One Device Army

Published Date
01 - Jun - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Jun - 2006
One Device Army
One device, many functions, is the core philosophy driving innovation today. Consumers want more from a single device-and manufacturers are only too happy to oblige-at times even creating the need. Printers that can scan are preferred over vanilla printers. It makes more sense to have a copier on the device even if it cannot compete in quality or economy with standalone photocopiers. You now need not get your photos scanned at your "DTP Centre"-the scan quality of most of these MFDs is good enough to convert your old photographs into digital data.

The 18 inkjet Multi-Functional Devices (MFDs) we received from Brother, Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark ranged from the bare-bones basics to those with photo-quality printers. Needless to say, the price disparity was huge, and it would not make sense to compare a Rs 4,000 MFD to one that costs Rs 12,000. For this test, therefore, we made a broad classification based on their photo-printing capability. All non-photo class MFDs were looked at as home solutions, while photo-quality MFDs were segregated, based on price, into Office and Professional categories.

Fourteen of the 18 MFDs fell under the photo-printing bracket, and those that cost below Rs 10,000 are primarily targeted at office users. The ones on the other side of the five-figure mark are for imaging enthusiasts and for heavy office printing, with bulk printing and networking capabilities.

For Home Use (Non-photo mfds)
Mostly used for black and white printouts, an occasional colour print that is not all-important, and the copy function used when in a tearing hurry-that sums up the functionality of this category. The Lexmark X3350, Epson CX3700, Brother MFC-3240C, and the HP Officejet 4355  All-in-One make up this bracket. Colour printing is certainly not the strong point here, save for the 4355. Even black ink printing is not up to the mark on the Lexmark and the Epson. This is especially telling with small point size text. The HP 4355 and the Brother 3240C offer the best quality amongst the four here.

Even though these devices are classified as non-photo printing MFDs, we still carried out a photo print test just to see whether they managed vivid colour prints. We were in for a pleasant surprise, with the 4355 and the 3240C giving us a rather good printout. In fact, the photo quality of the 3240C is better than its brother, the Brother MFC-115C, which is marked as a photo printer! The HP Officejet 4355 can give some photo printing MFDs a run for their money. The CX3700 managed to give an acceptable print, but the same can't be said about the X3350-it churned out a speckled image that had a "burnt" kind of effect.

Print quality, time taken to print, and ink consumption are the variables in the printing equation. Different printers/MFDs find different points of balance under different modes-Draft or Fast, Normal, and Best or Fine. The HP 4355 took a reasonable 15 seconds for the first print in Draft mode and 23 in Normal. The 3240C took the longest to print on the average, with a draft text coming at 23 seconds; a full A4 photo test print took over 16 minutes.

The colour copy quality was satisfactory with the Epson CX3700 and HP Officejet 4355, which took a leisurely 97 and 72 seconds respectively to copy an A4 document composed of text and graphics. The Lexmark X3350 and Brother MFC-3240C were quicker, taking just about half the time as the Epson, but the pace is of no avail as the quality leaves a lot to be desired.  The black and white print copy was acceptable on all the MFDs, with the 3240C spitting out something that was a little smudged.

Build Quality And Ease Of Use
The CX3700 was missing a display, which is surprising, given its price of
Rs 5,999-Rs 1,000 more than that of the Lexmark X3350. The X3350 and 3240C have a basic single-colour display, making life that much simpler for the user, especially during troubleshooting.

HP Officejet 4355 All-in-One

The lack of a display on the CX3700 is compensated for with a dedicated button for head cleaning, which doubles up to get the print head into an accessible position to replace the cartridges. Error indication is by way of two warning lights, one for a "General Error"-that is just as descriptive as the Epson gets-and the other for low/no ink. The paper feed and output trays fold in neatly, leaving no protruding parts while not being used.

Brother MFC-3240C

The X3350 is the most inexpensive MFD in this category at Rs 4,999. Unfortunately, this shows in the fit and finish. There is no place for the paper feed tray to slot into while not in use, and as a result, it sits awkwardly on the cover. The buttons are noisy, too.

The HP 4355 has plastic trays jutting out everywhere. It is difficult to close the output tray once you have the face-plate installed. The Brother MFC-3240C and the Epson CX3700 had good build qualities.

The HP 4355 doubles up as a phone as well-and why not, considering it already uses the phone line to fax. Now this is an MFD that is truly multifunctional. Space has definitely been the priority in the design of the 4355-it is compact and has a flip that covers the buttons while leaving the display exposed. However, with all flaps and trays open, it demands more space for itself. The build quality is reassuring, and our only crib is that its pure white body is an open invitation to stains.

A quirk with the Brother 3240C is that the USB cable plugs in inside the printer: you need to open the cover that exposes the cartridges and then plug the cable in, guiding it along a narrow recess. There simply is not enough room to comfortably accommodate the ferrite core that comes at the end of most cables. This holds good for all the Brother MFDs across all the categories.

Our Conclusion
Good print quality is essential, and HP's Officejet 4355 All-in-One and Brother's MFC-3240C scored well on that front. Between these two, the 4355 with its rich feature set and compact form rightfully takes the Digit Best Buy Gold award. Losing this position by a whisker is the Brother MFC-3240C, which wins the Digit Best Buy Silver award.
How We Tested 
The Test Bed
Our test bed for the Inkjet MFD tests comprised an Intel Pentium 4 3.6 GHz processor, an Intel 925XCV motherboard with 1 GB of Micron 533 MHz DDR2 RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 7600 graphics card, and a 120 GB 7200 rpm ATA IV Seagate Barracuda hard disk. We used Windows XP with SP1 as the OS. The system was loaded with all the latest chipset and graphics drivers as well as the latest version of DirectX.

We used the following media:
Text/combi-document printouts: 100 g/sm paper from Berga (A4 size)
Photo printouts: 270 g/sm glossy photo paper from Novajet (A4 size)
We divided the MFDs into three categories. The non-photo printers comprised the Home category. The Photo MFDs were categorised based on price. Those below Rs 10,000 came under the Office category, and the rest under the Professional category. MFDs that did not fit in any category, or were priced too high, are given special mentions.

Various features such as PictBridge, memory card readers, input/output tray capacity, and maximum print and scan resolution were noted. For the scanner part, the maximum scan resolution, bit depth, scanner type, ADF presence, etc. were noted and rated. For the copier aspect, the ability to work as a standalone device, the maximum number of pages that can be printed in multi-copy mode, reduction or enlarging a copy, and so on, were noted. Obviously, most of these features were standard on the higher-end MFDs.

The Printer Tests
We used 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 created a combi-document with black text interspersed with graphs and images. The quality settings used were Draft and Normal for text, Normal and Best for combi-document (refer to the combi documnet snapshot in the printer test), and Best for photo. We clocked the time taken in each case, and analysed the print quality. The final test for the printers was the photo test, where we used 270 g/sm Novajet Glossy Photo Paper to print an A4 image. We used the highest available quality settings here.

The Scanner Tests
We tested the scanners for speed using an average of five previews of an A4 size image. This was done with the scanner fresh out of the box, in order to incorporate the warm-up time. We imported the same A4 size image at 150 dpi and 600 dpi in Adobe Photoshop, and scanned a full text document in B&W mode at 200 dpi. The scanner then underwent 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 tested using the resolution chart. This is a chart with five boxes consisting of parallel lines very close to each other, each with the lines packed more densely than in the preceding box. We scanned the resolution chart at 300 dpi. This test checked whether the scanner could scan and differentiate between the parallel lines in the chart, and gave us a measure of the scanner's capability to capture minute details.

Finally, we did an OCR test to check the scanner's ability to differentiate light and dark areas: a print article was scanned into the trial version of ABBYY Fine Reader Pro 8.0 PE, and scanned for wrongly-interpreted letters. We then counted the number of misinterpreted characters.

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

The Awards
The scores from Features, Performance, and Price were given category-relevant importance. An overall score out of 100  was calculated. The product that scores the highest here was adjudged the winner of the Digit Best Buy Gold award for the category. The second-highest scorer gets the Digit Best Buy Silver award for the category.

For Office Use: Photo mfds up to Rs 10,000

Here you will find MFDs that boast of photo-printing capability and do not cost a bomb either. These are suitable for both the home and SoHo segments. Printing the occasional photo along with the usual black-and-whites at home, and volume printing for the SoHo user-these units are suited to both scenarios.

The Brother DCP-115C, at a very affordable Rs 4,490, marks the entry point to this category. Its print quality looks acceptable from a distance, but once you bring it under even a low-powered magnifying glass, faint lines show up in the black text. At the Fast setting, these lines are easily apparent to the eye. You have to choose the Fine quality setting in order to get rid of them.

HP Officejet 5610 All-in-One

The DCP-115C takes 17 seconds for the first print-not great news in an office setting. In Normal mode, the time taken was 26 seconds, the highest in the category. A full A4 photo printout generated some bands in the print, which doesn't speak too well for uniformity. At a distance, though, the print can pass off as satisfactory.

The copier function is just about passable, with black as well as colours appearing washed out. The DCP-115C is cheap, but these are the compromises you need to make if you are on a tight budget.

The Canon PIXMA MP150 is next at Rs 6,495. The black print quality is almost as good as that of the much higher-priced HP Officejet 5610 All-in-One. Even under the magnifying glass, we could not find any gaps in the print, which is a good thing-but it does show an occasional smudge. However, this is no cause for worry: the print looks good even under close inspection with the naked eye. Just 10 seconds for the first print is going to keep a lot of office people happy. For colour printing, however, the Normal mode robs images of their vivid colours. You can make out speckles that can even be counted individually at some points! This is obviously an effort to save on ink. If you need a better print, you'll have to set the quality to Best-the images suddenly get their life back, which will leave you pleasantly surprised.

Brother DCP-115 C

The Brother MFC-215C and the Lexmark P6250 are dearer than the Canon MP150 by about Rs 1,000 (at Rs 7,990 and Rs 7,999 respectively). Black printing is better with the P6250, but it is still not in the league of the HP 5610 or even the lower-priced Canon MP150. The Lexmark is one of the fastest printers with just 11 seconds taken at the Normal setting. The 215C, like its little brother the 115C, took a lazy 26 seconds. But when it came to colour printing, the Lexmark produced very visible bands, which did not go away even at the Best quality setting. The Brother 215C produced better colours, but with some specks visible in the Normal mode-an ink-saving compromise again. The Best mode got the prints to look much better, though the specks could not be entirely eliminated. Black and white copy quality is acceptable when seen from a distance, and just about passable when viewed closely. Colour copying was bad on both the P6250 and the 215C.

Next up was the Epson CX4700 at Rs 8,999. It took 22 seconds in Text mode, there were no visible smudges or gaps in print, but the print looked dull, as if not enough ink had been deposited on the paper. Copying took 38 seconds for black and white and 53 seconds for colour. The photo printout could have been brighter and more vivid.
Canon PIXMA MP530 
This is a heavy-duty MFD targeted at those who want it all. The print, scan, fax are copy functions are all supported.

The MP530 is capable of printing photos and has special features for this purpose: the PictBridge feature lets you connect a compliant digital camera or camcorder directly to the MFD. You can preview a photo in the 6.3 cm colour LCD screen before printing it. There are five separate ink cartridges to print photos in colours as close to those of the original image as possible. In addition to being capable of printing on a variety of media, there is also an attachment that allows you to print to CDs and DVDs.

A 33.6 kbps modem allows you to send faxes at 200 x 200 dpi. It can receive and store up to 150 pages of fax while you are away. Up to 40 numbers can be stored and recalled as required. The Activity Report feature logs all faxes sent and received from the MFD-a feature useful for system administrators.

The scanner is a 48-bit flatbed and does its job at 1200 x 2400 dpi, which is good enough for scanning fine details. The ADF can hold 30 pages. The copier can be set to make up to 99 copies of a document, either in colour or black.

Build quality is very good. The MP530 weighs 12.8 kg-a bit on the higher side for an inkjet MFD. Printing was quite fast-it printed the first page in just seven seconds, and it printed the test photo in an average time of 180 seconds. The scanner performance, however, wasn't spectacular, with average scan times, but the quality of the prints was quite good.

The Canon PIXMA MP530 is priced at Rs 20,995.
Fast Printing Speed
– Slow Scanner Speed
Price: Rs. 20,995

The most expensive MFD in this category, the HP Officejet 5610 All-in-One, is just a rupee short of the 10,000 mark. Through priced similarly, there is some difference in the print quality of the CX4700 and the 5610, with the 5610 being the better of the two. In fact, it can boast of some of the best print qualities in this segment. In the copy test, however, the 5610 was disappointing, given its good print quality and also its positioning in this price segment.

Brother MFC-5840CN

Build Quality And Ease Of Use
The Canon MP150 and the Epson CX4700 do not have a zoom function except for the "Fit to Page" feature. This is disappointing: all the other MFDs provide for a 25 to 400 per cent reduction or enlargement. The number of copies that can be taken in a single go is only nine, while the others offer 99. (The HP 5610 offers 100.) Only the HP 5610 offers sheet feed for scanning, while all the others make do with a flatbed. The Epson CX4700 has only a minimal display, which shows the number of copies set.

A fax function with a dialpad is provided by the HP 5610 and the Brother 215C. This is complemented by a dedicated fax button apart from the copy and scan buttons. The other MFDs have buttons for scanning and copying (separately for black and colour).

The HP 5610 had flimsy paper trays that just about hold on to the unit: a gentle push and off comes the tray. The CX4700's scanner cover can be simply lifted off its body-we wonder why it could not be fastened somewhere. As far as the overall build quality goes, the Epson CX4700 is compact and also more rugged.

Our Conclusion
If we were to consider performance alone, the Canon MP150 would have been the clear winner due to its superb print quality and speed. But life isn't that simple for MFDs-there is the price factor and feature set to consider.  The HP 5610 looks good on the spec sheets and performs just as well. With good printing quality, the Digit Best Buy Gold goes to the HP 5610. At Rs 4,490, the Brother 115C is second on the charts offering value for money, thus earning the Digit Best Buy Silver award.

Coming close to second place are the Lexmark P6250 and the Brother MFC-215C. Both are priced the same, and the P6250 scores in performance while the 215C makes up in the features. If there were to be a Bronze award, these two would tie for it. 

Download Home MFD's PDF
HP Officejet 6318 All-in-One 
The HP Officejet 6318 All-in-One is targeted at small offices that need good performance at a price that is not too high.

The printer unit is a thermal inkjet with a print resolution of 1200 x 1200 dpi. It has a specified duty cycle of 3,000 pages per month, which is quite adequate for a small office. The input tray can hold up to 100 sheets of plain paper, whereas the ADF can hold up to 35. You can directly print a photo via the PictBridge interface with a compliant camera. A variety of memory cards are supported such as CompactFlash, Memory Stick (MS), MS Pro, MS Duo, Secure Digital, MMC and xD-Picture Card. The maximum card size that you can use here is 1 GB.

The scanner unit consists of a sheet-fed as well as a flatbed scanner, with an optical scan resolution of 2400 x 4800 dpi-which is great for any purpose including OCR and photo scanning.

48-bit scanning ensures that all the colours of scanned photos are captured perfectly.

The printer and scanner combine to form the copier unit. You can make up to 100 copies of an original document and can also digitally zoom from 25 to 400 per cent. If the original document is smaller than the A4 size, which is the size of the scanner glass, there's an option to copy the document in such a way that it occupies maximum space in the A4 size copy.

You can send and receive faxes at speeds up to 33.6 kbps (this figure can be lower depending on your telephone/fax line). A 120-page fax memory ensures that you receive faxes even when you are away from the unit. It can also be used as an automatic fax/answering machine, and 110 speed dial numbers can be stored in memory so that you can easily dial the required number at the touch of a button.
There is also a facility to block junk faxes (faxes from spammers). In order to be able to use this facility, you need to subscribe to the caller ID service.

As far as performance goes, this MFD was quite the average. It printed the text document in 15 seconds, and the photo was printed in 168 seconds. Only an excellent print quality saved the day for this MFD.

The build quality was quite rugged. The MFD is network-capable, which is an added bonus for small offices. The only gripe is that the trays seemed flimsy. Another issue was that there were only two cartridges in this printer: considering that it costs Rs 12,999, we expected more cartridges, which would have made it more suited to printing photos.

Excellent Print Quality
– Average Print Speed
Price: Rs. 12,999

For Professional Use:

Photo mfds above Rs 10,000
The target market for this segment is businesses looking for bulk printing and network printing. These MFDs are heavy-duty machines with extensive features. Naturally, price is of the least importance in this category, and it goes without saying that the most expensive inkjet MFDs land up in this category.

Opening this segment is the Brother MFC-410CN and the Canon PIXMA MP450 at Rs 10,490 and Rs 10,995 respectively. The 410CN, like other Brother MFDs, shows gaps in monochrome print, which appear as lines under the Normal setting. The colour print loses out on detailing, which can only be regained at the Best quality setting. The MP450 takes a blistering eight seconds for a Draft print and nine for a Normal, with the numbers for the 410CN being 20 and 29 seconds.

Copying is certainly not a feature the Brother 410CN can brag about-at least in black and white mode; the quality is so bad, it looks like someone took a bad photograph of your document and then took a bad printout of the photo! In colour mode, the text quality is a lot better, but the graphics seem to contain less of every colour-essentially the "washed out" effect. The MP450's copy appears almost as good as the original, leaving no room for complaint. It took 25 seconds for a black copy and 75 seconds for colour.

Next in line were the MFC-620CN and 5840CN from Brother at Rs 13,900 and Rs 14,590 respectively. These were the only two in this category with a sheet-feed mechanism for scanning-apart from the standard flatbed. Being up in this price range, one would have expected better quality from them, but they didn't seem any better than the 410CN with black printouts. The 5840CN is a pleasant change, with colour prints that are good for the most part. It also boasts of the highest paper capacity: 350 sheets. Ink saving takes its toll, bringing up visible specks in Normal mode. The copy mode, while not bad, could have been better on MFDs in this segment, especially with the Brother 5840CN, which boasts of a higher scanning resolution and bit depth than its… brothers.

At the top of the line sits the Canon MP500, which has, by far, the best print quality on offer here. It uses five colours rather than the standard four. In Normal text print, there were no smudges or gaps to be picked up even by a lens. Under Normal colour printing, speckles are visible. This can be gotten rid of by using the Best quality setting. Colour copying takes 123 seconds, and what you get is the best copy quality in this segment. Our only gripe is that there's no network port, something missing on the MP450 as well.

Download Professional MFD's PDF
Canon PIXMA MP830 
The Canon PIXMA MP830 supports print, scan, fax and copy functions. Like the MP530, this one is capable of printing photos. Its five-cartridge printing aims at enabling printing photos and images with life-like colours at a resolution of 9600 x 2100 dpi. In addition to PictBridge, the MP830 has an inbuilt card reader that supports a variety of formats: CompactFlash, Micro Drive, SD, MMC, MS, MS Pro, MS Duo, MS Pro Duo and XD. A photo can be previewed on the 6.3 cm colour LCD screen that swivels to suit your viewing angle. The CD/DVD printing feature lets you label the CDs and DVDs that you burn.

The 33.6 Kbps modem can receive and store up to 250 pages of fax while you are not near the unit. The fax operates without the necessity to connect to a PC. You can store up to 100 fax numbers in the memory and eight one-touch-dial numbers. The automatic document feeder (ADF) can automatically scan both sides of the page without the need for intervention. Broadcast, delayed, and scheduled faxes are the other features available.

The scanner unit of the MFD is a 48-bit CCD, and can scan at 2400 x 4800 dpi. The ADF can hold 35 sheets of paper. The copier unit can scan up to 99 copies of a document, and can also print the copy with a zoom of 25 to 400 per cent.

As expected, the MP830 printed at blistering speeds. The first black and white text document printed in five seconds flat! Similarly, the photo printed in just a little over two minutes. Scanning was also very fast, and the full colour photo was scanned in a mere 29 seconds. The overall scan quality was good, and the print quality was amazing even in Draft mode. Sadly, the Canon PIXMA MP830 is priced very high: Rs 26,999.

Excellent Speed and Quality, Duplex ADF
–  None
Price: Rs. 26,999

Build Quality And Usability

The three Brother MFDs all have a fax dialpad and networking capability, which makes them better suited for an office environment. The positive feeling doesn't persist when we looked at their build quality: the plastic flaps were not as good as what one would expect of MFDs in such a high price range. The scanner cover does little to inspire confidence in the longevity of the device; ditto for the paper feed tray. Only the 5840CN exudes a rugged feel. The Canon MP450 and MP500 seem better built than the Brothers, but we would have liked them better if they had not been shaky. All the devices here have dedicated scan and copy buttons, making for ease of use. The Brother MFDs offer a fax button to ably support their fax keypads. Display, however, is a simple monochrome on the Brothers, while the Canons offer colour LCDs.

Our Conclusion
The Brothers have all the glory in the segment, with the MFC-5480CN taking the Digit Best Buy Gold despite being the second-costliest device here. Its good feature set and performance make up for the price. The MFC-410CN takes second place-the Digit Best Buy Silver crown, with a lower price tag, a good feature set, and value for money.


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