Have you seen the prices for inkjet printers and all-in-ones back in the day? Tested few models, including A4 photo printers, a decade ago.
It wasn’t long ago that a decent all-in-one cost a good $200 or so. Today, vendors are throwing them out the door for less than $90. Even do-it-all models now sell for well under $300. But it isn’t quite all beer and skittles. Most of the cheapest models offer only tri-colour print cartridges, so don’t expect great printing costs. Thankfully, the big move is toward individual ink tanks, even in sub-$150 models. Be aware, though, that just how many prints you can get from a set of tanks varies considerably. Even many models under $150 now include great features such as multiformat
flash readers and PictBridge ports to print directly from your digital camera without a computer. Photo quality on photo paper has also continued to improve, with some models so good, you can’t tell the difference between them and a photo print from your local photo shop.
HOW WE TESTED
We racked up a barrage of printing and speed tests for our 15 review models from single- and 10-page Word documents, to multiple A4 photo prints on both plain and photo paper. We checked the print quality and speed on photos and text prints. We even pushed each printer to the limits of its endurance with our cartridge capacity tests, printing out as many full-page A4 photo prints as we could before the ink tanks begged for mercy.
We tested each printer on an Acer’s Aspire 9425WSMi notebook with Windows Vista, just to see whether the printer brands had updated their driver software to Microsoft’s latest operating system. Our tests show there’s one major printer manufacturer that needs to get its act into gear on that one.
While prices have come crashing down recently, there’s still a sizeable jump in build quality once you get above $150. Printers get quieter, more efficient and produce better print quality all round. But surprisingly, even one or two of the ‘cheap and cheerful’ models are worth a look this time around.
Just about all the printers we’ve reviewed can be purchased at significant discounts if you shop around. For this reason we’ve provided the lowest average online pricing here, rather than the recommended retail price.
Budget printers under $100
CANON PIXMA MP180 – PRICE $89
The MP180 does pretty well for the price. It’s an all-in-one with PictBridge direct-from-camera printing and support for the major flash memory cards. In our testing and calculations, the MP180 has a lower cost per colour page than the HP C3180. We liked the text print quality of the C3180 more, but we preferred the glossy photo prints of this one. It’s Vista-ready out of the box, with driver software on the CD. We hate tri-colour cartridges, but since the MP180 also produced the most number of prints per cartridge in this category, we figure it’s only a bit more to run than the Epson C79. You don’t get any fancy extras, but it’s a good basic scanner/printer/copier. Reviewers says: Category-best combination of features, price and running costs.
HP PHOTOSMART C3180 – PRICE $89
HP’s C3180 wasn’t too far behind the MP180 in terms of print quality, and in text printing, the C3180 was out in front. However, with slow print speeds and a hefty 160MB download if you want to run it on aWindows Vista PC, it’s not the most convenient choice. It also only produced 19 A4 photo prints in our rundown test, making it the second most expensive to run. The 1,200 x 2,400dpi flatbed scanner matches the MP180 and the PictBridge port and flash memory card readers cover the basics well. This one is getting a bit long in the tooth, having been in our October 2006 roundup, but it’s had a $30 price drop since then to help it stay in the running. Reviewers says: Old model and
you have to download drivers for Vista, but there are worse units around.