MultiFunction Devices

All-in-One Office Magicians
Written by ZDNet Staff, Contributor on

All-In-One Office Magicians

Multifunction devices all-in-one printer, scanner, copier, fax, PC-fax, and telephone devices have been around for some time now. They combine all your necessary office jobs into a single, space-saving, cost-efficient device. The Test Lab had a look at seven of the very latest multifunction devices. Of these, the Canon MultiPASS C70 and HP OfficeJet G85 were the only colour inkjet-based multifunction devices.

Brother MFC 8600/9600

Price: AU$1748 (MFC 8600), AU$2981 (MFC 9600).
Distributor: Brother International.
Ph: 02 9887 4344; Fax: 02 9888 9707

The Brother MFC 8600/9600 multifunctions combine a laser fax, printer, copier, scanner, PC fax, and telephone (8600) into one device. The main difference between the two Brother multifunctions is that the Brother 9600 has a colour flatbed scanner while the Brother 8600 a black-and-white feed scanner. The Brother 9600 also has 4MB of memory compared to the 8600's 3MB.

The software installation process for both Brothers was the same. The setup program installs the printer and scanner drivers for you then restarts your PC. On reboot the setup program automatically downloads the configuration information from the multifunction. You then have to complete the installation and upload the new configuration information onto the multifunction. The installation process is very quick and very easy. The owner's manual was very good. If you get stuck somewhere along the way the manual will get you out of trouble. There are step-by-step instructions and clear diagrams throughout the manual.

The fax features of the two Brothers are also the same. The Brothers can store 32 one-touch numbers and 100 coded speed dial numbers. The 9600 can store up to 250 fax pages and the 8600 up to 210 fax pages in memory. This is quite impressive and a true indication of why these two multifunctions are suitable for a medium- to large-sized office. Another difference between the two Brothers is that the 8600 also features a telephone handset.

The 8600 appears to have the same base as the 9600 Brother all-in-one. You can't, however, pull off the flatbed scanner from the 9600 and put it on the 8600. What Brother appears to have done is use the same printer for the two different models. The 8600 and 9600 both have 12-page-per-minute printers. The two Brother printers scored the exact same times in the 10-page Word test. The 8600 as well as the 9600 also lived up to their rated 12-page-per-minute rating.

The two Brothers were the fastest in all the print tests. The print quality at 300dpi was not as good as the Canon L60 or the HP. In plain text the two Brothers' output looked a bit washed out. The black was not very dark and characters were not very sharp. Both of the Brothers printed faint characters. The printouts were acceptable by all means, but not as dark as we would have liked them to be. Switching the printing from 300dpi to 600dpi improved the definition of the text but it also slowed down the printer at the same time. p>The two Brother multifunctions use the same toner cartridges. Brother claims that in Economy mode you can save up to 50 percent of the normal toner usage. The life expectancy of the TN-6600 toner cartridge is 6000 pages and 3000 pages for the TN-6300 at five percent coverage. The replacement costs are $367 (TN-6600) and $248 (TN-6300) respectively. The Brother 9600 was also slightly faster in printing the full-page photo than the Brother 8600. The extra memory would have helped the 9600 print the photo a bit faster.

Photo quality was similar. The Brother 9600 showed some banding in output pages. What was more disconcerting was that both of the Brothers produced washed-out photo printouts. They were both lacking definition and sharpness at 600dpi.

The two Brothers have large 250-page paper cassettes. These are quite necessary, especially if you're going to print in an office environment. The output trays are also quite large.

The scanner components of the two Brothers differ quite a lot. The Brother 9600 makes use of a colour flatbed scanner. The scanner on the 9600 was slower then the 8600 but the quality was better. Both of the scanners are 600dpi (optical resolution) but the 9600 is capable of interpolating to 1200dpi. The 9600 also has the advantage of being able to scan pages out of books and magazines. The copy speeds of the 8600 were also faster. The photocopy actually came out better on the 8600 than the 9600. The 8600 produced a copy that was a lot more realistic than the 9600. The 9600 missed a lot of detail and produced some banding that was not so noticeable on the 8600. The scanner software was the same for both units. The scanner software does not take very long to get used to. It was simple to use and provided a good look and feel.

Both the Brother 8600 and 9600 will serve as fine multifunctions. The 9600 has a flatbed colour scanner which makes it a bit more appealing than the 8600. The 9600 also ships with more printer memory then the 8600. The 8600 on its own is a very good performer and brings to the market a good mix of speed, quality, and value.

Canon MultiPASS C70

Distributor: Canon Australia
Price: AU$799.
Ph: 02 9956 8833; Fax: 02 9956 8865 www.canon.com.au
The Canon MultiPASS C70 is the other of the two inkjet-type multifunctions. The C70 is a personal home office multifunction. The C70 combines into a single machine a colour fax machine, PC colour fax, colour copier, colour printer, colour scanner and telephone.

The C70 was the lowest-priced multifunction in our roundup. It was considerably cheaper than the least expensive laser-type multifunction and a lot easier on the pocketbook than the HP OfficeJet. The C70 can send and receive colour faxes from fax machines that have colour faxing capability. The C70 can store up to 42 fax pages in its built-in memory (either in its -received" or -to be sent"). The C70 will also make up to 99 black-and-white copies of a document at a time, at a rate of three copies per minute. The C70 also includes a handset or telephone that will let you make normal telephone calls. You can also connect an answering machine or a data modem to the C70.

The C70 can print up to 720 dots per inch (horizontally) x 360 (vertically). The C70 takes a while to get up and printing. The first page took the longest to come out in the 10-page Word test. Once the printer starts going it was still far from its 5-page-per-minute rating. The C70 was the slowest multifunction in printing the 10-page black-and-white Word document. We received three lots of print cartridges from Canonââ,¬"the BX-20 (large black tank), BC-22e (photo cartridge) and BC-21e (combo BCI-21 colour and BCI-21 black).

The life expectancy of the large BX-20 is approximately 900 pages based on five percent coverage (information supplied by Canon).

Installing the print cartridges was very simple. You just have to open the lid and press a blue button in order to move the print cartridge bay to the centre. The cartridges just click into place. When we printed our Photo target we found the output to be a little washed out when compared to that of the HP. Canon, however, calims that this is intentional, and that the output is actually closer to reality (some users, though, prefer slightly oversaturated colours in their prints).

From the PC, the C70 MultiPASS can be controlled through the Desktop Manager software. It allows you to select between the various functions of the C70. ScanGear has always been one of the easiest scanner software programs that we have used. The C70 features a 300dpi optical resolution scanner, which for our tests was adequate. Up to 20 pages can be scanned at once when using the automatic document feeder. The C70 had the smallest document feeder along with the Sharp and Canon L60 multifunctions. Scan times were very slow. The C70 also had rather flat output at the darker two-thirds of the greyscale gradient. Colour purity was quite good; the optical definition on the other hand was not that sharp.

The C70 user guide is excellent. The guide provides all the detailed information on how to operate, maintain and troubleshoot the C70. All the documentation is easy to read and understand and will help you learn how to use your C70 quickly and easily. The C70 also comes with a software users guide for the MultiPASS Desktop Manager for Windows. The C70 comes with a one-year warranty, which can be extended to three years at an additional cost. The C70 is a good personal multifunction. For someone who just wants all the features from a multifunction and colour, and doesn't have all that much to spend, the C70 would be a good buy.

Canon MultiPASS C60

Price: AU$1499.
Distributor: Canon Australia.
Ph: 02 9956 8833; Fax: 02 9956 8865

The MultiPASS L60 is Canon's laser multifunction. The L60 is a plain paper fax machine, printer, copier, PC fax, scanner and telephone (requires the optional handset). It's priced well above the MultiPASS C70 and for the extra money, you will get a multifunction that is more suited to the office than the C70.

The L60 sits a little bit higher and is also longer than the C70. It can store up to 90 fax pages and, like the C70, it can receive faxes while printing or when your PC is turned off. The L60 provides many automatic dialling methods, like one-touch speed dialling (16 locations), coded speed dialling (100 locations) and group dialling (115 locations). You can also sequentially broadcast 117 faxes at one time.

The Canon MultiPASS L60 offers a 600 x 600dpi laser printer that can print up to six pages per minute. At 300dpi we printed the 10-page Word document at just under the rated six pages per minute. All the laser type multifunctions lived up to their rated speeds. The print quality in plain text was very good. The characters were smooth and sharp and the black was very dark. Photo quality was also good.

The output looked richer than most of the other printouts from the other multifunctions. The L60 produced the second-fastest copy speed. We copied the photo target in the -best" mode. The target was scanned through the feeder and began printing once the target was completely scanned. It did this in only 22 seconds.

The L60 produced the best laser copy of all the laser multifunctions. The L60 had much better definition then the C70 but what made us choose the L60 over the C70 was that the C70 produced an uneven copy. We could actually see white paper fibres showing through the copy on areas which should have been saturated with true black.

The L60 includes an automatic document feeder that makes it easy for users to scan up to 20 pages at a time. The L60 combines a 600 x 600 optical resolution scanner. Our tests revealed some good quality scans. The mid range of the greyscale test, however, became dark too early. The L60 had the second slowest scanner, but was slightly faster than the C70. Like the C70, the L60 also uses the ScanGear software.

The L60 is priced somewhere in the middle of all the lasser-based multifunctions. Of these, we actually preferred the print quality of the Canon L60 over the other lasers. If you're mainly going to print text documents and occasionally print photos, the L60 would be the pick of the bunch. If you think a 6ppm printer will be fast enough for your everyday needs, the L60 is worth considering.
Editors Choice

HP OfficeJet G85

Price: AU$1,699.
Distributor: Hewlett-Packard Australia.
Ph: 13 13 47; Fax: 03 9898 1968
Hewlett-Packard has probably the most extensive range of multifunction devices. The all-new OfficeJet G Series are HP's premium performance colour flatbed all-in-ones. They feature the latest HP print technology, high-quality 36-bit scanning, faster copying speeds, and networking capabilities. Each model combines a colour printer, copier, and scanner.

The OfficeJet was one of the larger multifunctional devices. As soon as we unpacked the device and plugged it all in, we knew what button to press to fax, copy, scan or print. The front panel was extremely well laid out. Colour differentiating markers show you where all the buttons relating to the fax are as well as the copier, scanner and printer. Everything on the front panel was nicely labelled and coloured and there wasn't a button on the panel that made us think twice about what it was going to do if we had pressed it. The best part about it was that none of the buttons were crammed onto the panel. There was a heap of space between the buttons and they all had a good feel.

If you connect the OfficeJet to a PC, you can still operate the device from the front panel or from the OfficeJet software on your Windows desktop. The software is even easier to use, not that the front panel is hard to use. You will also find some added features using the software that you will not find on the front panel. In all, the OfficeJet was the easiest multifunction to use by a mile.

The OfficeJet G85 is an inkjet-type all-in-one device that sports super high resolution (2400 x 1200dpi on photo paper). It has a supercharged inkjet engine that can produce 12 pages per minute in black and white and 10 pages per minute in colour. You can copy at 1200 x 1200dpi using photo paper or at 600 x 600dpi using standard paper. The OfficeJet was only one out of the two all-in-one devices that had a flatbed scannerââ,¬"the Brother MFC 9600 being the other one. The HP built-in scanner has an optical resolution of 600 x 3600dpi. The process of installing the black and colour print cartridges is pretty much the same as installing ink cartridges into an inkjet printer. The top lid opens up just enough to get your hands in. You have to get down on your knees to install the printer cartridges. It would have been good if the lid opened right up but we think that would have shifted the weight of the device so much that it would have tilted over. The OfficeJet's output quality was excellent. In full colour, it produced some excellent prints. The OfficeJet was only one of the two all-in-ones that could print in full colour. The output was also better than the Canon MultiPass C70. In our 10-page speed test the HP managed four pages per minute, and in our 4-page colour Word document it managed 1.74 pages per minute. It was nowhere near as fast as the laser printers, but that was expected. In black, the OfficeJet produced some really dark blacks compared to the laser printers. The character formations were very clean and smooth, even in colour, and the definition in photo realistic output was brilliant. Scan speed at 300dpi was a little slow. If you want the pick of the group for optical definition then this is the all-in- one with the best scanner. The greyscale performance was very good. The scanner handled dark tones better than most and produced close to a pure black at the end of the greyscale. Colour purity was one of the best tested, red and green were surprisingly pure and vivid while the blue was also above average. The yellows were a little muddy and not as good at the Canon yellows. The Brother MFC9600 also produced some more true to colour yellows. The HP was, however, the top runner out of the three-colour scanners. Faxing from the OfficeJet was also very simple with PC-aided faxing allowing you to fax documents to other fax machines. You can also do this by scanning a document through to be faxed by pressing a button on the front panel. The HP can also fax in colour. The fax machine on the other end also has to be a colour fax machine if you want your colour document to be received in colour. Transmission is only 14.4kbps which means you will approximately fax a page every six seconds. We have already started to see some 36.6kbps fax machines. We will probably see these speed increases in the not-too-distant future in most of the models we have seen here. If print speed is not your primary concern, the HP OfficeJet for its price is the best all-round multifunction. In the long run, you may end up spending a little more on consumables than you would with a laser printer but, for what its worth, you will get better output. The scanner is a flatbed, if you wanted to photocopy a page out of a book you couldn't do it on the other multifunction devices (except for the Brother MFC 9600, which also has a flatbed scanner). You get a colour scanner and fax as well, and it is the easiest and most-user friendly multifunction.

Sharp FO-2950M

Price: AU$1,325.
Distributor: Sharp Corporation.
Ph: 02 9830 4600; Fax: 02 9672 1207

The Sharp FO-2950M multifunction is a 6-in-1 solution that combines a fax, copier, printer, scanner, PC fax, and telephone. The Sharp also offers unique e-mail functions that enable documents to be scanned and sent as attachments. Delivering slightly faster print speeds than the Canon and HP multifunctions, the Sharp is more suitable for the small- to medium-sized business.

The Sharp comes with 2MB of memory that allows it to store up to 130 fax pages. You can program up to 20 one-touch and 100 speed-dial numbers. It also redials busy numbers and you can even have the Sharp programmed to keep redialling a busy number up to 10 times. The Sharp comes with a 200-sheet paper capacity and a 20-sheet automatic document feeder. It was also one of the few multifunctions that came with a telephone handset.

The Sharp uses a toner cartridge and a drum cartridge. The drum cartridge comes pre-installed. The Sharp ships with a starter toner cartridge and can print approximately 1,875 A4-sized pages at four percent coverage. When it comes time to replace the starter cartridge, you would replace it with a Sharp FO-29DC toner cartridge which can print approximately 3750 A4-sized pages. We don't know why many printers come with starter toners (providing a starter toner cartridge will only marginally lower the price of the multifunction). The Sharp's drum cartridge can print about 20,000 A4-sized pages and when it requires replacing it will cost you AU$179.

Installing the toner cartridge was simple. The print compartment cover pulls up to open the cover. Before you install the toner cartridge, you should shake the cartridge from side to side a few times to distribute the toner evenly. You then have to push down on the marked handle so that the cartridge can fit into place.

The Sharp multifunction is advertised as being abel to print eight pages per minute. Our tests reported that, at 300dpi, the Sharp was able to print at just under 8ppm. When we printed our standard 10-page Word document, the last page came out after 91 seconds. This was the second-fastest time recorded. The Sharp also printed the first page the fastest but it did slow down while printing the other pages. Print quality was good, but edges weren't as sharp as with the Canon L60, and the black was not as dark as the Xerox. The photo printout produced some noticeable banding. It wasn't that bad but it was more noticeable with the Sharp than with any of the other laser multifunctions.

The Sharp scanner has an optical resolution of 600 x 600. We ran through our test target at 300dpi and found the scan to pretty much finish in a short amount of time. The Sharp was the second-fastest feed scanner and was only marginally slower than the Brother 8600. Despite its fast scan times the output was not all that good. The scanner was one of the poorer aspects of this device. Even the software was very basic. The same can be said about the copier. Its copy speed was quite fast but the actual copy was poor. The dither patterns on the copy were very coarse and we found them to be quite intrusive.

The Sharp was very fast in printing, scanning and copying. However, if your want better quality scanning and copying you will have to look elsewhere. It's priced well and you get a few extra features that you will not find on the Xerox. The Xerox is priced around about the same and should also be considered if your are not willing to spend over AU$1,500 for a multifunction device.

Xerox Work Centre 385

Price: AU$,1095.
Distributor: Chips.
Ph: 02 9696 1911; Fax: 03 9696 1942

The Xerox laser multifunction combines all the features you would expect from an all-in-one office device. The Xerox is priced at only AU$1,095, and what makes it even more appealing is that not only can it do the same jobs as all the other multifunctions, but it does some of them better.

The Xerox WorkCentre is white in colour and is nice and curvy in its styling. From the front it looks like a standard mono laser printer with only the dialling touch pad belying its real identity. The central front section of the multifunction opens out by pressing and pulling back two buttons so you can install the toner cartridge. Following the instructions, we found the setup of the Xerox WorkCentre very simple. The User Guide was very well presented and each of the installation steps were clearly explained. Each software component was installed one at a time and the installation program will ask you to restart you PC when completed. It doesn't take very long to get up and running and the overall process is quite automated and user friendly.

Like the Sharp FO-2950M, the Xerox print speed is rated at eight pages per minute. According to Xerox, the black toner cartridge will print 5000 pages at five percent coverage. The replacement is also quite inexpensive at only AU$187. Print speed depends on the printer settings and we made sure the 10-page Word document we printed was printed at 300dpi. At 300dpi, we were able to print our 10 pages at eight pages per minute. The black was a little darker than what we saw come out from the Sharp. However, the print quality in text was as good as the Sharp. The letter -W" did not come out very sharp on the Xerox. However this was a problem for all the other multifunctions except the HP and Canon L60.

The photo printouts were very good. Some of our early printouts came out a little too dark but you can adjust this by setting the contrast. We also noticed some forms of banding throughout the photo printout. The banding was acceptable and not as bad as the Canon L60 or Sharp. These lines are commonly found but some banding is made out to be far worse if there are course dither patterns present as well.

The fax component of the Xerox is rated at 14.4k and will handle up to 30 automatically fed pages. You can also expect the Xerox to store 150 fax pages. However, the Xerox stores the least amount of coded speed dial and group dialling numbers. The front panel displays all the fax features clearly. The panel had nice big dial-up buttons and all the one touch and special function buttons were appropriately labelled and numbered.

The scanner has an optical resolution of 300dpi. The lab tests revealed that the scanner performs a little bit better than the Sharp. The scans were quite good in general and the software was easy to use. The scan speeds were slow, although the Canon scanners were the only two which had slower scan times.

Copy speeds on the other hand were quite fast. The copier is rated at eight copies per minute, however, we didn't get close to that. For our copy test, we copied a detailed picture. This would have dropped the copies per page rating right down. Copy quality was very good, but not up there with the Canon L60, the Brothers, or the HP.

The Xerox was a good performer and you'll be getting heaps of value for your money. The printer is very fast and you still get all the features you will need for a home or small office environment.

Editors' Choice

HP Office Jet G85

Merit Award

Brother MFC 8600

A diverse range of multifunction devices was presented in this review, with both the low- and high-end well represented. Overall we found that each of the devices handled their respective tasks very well. The Canon L60, despite being one of the lower-end entries came through the tests with high-quality output and at reasonable speed, too. The Brother 9600 proved to be very fast and a well-rounded performer, but despite its greater set of features it was just too expensive to be considered the Editors' Choice.

After weighing everything up we decided that the quality of output, the software, the ease of use, and the sheer number of features of the HP OfficeJet was enough to make it our choice. Its price of $1,699 also makes it very appealing. The similarly priced Brother 8600 we found to be worthy of a Merit Award. We liked the speed of the Brother MFC 8600 and found that is more suited to a larger, more demanding office then the HP.

How We Tested

We tested each of the multifunction devices in a number of ways to gauge how well they performed in each category of test. The PC from which the tests were conducted remained the same throughout testing and was configured with a 866Mhz Pentium III CPU, 128MB of memory, 10GB Seagate hard drive, Diamond Viper 550 and a 19in monitor. We tested each device for its speed in printing, scanning and faxing. If the device was capable of colour we also ran colour tests. Following is a breakdown of the testing methodology. For each test the time was taken, and then converted into a page per minute rating for each of the tests.

Word Simple 10-page Test
This test comprised ten pages with a single font (Arial 10-point) and is used to evaluate the printer's maximum real-world throughput. We derive the PEAK Pages per minute (PPM) with the following formula:

Peak PPM = (60 / (time to print all 10 pages - time to first page)) * 9

Word Complex 4-page Test
This test comprised four pages of complex word processing and includesââ,¬"18 different fonts, some in multiple sizes, eight images ranging from simple clip art to high res TIFF photos, and multiple column styles. We derive what we call our AVERAGE PPM figures from this test using the following formula (please note the time includes the time to print the first page):

Average PPM = (60 / time to print all 4 pages) * 4

Photo Realistic Graphics Test
A large 43MB test image was created and printed using Photoshop 5. The image is a composite comprising a large landscape with fine cloud, forest and wildflower detail, of a sleeping baby, a vase of multicoloured flowers, a close up of purple and white irises, an island and water scene, multicoloured balloons and finally, a monochrome but highly detailed image of a cow skull hung on a weathered wooden panel. The diversity of the graphic content allows us to evaluate a whole range of printer abilities such as skin tones, sky colour fidelity, accuracy with fine white on colour details, accuracy of dithering (particularly in areas of low contrast), handling of low contrast shadows and overall colour or greyscale accuracy. The image also provides a good indication of the printer's speed with relatively complex graphics and is timed.

Scanning/ Copying
1 page scan test: The test page used for the scans was a Canon target. It consisted a greyscale, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black percentage colour scales. It also included a colour photo of a female and straight horizontal and vertical lines in both black and colour. The target was placed in the automatic document feeder (where possible) and then once the settings were correct, it was the time from when we pressed 'start' to when the scanner indicated it has scanned 100 percent of the document. A colour version of the same document was used for scanning in colour.
1 page copy test: The page used for the copy was a photo realistic colour picture. A colour version of the same document was used for copying in colour.

To test the fax capabilities of each unit we used the same simple two page Word document. We inserted the two-page document in the automatic document feeder, dialled the number and waited till the fax had indicated it was finished. With the faxing, we were more primarily concerned about the easy of use and functionality rather then speed. All the documents were faxed at 14.4k.

Editorial standards