Multifunction Printers Under $150

Only a few years ago, who would have imagined that you could put a printer, a scanner, a color copier, and in some cases a fax as well, on your desk for $150 or less? Yet that's what the most recent multifunction printers can do. The major makers have taken note of the success of all-in-ones - they couldn't really ignore it, given the way they've eaten big holes into the sales of standard 8½ x11 / A4 printers - and now all offer several economy models. For this roundup, we focused on models priced at between $100 and $150. Naturally, the four main manufacturers (HP, Canon, Epson and Lexmark) are represented, along with Dell, which claims to offer a kind of alternative, even though its range of models tends to be less responsive to the market than others. (Keep in mind that Lexmark supplies the printing engine for Dell's inkjet printers and multifunctions.)

But just what do you get for $150 or less? A bargain-basement printer? A scanner like you'd find on a scrap heap? Not at all. The components that go into entry-level multifunctions are generally of very good quality. There are two major differences compared to more expensive models, however: photo quality is a rare option, with most models having only four colors instead of six; and secondly, performance tends to be well below that of fancier models, both for text and for photos. So yes, you can get several functions in one machine; but no, you shouldn't expect it to perform miracles.

On the other hand, manufacturers have rarely sacrificed ergonomics in favor of low price. With the exception of the Lexmark model, which is oriented more towards office use, all of these multifunctions include an LCD display. All five also have memory card slots, which means that they can be used with or without a computer.

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