Multifunction Printers

When desk space is at a premium, a multifunction printer (MFP) may be just the ticket. We looked at three color ink-jet MFPs that can scan, copy, fax, and print--the Brother MFC-7400C, the Canon MultiPass C555, and the Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet G85. Though you can still get better results--and a lower overall price--from separate dedicated devices, the output from these units was much improved over that of the MFPs released a year ago.

Setting Up Shop

If you've had any experience setting up a fax machine or an ink-jet printer, you'll have no trouble with any of these units. All three use plain paper for faxes and can accommodate glossy paper for printouts. Setup entails little more than installing the drivers, plugging the printers into your computer, and loading them with paper and ink. In fact, for copying and faxing, none of these models needs to be connected to your Mac--each has touch-button features for these purposes.

Both the MFC-7400C and MultiPass C555 look like large fax machines. You feed originals into the top, and faxes, copies, or printed pages drop into a tray on the bottom. A flatbed, the OfficeJet G85 is by far the largest of the three. If the MultiPass C555 and MFC-7400C could be mistaken for fax machines, the OfficeJet could be mistaken for a copier.

Each comes with cartridges that deliver roughly 800 to 900 pages (where the ink covers about 5 percent of the page), and the cost per print for each printer falls between 1 and 5 cents per page. When printing black only, the MultiPass is the least expensive, at about 1 cent per page. Printing color, the MFC-7400C is also quite inexpensive, at about 3 cents per page.

These printers connect via USB cables, but for the OfficeJet, Hewlett-Packard also sells a $250 JetDirect 300X Print Server, which provides Ethernet connectivity for printing and scanning over networks.

Here's Looking at You, Kid

All three models offer decent print output, but if you want exceptional, photographic output, you'll be better served by a higher-quality, dedicated printer. In our tests, when printing both Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and Word documents, the OfficeJet fared the best in terms of speed and image quality. Similarly, when we scanned a color photo and printed it (that is, when we made a color copy) the OfficeJet's gradients were by far the smoothest, its dots were the least visible, and colors were bright, accurate, and well saturated. The MFC-7400C provided serviceable color photo output. But with 720 by 360 dpi, the MultiPass has the lowest print resolution, which was apparent in its clearly visible dots, rough gradients, jagged text, and very poor rendering of details.

Do You Copy?

We were pleased to see that even though they're multifunctional, these units don't scrimp on features. As stand-alone color copiers, all three pack a range of sophisticated options. For example, the MFC-7400C, offers 25- to 400-percent resizing in 1-percent increments, and the OfficeJet has special copying modes such as mirror-image and margin-shifting. But in the end, the OfficeJet's superior print quality makes it the best copier.

All three printers are also well endowed in the faxing and scanning departments, offering color faxing, fax broadcasting, page buffering (for those times when you're out of ink but need to receive faxes), and automatic OCR. When combined with the JetDirect server, the Office-Jet can send scans to any machine on the network. The MultiPass C555 is able to automatically send scans and faxes to your e-mail or OCR software. Both the MultiPass and the OfficeJet have one-touch scan capability, but the MFC-7400C's one-touch scan feature works only on PCs. The MFC-7400C offers the fewest advanced fax features but still includes all the standard ones, such as fax detection.

The MFC-7400C comes with a telephone handset, which is a very useful addition. It also has a video- in port for printing images from your camcorder or from the video-out port of a digital camera. Unfortunately, you can't bring video into your Mac using this port. If you do a lot of printing from a digital camera, you'll appreciate that the MFC-7400C also comes with a flash-card drive.

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