REVIEWS / Multifunction Inkjet Printer Reviews (Wireless, All-in-One...)

Jean-Kléber Lauret
Multifunction printers are an all-in-one solution, combining inkjet printing with a built-in scanner, colour copier and sometimes even a fax. In fact, printers now come packed with all kinds of extra functions.

With cartridges, the business model is the same as mobile phone contracts: buy a cheap printer and you'll spend the rest of the year paying for expensive new ink cartridges. The basic formula is crude but holds in most cases: the cheaper the multifunction inkjet is when you first buy it, the more expensive the ink cartridges are likely to be across its lifespan. Choosing the cheapest printer you can find is unfortunately rarely a good bet.

Another bad idea is opting for the cheapest cartridges around. Nowadays, many manufacturers provide several versions of the same cartridge, and while the 'budget' version may be half the price of the 'XL' cartridge, the latter contains four times as much ink.

Finally, remember that separate cartridges don't always make for cheaper printing.

The simple A4 printer is dead—long live the multifunction!  For just a little more room on your desk, all-in-one printer-copier-scanners do much more than simply printing documents. 

Current trends: Wi-Fi, touchscreen interfaces and double-sided printing

Wi-Fi technology is now a stable and widespread feature in printers. Most of the initial compatibility issues have been ironed out. You can therefore print remotely and wirelessly with the greatest of ease. However, Wi-Fi is still only really found in mid-range or high-end models.

The next big trend is double-sided printing. It's not an option found only on professional printers, as home users too can save paper by printing double-sided. The downside, though, is that duplex printing is much slower and often louder, because the motor has to flip the page over.

Finally, touchscreen interfaces are beginning to sweep away the sea of buttons that control the advanced functions on high-end printers. They make them easier to use—you don't need to hunt out the right button, as the default option is highlighted right in the centre of the screen.

What's new?

The most recent printers produce better-quality documents, create less noise and work more quickly than their predecessors. In practice, speeds have doubled over the past two or three years. Running costs are also falling, and manufacturers often provide a choice of standard cartridges (cheaper to buy but more expensive overall) or XL cartridges (more economical; you sometimes print twice as many pages for a lower price).

So, if you have a printer that's beginning to show its age and with pricey cartridges, then—without wanting to encourage over-consumption—we do think it's a good idea to consider upgrading. Not only will you save money on cartridges (you can check the cost per page in our reviews), but you'll also often get a free set with the printer. That can already represent a big saving compared to buying a complete set of cartridges for an out-of-date printer.  And don't give your old printer away—it won't make a very good present—recycle it instead.

One last thing: in the past, we used to compare printers with a fixed print head with those that included a disposable print head in the same unit as the cartridge. Lexmark and HP used to favour the latter system, but they've now joined Canon, Epson and Brother in using the former approach. That has brought running costs down, but with two unwanted side effects:
1: these printers can run unnecessary cleaning cycles, which can waste 10-20% of the total ink in a cartridge; and
2: if you don't print anything for a long time—often a few months, but a couple of weeks can be enough—the ink can dry up and block the print head.  You can run a cleaning cycle to try and get rid of the dried up ink, but it isn't always possible.

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