The period from the end of summer until Christmas features the arrival of new products of all types, and inkjet printers are certainly no exception. The world market is more or less split between four major manufacturers - Canon, Epson, HP, and Lexmark - and each has introduced a new line this year. Lexmark started things off in June this year with some new models, including the Z816 (which we tested for you here) and a new one set to debut in October, which we weren't able to get in time for this review. Lexmark is not in the best position in terms of market, and thus has everything to gain by trying to beat the competition to the punch. In contrast, the other three players have staggered the introduction of their new models from late August to late October.
The result is a fair bit of confusion, with close to twenty new products announced in a short span of time. We had to make some difficult choices in selecting from this plethora of announcements, so we could compare inkjet models that are similar to one another, yet feature their own individual capabilities and characteristics.
We ruled out very high-end products like the Photosmart 8450 from HP, the Canon Pixma iP6000, and Epson's Stylus Photo R800. These three models - which we'll cover in another comparative test later - are all priced well over $300. Some of them have special features (such as up to eight different inks for the Photosmart and the Pixma) that would have made it hard to compare them with printers costing $99. At the other end of the scale, we also ruled out entry-level models like Canon's Pixma iP1500 and Epson's Stylus C46.
So, this article concentrates on the mid-range models, though even that covers a fairly wide price spectrum, with the least expensive model reviewed costing $59 and the most expensive $199. As we'll see, however, the price of an inkjet printer is of little importance in the final cost analysis. Cost of use is what you have to look at above all, and we've devoted an entire section of this article to understanding that aspect of the printer purchase equation.
We should also mention that we haven't included models that are very office-oriented, like HP's Deskjet line, in this comparison. Even though the difference between the "office" and "photo" models is fairly slim, especially in terms of quality, their different market positionings would have led to confusion.
While we're on the subject, you should know that manufacturers have more or less agreed on the definition of a "photo" inkjet printer. The GFK Institute, which studies the market share of manufacturers, needed clarification in this area. So, manufacturers got together and declared that a printer could be called "photo" if it uses more than four different inks, and/or has slots for memory cards. We have slightly broadened that definition to also include the Stylus C66 Photo Edition from Epson, and the Canon Pixma iP2000. This allows us to include a model in the $99 price range from each manufacturer in this comparison (with the exception of the Epson C66 Photo Edition, whose price is $59!)