HP, eat your heart out. At $150, Lexmark's WiFi All-in-1 printer/copier/scanner/fax got my cash

Summary:It's been a few months since I first helped my neighbor get her WiFi-based All-in-One printer/copier/scanner/fax up an running. See Inside one PC buyer’s mind (aka: A message for Michael Dell, Microsoft and other PC makers).

It's been a few months since I first helped my neighbor get her WiFi-based All-in-One printer/copier/scanner/fax up an running. See Inside one PC buyer’s mind (aka: A message for Michael Dell, Microsoft and other PC makers). For years now, I've been running a Red Hat Linux box in my basement as a file, print, and Web server. The server is noisy and if I have to move it, it has to be to a place where the printer will work as well. Just getting that printer to work right (and setting up the print queues in Linux) was a royal pain. I picked the printer on the basis of what printers had Linux support. On the Linux box, I had two print queues. One was called RAW. This was for printouts that were being sent to the printer by PCs that had their own driver for the printer. In this case, the Linux box was merely a pass through.

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Another queue was for printing Postscript-based print jobs. One step removed from the printer, the PCs that accessed the printer (via SAMBA) couldn't see any of the printer's diagnostic information (eg: ink levels). Nor could the Linux box: that was a level of detail the driver developers didn't bother with in an effort to make sure the printing itself worked well. Needless to say, it was complicated stuff and I'm looking forward to getting rid of that server.

So, when I was at my neighbor's house helping her to set up her WiFi-based HP C6180 All-in-One device, it got me to thinking what a cheapskate I was. She purchased it at Staples (which is a stone's throw from my house). And here she is, someone far less geekier than I with a far better printer setup in her house. Not only is it a wirelessly networkable printer and scanner, it's a copier and a fax with a bunch of slots for a variety of memory card types (eg: CF, SD) from which images can be directly retrieved and printed. "My decidedly non-geeky neighbor's C6180," I thought as I returned home, "is far better than anything I've got at my house. I need to get me one of those."

Two weeks ago, I finally ventured to Staples where she bought her HP 6180 to get one for myself. No one was using the Linux server as a file server. No one was using it as a Web server. And this? Having a wireless printer was far easier because I could locate the darn thing pretty much anywhere in the house I wanted to (not to mention that it was also a scanner, fax, and copier).

I'm not sure what Sue paid for her All-in-One device, but after a 20 percent rebate ($60 off), HP sells it for $239. I know it goes against everything we stand for here when someone like me doesn't research the options and then buy something online after zeroing in on whatever offers the best bang for the buck. But setting up Sue's printer was so easy and it just worked that I thought, "That's what I need, something that just gets the job done." But when I entered Staples looking for whatever WiFi All-in-One they were carrying from HP (you know how the models change), the store clerk said "You know.. with HP, you're just paying for a name. Instead of the HP one we sell for $300, take a look at this Lexmark X6570 for half that."

What? A person at in a retail setting who's actually knowledgeable about technology? Still my beating heart! For the first time since, well, since computers first came out, I was getting good advice at the point of sale and the guy was actually saving me a boatload of money. "So, let me get this right" I said. "Lexmark has an All-in-One color device that does printing (inkjet), scanning, copying and faxing for $150? No way."

"Way," according to the clerk. "And that $150 I'm saving you, that will cover you for a good amount of the consumables. Oh, and one other thing: the Lexmark only requires two ink cartridges. The HP? Four. Overall, refilling is more expensive with the HP." Was this guy for real? Here I was, ready to unload $300 on something that would cause a greater amount of repeat business (in the way of consumable-generated revenue) with his store, and he was sending me home with something that meant less revenue in the long run? Well, maybe not. That was good service. I'll definitely go back and ask for him next time I need something. I like to reward great customer service like that. I really felt like he was looking out for me instead of Staples.

I took the X6570 home. The kids were crazy excited about having a color printer upstairs (not in the basement like the other printer) to which their Mom could print coloring pages off the Web (we probably printed about 50 of these in the last week). Now, here's something I need to say. It's not that HP's installation process (the one I ran for my neighbor) was flawed, or bad. But I have to say that the Lexmark installation CD is pure genius.

Whereas I had to go down to my neighbor's basement and fiddle with the HP's control panel (to get network IP information), the Lexmark installation CD asks you to temporarily attach your computer to the printer for the initial setup with a USB cable that comes in the box. You don' t necessarily have to take this step unless there's a problem. In other words, it should be easy to set up wirelessly. But in my case, the printer saw four wireless networks (two in my house, and two others from neighboring homes) and wasn't sure which one to attach to.

Think about it: that's a pretty sophisticated problem for an installation process to overcome. Yet, the Lexmark installation process really made the printer installation a cinch. It just works. So much so that everyone in the house is printing (including a Mac). Everyone can get diagnostics. Everyone can scan (across the network). The software installation process comes with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software as well as a plug-in that optionally drops into your browser that makes it a lot easier to print Web pages (have you ever printed a Web page and had the output turn out all wrong? This solves that problem). By the way, there's a WiFi logo on the front of the printer that glows different colors depending on the strength of the WiFi signal. Green is best. How simple is that?

In recognition of how businesses like to use PDF files (because of how they're basically unalterable), the incredibly easy to use software makes it a cinch to convert a scanned document (even multiple page documents) into a PDF file.

The X6570's software is one feature that's a bit hokie, but I can see why consumers and small business owners might like it. When you start a print job, a small dialog box comes up and the notebook's speakers come to life with "Printing Started." When the print job is finished, you'll hear "Printing Complete." Earlier today, I heard "Black ink is low." When I looked at my notebook, I was being presented with a button to order more on line. Nice touch.

Again, HP and other printer makers probably have something similar. And, when it comes to print quality, I don't even know if this printer is best in class. Maybe it isn't (I wasn't seeking perfection, just something that works). But, in just the few weeks that I've had this device, I'm really feeling good about the $150 I spent on it (and that's the way you want to feel after a purchase -- as though you're really getting your money's worth). I wasn't going to write about this until last night, when I saw a TV commercial for Lexmark that attempted to convince viewers that Lexmark's printers offered an extraordinary value. I can't speak for all the other printers that, in the commercial, were marching down some street. But if the X6570 is representative of the rest of the bunch, then that ad may be true.

Topics: Wi-Fi, Hardware, Hewlett-Packard, Printers, Servers

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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