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Summary:

Do you have small office/home office (SoHo)? Is managing your peripherals (printers, scanners, fax machines) a hassle? Well, if you are looking for a new all-in-one (AIO) printer that consolidates these peripherals into one for your SoHo, thankfully, there are many choices available for you today. […]

Do you have small office/home office (SoHo)? Is managing your peripherals (printers, scanners, fax machines) a hassle? Well, if you are looking for a new all-in-one (AIO) printer that consolidates these peripherals into one for your SoHo, thankfully, there are many choices available for you today. Compared to the marketplace just a few years ago, you can now purchase an AIO for a relatively modest price and get some significant functionality.

Before you make the jump into consolidation of those separate devices with a new AIO printer, you might want to define some simple criteria. What is your budget? What are your needs? Do you know? Well, hopefully this article will set you down the right path. For one, let’s start with a modest budget of $300-400. Next, let’s define some functional criteria.

Recommended Features

  • Excellent print quality (documents are readable) even with prints from draft mode
  • Network capable (Ethernet), so it can support printing and scanning from the device to a computer and vice-versa
  • Automatically copy, print and scan on both sides of the paper (duplexer)
  • Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) for multiple page copies/scans
  • Separate trays for printing paper vs. photos/envelopes
  • Stores at least 150 sheets of paper
  • Fax support with memory and auto-redial/fax
  • 8.5×14 paper support for printing and scanning
  • Color screen for easier readability of device functions
  • Excellent customer/technical support
  • Great software support for drivers and provided applications
  • Six-ink system for more flexibility
  • Low total cost of ownership (TCO)

Optional (Bonus) Features

  • Wireless network capable
  • Printing directly to CDs/DVDs
  • Memory card access/support (over the network)
  • Photo printing: 4×6, 5×7, 8×10 or larger
  • Quiet or moderate noise production

Performance

Printer speed is always subjective, as most manufacturers provide the best specs based upon the lowest quality settings. For example, you will see that at an AIO prints 32 pages per minute in black and white. This seems impressive, yes? Well, this speed example is in draft mode, not full quality.

Until there are metrics that define the entire spectrum of how each unit performs when printing in draft vs. best and color vs. black & white, it just doesn’t make sense to use speed as a realistic criteria.

What are the choices?

Using the above requirements, it probably makes sense to visit your local office supply/big box store and try some of the printers in person. I took the liberty of doing this for you and here are some of the choices available in the specified price range (please note, the prices mentioned are current retail at publishing):

  • Canon Pixma MX850 – $199, 5-ink, comes close to meeting the criteria except in build quality as the ADF seems flimsy
  • Epson Artisan 800 – $299, New model on the market, ADF does not support duplex copy/scan, print duplexer is a separate purchase, comes with a 2-year warranty
  • HP Photosmart C7280 – $269.99 (usually $299.99, although HP has instant rebates now), ADF does not support duplex copy/scan, all other above required features met
  • Lexmark X9575 Professional – $249.99, New model to the market, 4-ink, duplex copying and printing (not clear about duplex scanning – although it can duplex copy), comes with 5-year warranty
  • Brother MFC-6490CW – $299.99, New model to the market, 4-ink, no duplex support

If you want to stretch your budget by a little:

  • Canon Pixma MX7600 – $399, excellent build quality, all criteria met
  • HP OfficeJet Pro L7880 – $349.99 (usually $499.99, although HP has instant rebates now), very large dimensions, all recommended criteria met

Getting to one printer from seven

With seven (including the two that stretch the budget) different printer models to choose from, here are some considerations to minimize that choice to one or two.

Let’s take the Brother MFC-6490CW, Canon Pixma MX850 and Lexmark X9575 Professional off the list because they are not traditional six-ink printers. The Lexmark has the option to go six-ink, although there is additional cost.

Printer count: 4

Let’s remove the HP Photosmart C7280 because it neither supports duplex copy or scan. Anecdotally, I really like the form-factor and build quality of the Photosmart. It is a very nice printer with a pretty comprehensive feature set. If duplex is not important, then this model is an excellent choice.

Printer count: 3

The HP OfficeJet Pro L7880 was removed because of its sheer size (it has the largest dimensions at 20.91″ x 19.09″ x 17.48″) and the fact that it is outside the budget of $300. However, with an extended budget, this is a very nice printer as it meets every requirement, including printing 8×10 photos.

Printer count: 2

Recommendations

$300 range — Epson Artisan 800 (full review) as it meets most of the recommended and most optional requirements. It’s only missing feature is the ability to duplex copy and scan.

$400 range — Canon Pixma MX7600 (full review) does meet every recommended and most optional requirements as well. The added bonus is that it, like the HP OfficeJet Pri L7880, has the ability to duplex copy and scan.

Additional Resources

I recommend that you read as many professional and blogger reviews of the products to see if anyone has found any particular issues with the printer you want. Other than some hardware failures, most of the AIOs were reviewed well, so I don’t think you can make a bad choice here. Good luck in your decision making process and toward improving and consolidating your SoHo environment.

  1. Oddly enough, the HP 6480 (which I own) which cost me about $160, supports both duplex printing and scanning (plus copying and faxing). The real strength of the printer, however, is in quality photo printing– it does a remarkably good job and can do either four or six color printing. The pages/min isn’t so hot– but what’s the big hurry?

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  2. How good are the scanners on these AIOs, compared to a ScanSnap S510M?

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  3. Matthew Bookspan Monday, December 8, 2008

    @Matt – I wasn’t able to include every AIO. Glad to see that this one meets your needs.

    @Bob – I can’t compare to the ScanSnap. Most of them have larger ADFs than the ScanSnap. Since the ScanSnap uses Adobe Reader, and each AIO has its own software, I would say they are probably on par. I use ReadIRIS 11 for OCR and it works quite well.

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  4. I’m not just thinking of OCR accuracy, but also

    1) How reliable is the scan feed? Does it jam or feed 2 pages frequently?
    2) Are the scans of high quality? Is noise a problem, like it is on digital cameras with small sensors?

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  5. Matthew Bookspan Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    @Bob – with the Canon, I have been able to consistently fill the ADF with 35 pages (max) and it has neither jammed nor taken two pages at once. The Epson, on the other hand, did not jam, although some pages fed through at an angle, and were thus scanned that way. So, I had to re-scan them.

    The scans are of very legible quality – I mostly scan text into PDF. I have not tried photos or other multi-color documents yet.

    I can’t speak to the noise the comparison to a digital camera doesn’t make sense to me here.

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  6. Thanks so much for the informative review.

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