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One Thing Too Many

By Team Digit | Published on 01 Jul 2007
One Thing Too Many

Want to print,scan,fax,copy all at once? Enter the Jacks of all Trades; join us as we search for the Master

Last year, we had estim  We had assumed last year that inkjet MFDs would soon dwindle out in the face of the falling prices of laser devices; turns out that this was not to be. In fact, the market still teems with inkjet devices as it did year ago. Inkjet printers still rule the photo printing roost - laser printers can only dream of coming even close.

We've divided our contenders into Home, Office and Professional, based on their price and the features they offer.

Home MFDs

MFDs are not really meant for home use - at least that's what you're told - but with prices rivalling those of inkjet printers, we see MFDs making their way into homes as well.

The MFDs in this category cost below Rs 6,000, and lack features such as Fax, since this is not of much importance to home users. We selected five MFDs: one each from Brother (DCP-130C), Canon (PIXMA MP160) and Lexmark (X1270), and two from HP (Deskjet F380 and Photosmart C3188) to test in this category.

An MFD's primary and most important function is printing. The Brother MFDs use piezoelectric technology to fire ink drops onto the paper surface as against the thermal technology employed by Canon, HP and Lexmark.

The Brother and Canon MFDs come with four separate ink cartridges - one each for black, cyan, magenta and yellow - this is economical if you end up emptying the tank of one single colour. With a two-cartridge (one black and one for all three colours) system, you have to replace the colour cartridge even if the other colours haven't been spent.

Barring the Canon PIXMA MP160 - which has a paltry input tray paper capacity of just 20 sheets - all the other MFDs accommodate 100. Though this is not a very important thing at home, a higher capacity certainly doesn't hurt.

Scan, Copy, Fax
All the MFDs feature 48-bit flatbed scanners capable of scanning A4 size documents. A scanning resolution of 600 x 1200 is the most common, but the HP MFDs have better resolutions of 600 x 2400 and 1200 x 2400 - the HP Deskjet F380 and the HP Photosmart C3188 respectively.

You can scan directly to a destination on your PC (like an e-mail or image management application) from the Brother DCP-130C and Lexmark X1270, something which the rest of the MFDs in this category couldn't do. These MFDs also came with image editing and OCR software.

Canon PIXMA MP160.

Performance plus good value

Copying is a breeze with all the MFDs supporting colour as well as black-and-white copying. Except the Lexmark, all the MFDs support multi-copying. The Brother DCP-130C supports 99 copies in this mode, which is the highest among MFDs across all categories. The Lexmark and HP F380 do not have indicators to indicate the number of copies.
Fax and Automatic Document Feeding (ADF) were absent in all, but they are not missed much.

Build Quality And Other Features
The Canon MP160 has a flimsy scanner lid, which seems to be easily susceptible to damage. The Lexmark didn't seem too sturdy either, but at least the scanner lid is a tad better than the Canon's. Brother and HP have commendable build quality. It is relieving that none of the MFDs have trays sticking out, so there's no possibility of breaking one.

The Brother DCP-130C has the smallest footprint and is very compact but is still the heaviest, so shifting it around the house will be a bit annoying.

While the HP F380 and the Lexmark do not feature any LCD interface, Canon MP160 has a 7-segment display - something is better than nothing at all. Brother has a one line LCD display which provides you all the necessary information, while HP Photosmart C3118 has an icon-based display which is also very easy to understand.

The Brother DCP-130C comes loaded with media features such as support for a variety of memory cards and PictBridge. The HP Photosmart C3188 being a proper photo MFD, has buttons to Reprint photos as well as proof sheets. Interestingly, it features memory card slots but not PictBridge!

The Canon PIXMA MP160 prints really fast - the normal quality text document printed in 9.3 seconds flat. It was also the fastest in printing the combi-document at normal quality. Even while printing at the highest speeds, it prints exceptionally well. The edges of the text are crisp and the ink does not blot the paper even in high quality. When printing at the best quality, the HP F380 and Lexmark are the slowest. The Lexmark is the slowest with photo printouts as well. The Canon MP160 and HP C3188 have excellent photo print quality, and the Brother produced a print that looked faded - its "photo MFD" title does not reflect in its quality.

Scanning And Copying
While 200dpi black-and-white scan times were around the same for the devices, the difference became more evident at higher resolutions and in full colour. Lexmark slowed down the most in this case, while Canon was the least affected.

HP Photosmart C3188 All-in-One

A value photo MFD with good features

The scans produced by both HP MFDs, seemed to have problems distinguishing between adjacent shades in the light and the dark colours. The rest could produce scans of acceptable quality.

The copy quality of Canon MFD was the best, followed by the HPs. All in all, none of the MFDs was particularly disappointing and copies are good enough to save you a trip to the photocopy centre in a crunch.

How We Tested
The Test Rig
Our test machine is fairly entry-level - a Intel Pentium 4 560 3.2 GHz processor on a Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6 motherboard with 1 GB of 533 MHz DDR2 RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 7600GT graphics card, and a 120 GB 7200 rpm ATA IV Seagate Barracuda hard disk. We used Windows XP with SP2 as the OS.

Media used
Text/combi-document printouts: 100 gsm (grams per square metre) paper from Berga (A4 size) Photo printouts: 160 gsm glossy photo paper from Novajet (A4 size)

We look for features such as PictBridge, memory card readers, fax, input tray capacity, number of cartridges and so on for the device in general. For the scanner part, we've considered the maximum scan resolution, bit depth, scanner type and the presence of automatic document feeders (ADF). For the copier aspect, we want the ability to work as a standalone device, the maximum number of pages that can be printed in multi-copy mode, reducing or enlarging a copy, and so on, were noted.

 The Printer Tests
We use a text document to test the raw print speeds of the printer part of the MFDs. To test the ability of the MFDs to handle the various aspects of a regular document, we create a combi-document, with a mixture of black text, graphs and images. We test print quality at Normal and Best for the combi-document, and just Best for photo prints. We also clocked the time taken in each case.
The Scanner Tests
To test the scanners for speed, we scan an A4-size image five times and average the time taken for each scan - the scanners start out cold, so we need to compensate for the warm-up time.

We import the same image at 150 dpi and 600 dpi in Adobe Photoshop CS2, and scan a full text document in black-and-white at 200 dpi. The scanner then undergoes a test to determine its colour differentiating abilities using a Kodak IT8 card with different shades of colour - each a little different from the preceding one. Next, we use the resolution chart - a chart with five boxes with parallel lines packed very close, and each subsequent box with lines packed more densely. We scan the resolution chart at 300 dpi. This test gives us a measure of the scanner's capability to capture minute details - whether it's able to discern between the lines or not. Finally, an OCR test to checks the scanner's ability to differentiate light and dark areas: a print article is scanned into ABBYY Fine Reader Pro 8.0 PE, and checked for wrongly-interpreted letters. We then count the number of misinterpreted characters.

The Copier Tests
We copy the text document in black and white, and the combi-document in colour, and rate the MFDs on their speed and print quality. 

Office MFDs

MFDs have always been used more for offices, where it is always better to have a single device and save on space. So it is no wonder that half of the total number of MFDs that we tested, came under the Office MFD category.

In the price range of 6000 to 10000, we tested nine MFDs in this segment - two from Brother (the DCP-330C and MFC-240C), Canon PIXMA MP460, four from HP (the Officejet 4355 All-in-One, Officejet 5610 All-in-One, Officejet 5680 All-in-One, and Photosmart C4188 All-in-One) and Lexmark X4270.

The HP and Lexmark MFDs have two ink cartridges, while the Brother, Canon and Epson have four each. This is a very good feature for offices, where this MFD will have no downtime due to an empty cartridge.

The Input paper tray capacity for all the MFDs is 100 and this is more than enough in a moderately sized office with moderate workload.

Scan, Copy And Fax
For the price, the HP Officejet 4355 and Lexmark X4270 pack in a lot of features. The 4355 boasts a good scan resolution of 1200 x 1200 dpi. The Lexmark X4270 is a direct competitor, but has a lower scan resolution of 600 x 1200 dpi. The gripe in both cases is that these feature a sheet-fed scanning element and are therefore slower than their flatbed counterparts. There is also the chance of documents getting crumpled in the scanner. Fax , complete with handset, is also part of the parcel in the above two MFDs. The HP 4355 can create up to 200 copies, which is the largest number in the entire MFD line-up in this test.

HP Photosmart C4188 All-in-One

Performance matches features

The HP C4188 and 5610 feature high-resolution scanning at 1200 x 2400 dpi, enabling them to pick up even the fine print from documents. The Brother DCP-330C and HP C4188 have flatbed scanners while the HP 5610 has the option of sheet-fed scanner too. A sheet-fed scanner, in conjunction with the automatic document feeder (ADF), relieves you from the task of feeding a number of pages to be scanned - simply stash the paper in the ADF and the device will automatically pick the papers one by one and scan them in proper order without your intervention.

The Epson MFD doesn't have fax, and the Canon PIXMA MP460 has no fax or ADF - a sore point, since these are important features in an office scenario.

Build Quality And Other Features
The HP Officejet 4355 and Lexmark X4270 are extremely compact MFDs - they are built ruggedly overall but the trays that protrude out of these MFDs are a little flimsy and need to be taken care of. Unlike the 4355, whose trays can be folded when not in use, the tray of the Lexmark has to be dismantled and stored separately which is a bit of a pain. The Epson is also built fairly well, though its scanner lid is a little fragile. The Lexmark comes bundled with a 4-port USB hub

Download this Inkjet MFDs pdf file

The HP Officejet 5610, Photosmart C4188 and Brother DCP-330C are all built very well and are good enough to bear the rigours of the office, but the HP 5610 has protruding trays that, though not flimsy, get easily dislodged from the MFD with the slightest force. The HP 5610 is a no-frills, rugged office MFD with a mono LCD, while the C4188 is a photo MFD with special features such as memory card reader, reprint function and a special side input tray to store 4 x 6 photo papers. Both the HP C4188 and the Brother DCP-330C have a swivel colour LCD. The C4188 has a Photo Fix function that lets you apply effects to images on memory cards to improve the print quality.


Quick copies,crips prints

One feature that we liked about all the HP and Brother printers is the fact that their cartridges replacement compartments are conveniently placed on the front left corner and therefore you don't need to poke your hands inside the bay. This is a good design improvement and well won't be surprised to see an increasing number of printers and MFDs incorporating such design. Mono LCD screens were present in the Brother MFC-240C and HP 5680, while the Canon MP460 had a swivelling colour LCD that lets you view photos from a memory card or camera connected to the PictBridge port, and even and resize it. Just like the 5610, the 5680 is a no-frills MFD - just for office use - and therefore does not feature memory card reader or PictBridge.

The Epson CX3900 is one of the slowest at black-and-white, normal quality text prints, but it took the same time at the best quality, leaving the HP 4355 and Lexmark lagging behind. The Lexmark was the slowest of all MFDs at photo printing, taking an agonising 18 minutes. These three, the lowest priced in the lot, display black text print quality at par with each other, while in the colour print, the HP and Epson are better, while Lexmark produced prints that appeared sprinkled with ink droplets.

Amongst the Brother DCP-330C and the HP C4188 and 5610, the HP MFDs are the fastest at normal quality text printing, but the 5610 proves the slowest of the three once you enable colour and turn up the quality. Text prints are good with all the MFDs, but the HP C4188 is the best with the combi-document and photos. The Brother MFD does print well, but the colours appear faded - as with all MFDs from Brother.
The Canon PIXMA MP460 is clearly the fastest, and even manages excellent photo quality in that time. This is probably more suited for a small photo studio rather than an office. That said, it does not disappoint with text and the combi-document printing either.

Scanning And Copying
The Lexmark X4270 scans really fast - taking just 9 seconds for black-and-white, but is one of the slowest when it comes to colour scans. The HP 4355 and Epson were slower than Lexmark in the black-and-white scans.

The HP C4188 scans fast in black-and-white, but is a little bit slow in colour, but it captures the shades of colours of the IT8 card very well. The scanner on the Brother DCP-330C is also good, and the HP 5610 falters while distinguishing between adjacent shades in the dark and light colours.

The HP 5680, despite looking similar to the HP 5610, takes up to twice the time to scan a full colour photo at 600 dpi. The fastest among the 5680, Canon PIXMA MP460 and the Brother DCP-240C was the Brother, taking just 13.8 seconds for black-and-white scans. It also captures the most detail in the scanner test among the above three, followed closely by the MP460.

The Canon PIXMA MP460 copies at good speeds - though not at the fastest - and the quality of its copies is so good that it is very difficult to distinguish between the original and the copy at first look. The rest of the MFDs also copy with acceptable quality, and none of them attract any complaints. The Epson and Lexmark are the slowest at colour copies, so they aren't suitable for making copies of your colour presentations if you're in a hurry!

This is not about any particular category of MFD, but about all the MFDs in general and our experiences with them.

For the convenience of users, HP has a Dial-a-Cartridge system in many cities in India. If you run out of ink, you can dial a toll-free number and order a cartridge which arrives at your doorstep.

A general nuance about HP MFDs is the long time that it takes to install the software. On our test rig, it took us 15 minutes on average for all the HP MFDs in the test. Though this is a one-time affair, HP needs to pay some attention to this - it's plagued us for a few years now.

Brother MFDs are good for office - that's what they're meant for - but a peculiar thing we noticed about them is their seming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: they spend around two minutes cleaning the cartridge every time they are switched on for a photo print. Despite that, the colours are faded - we're left wondering what kind of cleaning was done. One more issue we faced with Brother was that none of their MFDs could pick up the 160 gsm photo paper, so we had to replace it with the lighter 110 gsm paper to get things moving.

All the MFDs came with software suites that include photo editing as well as OCR software, so you need not purchase additional software as these are more than sufficient for general needs.

Professional MFDs

The MFDs in this category sport special features such as the ability to print photographs at professional quality, networking, and so on. Prices start at around Rs 15,000 and can go up to Rs 25,000 and beyond. Naturally, these fall outside the realm of SoHos and small businesses.

The heavyweight MFDs in this category are the Brother MFC-440CN, Canon PIXMA MP600, Epson Stylus Photo RX650 and the HP Photosmart C6188 All-in-One.

Two of the MFDs - Brother and Epson - feature piezoelectric printing, while the HP and Canon MFDs are based on thermal inkjet printing technology.

HP Photosmart C6188 All-in-One

Master of all trades!

While the Brother and Canon had four ink cartridges each (Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow), the HP and Epson had six (Black, Cyan, Magenta, Light Magenta, Cyan, Light Cyan, Yellow). The extra cartridges are meant to increase the accuracy of the colour reproduction and our tests will verify if this is indeed the case.

Scan, Copy And Fax
The Brother MFC-440CN is expensive - this is probably thanks to the network feature and the huge 400-page fax memory that lets you receive faxes even when you run out of paper. It has a scan resolution of 600 x 1200 dpi, which is the lowest of the lot. The HP C6188 boasts a high scan resolution of 4800 x 4800 dpi, while Epson scans at 3200 x 6400 dpi. The fax MFDs - HP and Brother - featured ADFs and both flatbed and sheet-fed scanners, while the non-fax MFDs - Epson and Canon - had only flatbed scanners.

Needless to say, all support multi-copying - the Brother, Canon and Epson can do 99 copies each, while the HP stops at 50.

Build Quality And Other Features
All the MFDs are very ruggedly built. The only chink in the Brother MFC-440CN's armour its weak input tray. Brother MFDs have been the heaviest in the other categories, but in this category, it is the lightest (though by no means ~light~) at 8.4 kg. The HP is the heaviest at just under 13 kg. The weight is relevant only during the initial setup and isn't a problem later, since these MFDs are not meant to be moved around. Each MFD features a swivelling colour LCD screen that lets you preview images and even apply effects to them.

The control panel on the Canon MFD is hidden under the LCD screen, and also has a unique rotary control wheel (similar to the iPod), which we found very intuitive.

The HP Photosmart C6118 - which is a photo MFD - has a reprint function that lets you restore and make copies from an original photo. All but the Brother MFD also support creating photos from negatives. The HP also has a Photo Fix function, which can apply effects like red-eye reduction to scanned photos before printing.

PictBridge and memory cards were standard fare, though the Epson RX650 supports more memory card standards. The Canon and Epson feature IrDA, so you can print directly from an infrared device like your camera phone. Bluetooth would have been better, since this is de facto now, and faster and more popular than infrared. The HP and Brother featured Ethernet ports that let you use them on a network. HP goes one step further and supports Wi-Fi (802.11g) that allows Laptops and PDA phones to access it.

The Canon MP600 seemed to have an insatiable hunger for paper - sheets went in, and normal quality black-and-white prints came out in just 7.8 seconds!. The slowest was the Brother with others falling in between.

Print quality of the MFDs was exceptional, except the Epson, wasn't too special. Photo prints of the Epson are clear and sharp, but overall, prints have a yellow tinge that deviates from the original.


Amazine,life-like photo prints

The Canon and the HP were the best in terms of print quality across the tests, and should be every professional photographer's dream come true.

Scanning And Copying
All the MFDs in this category were good at scanning, but the HP Photosmart C6188 was exceptionally good. It produced the best scans we have seen in this test and takes just 9.1 second for a black-and-white scan. The Epson Stylus Photo RX650 is the slowest, taking over 22 seconds for the same. It also took over three minutes to complete a colour scan, quite obviously the slowest.

Contact Sheet-Inkjet MFDs
Brand  Company  Phone  E-mail 
Brother  Brother International (India) Pvt Ltd  40988900 
Canon  Canon India Pvt Ltd  1800-345-33-66 
Epson  Epson India Pvt Ltd  1800-425-00-11 
HP  Hewlett-Packard India Sales Pvt Ltd  0124-2566111 
Lexmark  Cyberstar Infocom  9343661888

As before, the Canon MP600 is the fastest and best copier - it reproduces even the finest of details with great accuracy.

Which One To Buy?
In the Home category, the Canon PIXMA MP160 - with the best print, copy and scan quality and fast, at that - is the ~Digit~ Best Buy Gold winner. With its print quality, memory card reader and Photo Reprint function, but no PictBridge, the HP Photosmart C3188 All-in-One takes the ~Digit~ Best Buy Silver in this category.

The populous Office category, was the most competitive. The HP Photosmart C4188 All-in-One has photo printing features like a photo paper cassette, a colour LCD and memory card reader, and also performs well - especially for photo printing. At Rs 7,999, this gets the ~Digit~ Best Buy Gold for the category. With its speed and excellent print quality, the Canon PIXMA MP160 takes the Silver, let down only by its Rs 9,995 price tag.

It's ironic that the winners don't have fax - if it's an essential feature for you, we recommend the Brother DCP-330C and MFC-240C. The Lexmark X4270 and HP 4355 are good if you're on a budget, and if your workload is moderate; the HP 5610 and 5680 will handle bigger workloads better.

Photo printing, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, memory card reader, fax, you name it, the HP Photosmart C6188 All-in-One has it all. Its performance matches its features, and at Rs 15,999, is a very attractive choice for anyone setting up a photo studio. Without a doubt, this is the ~Digit~ Best Buy Gold winner in the Professional category.

The Canon PIXMA MP600 is a stylish MFD that specialises in photo printing. It produces lifelike photo prints - better than those by any other MFD. This MFD manages to produce such results par excellence at the fastest speeds. With a very intuitive interface, this MFD grabs the ~Digit~ Best Buy Silver in the Professional category.  


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