Best wireless multifunction printer: 6 of the best on test
17th Dec 2013 | 09:00
Our pick of the best multifunction wireless printers
There's never been a better time to buy a multifunction printer. Quality is high, prices are low and even laser printers - once the preserve of the business user - are affordable enough to use in the home.
As feature sets and print engines improve, multifunction devices are becoming less specialist too. Sure, you can still choose between (for example) an HP Officejet and Photosmart model, but although the Photosmart produces better pictures and the Officejet is faster, the difference is far less pronounced than it once was; you can get decent photos from an Officejet, and the Photosmart is far from slow.
In this group test, we take a look at six multifunction printers - that is, devices that can print documents and photographs from your computer, have a built-in flatbed scanner for capturing images, and can make direct photocopies from the scanner without using your Mac at all.
We set three criteria which the printers on test must all meet. They must cost less than $350 (£200), using the best current online price rather than the RRP, they must offer color printing and they must be wireless. Two of the devices on test are laser printers, the other four are inkjets. We've also got a good mix of printers designed just for home users and those aimed more for small-office use.
All the printers we chose are A4 format. Printers that can output on an A3-sized page are becoming more popular, largely due to them falling in price, but they're still a niche product. A3 printing is a feature most users can live without, especially if space is at a premium - A3 printers tend to be much bulkier and heavier than standard A4 models.
We're covering two printers from Canon, and one each from Brother, HP, Xerox and Epson. Kodak has discontinued its inkjet printer range and doesn't feature here, even though you can still buy Kodak printers and the company continues to support its existing models with inks and paper.
Test one: Design and build
How do the two combine in one device?
Printers aren't known for their devastating good looks, but they've gotten better in the last few years. If you're after something that won't appear out of place in your studio, the Canon MG6350 and Epson printers are worth a look. Both have made improvements over previous models in their series, and both do on-disc printing too, as does the other Canon, the MX925.
The office-orientated printers are by necessity more austere and functional, but the Brother and HP models are well-built and look good.
All the printers except the Canon MG6350 and the Epson have Automatic Document Feeders (ADF) atop the scanner. We like the way the Canon printers open automatically when they start a job too. You don't have to get off your seat and open them, or risk having your print-outs crumple inside.
The Xerox was disappointing, with a flimsy build (the output catcher came off in our hands as we extended it), a small paper tray and a confusing user interface. It's the only printer to lack a color screen.
Test two: Print quality
What's it like for photos, text and images?
Full marks for the Canon PIXMA MX925 here. It put in a sterling performance across the board. Its text output is everything you'd expect from an office printer, and is as good as anything we've seen from an inkjet. Its photo reproduction was great too, with vivid, consistent colors and very good detail. Its duplex output was excellent, and a fast plain paper photo print was good, though a tad bleached.
Its stablemate, the MG6350, was equally strong in most areas but showed signs of banding in plain-paper default-quality prints. Being laser printers, the Brother and Xerox models are great at text printing, but not so good at pictures.
The Xerox is better than the Brother at reproducing images, but it still lacks the life and verve of the inkjets when printing photos. The Brother proved better at text printing, as the Xerox's print-outs were a little heavy, making them difficult to read at low point sizes. The HP and Epson printers didn't disappoint either.
Test three: Scan and photocopy
There's more to an MFD than printing
Here we tested the printers by scanning a recent MacFormat cover and a camera test card, and then photocopied the magazine cover. HP's Officejet Pro 8600 Plus proved the best at photocopying; only a very light banding on the MacFormat logo stopped it from getting top marks. The scan was very good too, with excellent colors and a slightly cleaner white than the two Canons.
Talking of the two Canons, the MG6350 gave us excellent detail, though maybe it needed a little sharpening. There was a little banding on the photocopy too, but it was surprisingly quiet for a flatbed scanner. The MX925 was basically the same, but not as quiet, and the photocopy was more consistent.
We've no real complaints about the Brother's scans, but the scannable area was the smallest on test, losing a sliver at the foot of the MacFormat cover. The Epson did a good job, though the colors were a little over-ripe. Xerox put in a great performance too, with a clear, crisp scan and an excellent photocopy.
Test four: Running costs
Is the ink and toner value for money?
For this test, we used the RRP of the printer ink and toner cartridges, taken from the manufacturer's websites. We took advantage of high yield tanks wherever available. As we're looking at the relative cost of the inks here, we didn't add the cost of the paper.
Where there were separate black tanks for text and image printing, we didn't include the text black tank in the price of a color print. According to HP, it delivers "up to 50% lower cost per page than competitive lasers," and that looks about right.
Even if the ink tanks don't make their stated 2,300 pages for mono and 1,500 for color, the Officejet Pro 8600 Plus still works out as being very cheap to run. The Canon PIXMA MX925 impressed too, making its inks go a long way.
Interestingly, the two laser printers on test - the Brother and Xerox models - weren't significantly cheap to run when printing text, but actually the most expensive for color print-outs. If you print a lot of photos, a low-priced color laser printer is not the way to go.
The winner: Canon Pixma MX925
It's worth bearing in mind that the best product in our group tests might not be the best product for you personally. If you're not interested in an office-oriented printer, you might not like Canon's PIXMA MX925, but for all-round quality and feature range, it's certainly the best multifunction wireless printer on test here.
It's also worth noting that the MX925 isn't just for the office. It has features more often associated with a home printer, such as disc on-body printing and AirPrint compatibility. It also prints stellar photos. And of course, the office-like features are there, such as a high-capacity paper tray, fax facilities and an ADF for automatic scanning.