Lexmark is quicker for the first page. A printer spends most of its time on standby waiting for a job to come along. When we clicked on Print, the first page to finish printing was the Lexmark, beating the Brother by 7 seconds.


Time required to print first page (sec.) from standby

QUALITY: BROTHER FOR DOCUMENTS, LEXMAK FOR PHOTOS

Document printing: inkjet printing has come a long way. In fact, very few people can now tell from print quality alone whether a document has been printed on a laser or an inkjet printer. As a rule though, laser print quality is generally still slightly better. Above all, laser print-outs are more resistant to being smudged by hands that aren't 100% dry.

 
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Photo printing: it's not surprising that inkjet printers are way ahead of laser printers for printing photos. The Lexmark prints superb images, which wouldn't look out of place in your family album. The Brother is suitable for printing pictures or illustrations in a professional document but nothing more than that.


 

POWER CONSUMPTION: MORE POINTS FOR LEXMARK

Not so good on standby: we like to see printers consume under 1 W on standby. Neither of these models manages that, but the Lexmark's 4 W is still better than the Brother's 11 W. The Lexmark wins hands down!

Power consumption on standby (W)
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Inkjet consumes less power: in spite of the fact that it consumes 525 W in operation, the Brother doesn't actually consume all that much for a laser printer! Next to the Lexmark's 16 W though, it doesn't look too great.

Power consumption in operation (W)


Noise: 11 dB is a huge difference. Adding 3 dB is like having a second identical product working in the room. In other words, at 11 dB louder, the Brother makes as much noise as four Lexmark printers all working at the same time.

Noise output in operation (dB)

 

SCANNER & COPIER: BROTHER FOR PHOTOCOPIES, LEXMARK FOR SCANNING

Fast but not so accurate: the scanner in the Brother all-in-one only takes 10 seconds to scan a 10x15 cm photo in 300 dpi resolution, compared with 15 seconds for the Lexmark. Unfortunately the final image lacks sharpness, and the colours look a little dull.

Logically, this lack of sharpness is present in photocopies too. However, if you have lots of copies to do, the Brother will get the job done more quickly than the Lexmark.

Time required to make one colour photocopy (sec.)
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Slower but more practical: first of all, the Lexmark's scanner produces better-quality results than that of the Brother. Second, the programmable functions are a great feature.

The red button scans and saves the file to Vincent's PC, the green saves it to Marine's PC and the blue saves it to Morgane's.

Once you've defined your custom functions, you can press the corresponding icon to automatically send scanned documents to the computer of your choice, in the file type of your choice via the Wi-Fi connection. Files such as PDF and JPG are composed via the OCR function, which effectively reproduces text, layout and formatting. That's really practical! You can even scan a document and e-mail it to someone directly.

 

COST PER PAGE: LEXMARK WINS

More expensive in black & white and colour: laser printers tend not to do so well in this field. In fact, nearly all the multifunction colour laser printers we've tested on DigitalVersus work out more expensive per page than the Lexmark Pro 905! Only the Oki C830n can beat it for colour printing. For black and white printing, the Brother will cost you 2.8 pence per page and the Lexmark 0.65 pence.

Cost per page: black and white (pence)


Longer lifespan: business users won't want to mess around changing printer cartridges every few days. As the Brother's toner cartridges have a lifespan of 1,400 to 2,200 pages, they'll last a fair bit longer than Lexmark's 500-600 page cartridges. Changing the Lexmark's cartridges could quickly get frustrating if you print large volumes of documents!

Half empty or half full? Although the Brother's toners have an advertised capacity of 1,400 pages for colour toners and 2,200 pages for the black toner, those supplied with the printer only last 1,000 pages.

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Cheaper in colour too! For a test document with 5% coverage, the Lexmark works out cheaper for printing colour pages too. 

The Lexmark works out at 10.6 pence per page and the Brother comes to 14.1 pence.

Cost per page: colour (pence) 5% coverage

Cheaper but not as long-lasting: to work out the cost of a printing a page covered to 5%, we tested each cartridge individually and printed until the cartridge ran out. This gave a lifespan of 627 pages for the black cartridge, 427 pages for cyan and yellow cartridges, and 462 pages for the magenta cartridge. That's pretty good too (it means changing cartridge for each ream of paper printed). However, these lifespans are three times lower than those of the laser model.

VERDICT: BROTHER FOR EFFICIENCY, LEXMARK FOR COST PER PAGE AND FUNCTIONALITY

Toners last over 1,400 pages continuous printing is faster. Even more than the print quality, it's the toners' capacity that's attractive in the Brother laser printer, as the they last much longer than the Lexmark's inks. Plus, faster print speeds will be appealing to users who print high volumes of material on a regular basis. It'll also cut down on document backlogs in busy offices.

Dry pages. A major advantage of laser printers is that you can pick the pages up and handle them as soon as they come out of the printer with no risk of smudging. With an inkjet printer you'll have to wait for them to dry.

Two major drawbacks are the lack of touch-screen, which is incredibly practical, and the lack of automatic duplex printing.

Total cost for 10,000 pages. Once you've bought the printer, we calculated the cost of all the consumables you'll need to print 10,000 pages (figures include cartridges supplied with the printer). For 10,000 pages, the Brother costs £1,268 and the Lexmark £1,037.


The figures speak for themselves.

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More than print quality. The practical and well-designed Lexmark is aimed at users looking for a versatile multifunction printer. It's also intended for users who aren't looking to print huge volumes of pages (the cost of the cartridges is still slightly above average). We like its low noise output, low power consumption, responsiveness, etc.

Touch-screen and simple operation. The touch-screen and programmable functions are nice surprises in this model. They make the printer more pleasant to handle and much easier to use. We reckon most manufacturers will follow suit eventually.

Update the driver and firmware. Once you've installed the printer, use Lexmark's utility to check whether updates are available. The printer we tested became much more stable once we updated its firmware, and communication issues were instantly corrected!

Higher maintenance. As the Lexmark's cartridges have a lower capacity than those of the laser printer, you'll have to keep a close eye on ink levels and replace the cartridges more often.
For many businesses, the idea of switching from a tried-and-tested laser printer to an inkjet model may seem like a surprising choice, but that's exactly what we've done here at DigitalVersus. After all, the best way to advise others is to speak from experience. We installed the Lexmark Pro 905 as our networked office printer a few weeks ago and since then we've had no real problems with it, apart from smudging the ink by picking up the pages too quickly. Because of that, we have ended up reprinting some pages. That's the one bad thing with inkjet printing really, as otherwise it's quieter, more responsive, cheaper per page and less power-hungry than our previous laser model.

We'll understand if you're not ready to give up your laser printer just yet. This Brother model is well worth the investment too as it's an excellent printer, even if we would have liked to see a slightly lower cost per page for black and white printing. If you're looking for seriously cheap laser printing, why not check out the (more expensive) Oki C830n colour laser printer.

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