PRINTERS COME and printers go, and not much has really changed over the years. So it takes something special for us to prick up our ears on The INQ and take notice when something new does come along.
This time it was Lexmark launching a wireless inkjet printer for the home and small office. A wireless inkjet that's also an all-on-one printer. A wireless inkjet that's also an all-in-one printer and that's under £100.
From the first out-of-the-box impressions the X4550 looks like a rather bulky, late '80s office printer - only about 80% of the size. A rather uninspiring design, but that did not put as off as printers are never all that aesthetically pleasing anyway. Let's see what Apple produces, as it is bound to be swanky judging by everything else it makes. Bring on the iPrinter, I hear you all cry.
The installation is all driven by its interactive CD, with guidance through the entire operation, from the cartridge installation to gaining access to the wi-fi network. Ideal for the novice and even experienced users. Let's face it, no two devices are ever entirely the same. Trust the manufacturer and not your own bravado, is what we say. Gone are the days of RTFM, now it's FTIG - Follow the Interactive Guide.
Lexmark is touting this as in all-in-one printer, but it's missing fax. It's not all that prevalent for today's home geezer or geezerette, but small businesses will also like the comms.
Essentially it's a four colour inkjet printer - Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black with optional six colour photo printing. This is coupled with a 48-bit scanner with a ceiling of 600x1200 DPI (dots per inch), and with an enhanced setting of 19200x19200 DPI.
It does boast a print resolution of to 1200x1200 DPI in black, to 4800x1200 DPI in colour - although it really means on photo paper.
It ships with a basic colour and black cartridge, which doesn't have a great deal of printability. This only hits the 215 page mark in black and just 185 pages in colour. As an optional extra Lexmark does sell high yield cartridges, capable of over twice the output for a cost marginally over the original.
In terms of connectivity, the printer can be seen on the wireless LAN by 802.11b and g, and can address WEP, WPA and WPA2. There's a USB port which is first used in the installation and configuring on the X4550 and so used for connection too.
Lexmark was adamant in the reviewers' guide that the printer also had a built-in Ethernet 10/100 port. This seems amiss in any units we've seen, any being sold and any advertised.
Built into this printer is a wide, and we really mean wide, range of accessibility to media cards. With a USB flash drive input and Pictbridge all available. Initially, we believed that all of the content from these cards would be available on the wireless LAN, almost turning the X4550 into a wi-fi media card reader too. But it only provides access to recognised photo images.
One touch scanning and copying is available, with the latter in both colour and black and white. The scanning can be done straight to the computer and in a veritable selection of applications. Also its own Image Studio is solidly useful rather than just a piece of bundled ware. That's developed by Leadtools, a leader in this area.
Lexmark Imaging Studio
We tested every facet of the device just to ensure it can do what it says it can on the box and in the time boasted, just as you would expect. For the benchmarking we thought we'd produce the results we gathered and can prove, then discuss the rest.
We used standard multifunction paper for printing. In terms of scanning and copy, we took an image with a 6 megapixel camera that had it printed with a known highstreet printers. It's of a spotted Bengal rescue cat we've taken in from the National Cats Protection League, just so you know. Every test was run multiple times to gauge continuity in performance.
Within a minute we were able to produce 10 A4 letters with 90 per cent black text in Word 2007. This was in draft mode - the fastest printing method this box provides.
Now, the product literature for the X4550 states that 26ppm (pages per minute) was possible. Only in a declaimer, in small small letters it states that the ppm time doesn't count the time to feed each page. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense in terms of overall printing time. It's not as if you can skip that time.
In the default settings for printing, within a minute the same letter was produced just five times. Not 15ppm as stated in the documentation. The exact same Lexmark disclaimer applies.
In printing the image below, it took one minute 40 seconds. Originally, the image was around 19cm x 11cm when scanned. It was reduced here for printing purposes.
Scanned image of Kitten
The print quality was fair. Not as sharp as the image on the screen, but at least 45 per cent the quality and an impressive attempt. Apparently, Lexmark believe six pages a minute of this image is feasible, but the disclaimer still applies.
From the Internet Explorer tool bar software, four print options are available. These are Normal, Quick, Black & White and Text only. We printed The INQUIRER front page, consisting of four pages - with all of those options. This is a very typical web page with ads, text and images. Our guess is that most people would use a printer for this function on a fairly regular basis, hence the test.
On the Normal settings printing took 2 minutes 45 seconds.
On Quick printing it only took 30 seconds to complete.
On Black & White printing the front page took 50 seconds to finish.
On the Text Only option one minute and 40 seconds passed.
All of these options are actually the most common for printer settings, but Lexmark has put them on the IE task bar for ease of use.
From these speeds we thought the tool bar settings weren't as straight forward as you'd imagine. It looks like the Text Only option is printing at normal quality and the Black & White is printing at Draft/Quick.
We would have thought the Text Only would have been at Draft/Quick and the Black & White at Normal quality.
In terms of print worth, the quality was distinctly good. It's about 60 per cent that of a laser printer, but still a good effort. The Draft/Quick option of printing just gives the impression that the printer is running out of ink, but other than that it's a fair print quality.
We weren't able to test the photo quality printing of the x4550, as the cartridge that was sent to us didn't work. It was an anomaly, we were assured by Lexmark.
The image below is the original photograph we used to scan and copy, taken on a digital camera. Initially it was 23x15cm and was altered for publishing purposes.
Original image of Kitten
Here is the scanned in image, from that photograph.
Scanned image of Kitten [Shorely too many pics of cute kitten? Ed.]
From the moment scanning was selected on the x4550 and results were sent to the computer, everything took around 30 seconds to complete. A good decent speed we believe, and quick enough to be worthwhile.
Some of the darker aspects of the image were lost in translation, seen in the stripes on the back left of her coat. But all in all, the scanner works adequately enough for its purpose. MP> On the automatic settings, a printed letter from before took just 30secs to produce. The quality here was very similar to Draft/Quick quality.
In copying of the original photograph of our spotted Bengal, we used a few quality settings to measure the functionality of the scanner.
On the photo settings, it took three minutes. This produced a surprisingly outstanding image, especially as we weren't using a photo cartridge.
On the Draft/Quick printing option, the printing time was just two minutes with, obviously, a major difference in image quality.
After all this printing and testing we had came across an alarming problem. The computer screamed ink cartridge low!!! on the black cart. On investigation, it was over three quarters depleted - which shocked us. As we hadn't printed, a great deal. We checked the colour cartridge and that was down by 25 per cent.
With every other email you receive forcefully questioning your need to print it and making you feel wholly guilty if you do, does anyone still need a printer? The print speeds weren't great. The scanning quality was passable. For a budget printer, it's a good buy.
Price, wireless printing, and all-in-one
Page per minute low, no Ethernet port, no Bluetooth, no IR.
Low printing ability of cartridges.
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