Lexmark builds a better multifunction printer

Superior to its predecessors, the X646e prints, copies, faxes, and scans to network

The $2,999 price tag on Lexmark’s X646e monochrome MFP (multifunction printer) makes a fast printer/copier available at a painless fraction of the $10,000 you might spend for a high-quality stand-alone office copier. Most office copiers have the advantage of running tabloid-size paper, but if you can get by with letter/legal-size jobs — and somewhat disappointing copy quality — you’ll be pleased with the X646e’s zippy performance, comprehensive management tools, list of fancy copying features, and free scan-to-network function.

At 28 inches high, the slightly squat, two-tone-gray X646e sits comfortably on a table instead of rolling around on casters, although you can put a rolling base under X646 configurations with higher paper capacities. In contrast to Lexmark’s earlier cobbled-together MFPs, the X646e’s printer engine, scanner bed, and control panel are combined in one sleek unit, with sturdy hinges and flaps that simplify unpacking and prepping. Lexmark’s driver installs with a couple of clicks.

Most aspects of Lexmark’s design make the X646e a pleasure to operate. The main paper tray holds 500 sheets, and a fold-down auxiliary tray holds another 100. (For a second 500-sheet tray and the ability to print on both sides of a page, consider spending $3,499 instead on the X646dte.) It can scan both sides of documents from the 50-page ADF (automatic document-feeder) in one pass, and the scanner lid floats easily over thick documents such as books pressed to the scanner glass.

The integrated toner cartridge/imaging unit slides smoothly in and out of the machine; it’s the only component that needs routine replacement, and Lexmark’s toner works out to only about 1.1 cents per text page if you buy the biggest cartridge. The bright 6-inch-by-5.5-inch touchscreen LCD’s angle is somewhat adjustable, so the shortest and tallest people in our lab could easily read and poke its buttons.

The main paper tray’s length and width guides adjust easily. However, as with many Lexmark paper trays, it comes out so easily you might dump it on the floor, and its sloped walls, designed to break up adhesion in a fresh ream of paper, interfere with adding and removing paper.

You can use MarkVision, the company’s free printer-management software, to integrate the X646e into the rest of your Lexmark fleet, or keep an eye on it by browsing its internal Web site, where you can pull reports and set up password controls over the multifunction’s various features. Lexmark’s Driver Profiler and Script Install utilities let you preconfigure the driver and then push it across the network to users; it might be more convenient to have both features in one utility, but the dual-barrel approach is workable.

People in your office will be able to accomplish a lot with the X646e’s deep and accessible feature set, particularly when making copies. The X646e can reduce and combine two or four originals onto a single page, insert separator sheets between copies or jobs, date- and time-stamp documents (but not add page numbers), and mix and match several batches of originals into one document — for example, combining originals printed on both sides and originals printed on only one side to produce single-sided copies.

It also can erase edges (although not gutters) — useful for cleaning up headers or footers, hole-punch marks, and so on from the originals. It lets users interrupt a long job to squeeze in a quick one, and delete pending copy, print, and fax jobs. A USB port on the control panel can read and print PDFs and JPGs on a flash drive and save scans to the drive. Users can send print jobs to wait on the X646e in public or password-protected folders, but they can’t scan something directly to the machine’s internal hard drive.

I find scanning to the network somewhat awkward, perhaps because it isn’t a control-panel function. You have to configure a scan setting Profile in a browser, push it to the X646e, run over to the machine, and make your scan — then start all over again for a new scan; Profiles don’t persist on the machine. On the other hand, this functionality is free; HP, in contrast, equips its MFPs with only a demo copy of its scan-to-network software. You can preview scans (and faxes) on the control panel LCD.

The X646e tore through my performance tests — no surprise considering its 50-ppm engine. It printed multiple copies of a plain text document at 45.9 ppm, and made multiple copies of the same document at 45.1 ppm; it hit almost 39 ppm when printing and copying heavily marked PowerPoint slides.

Its print quality also impressed me, but not so much its copy quality. Printed text has a dark black look, with no shadow or soft edges, and despite being a monochrome printer, grayscale photos come out with reasonably good detail and textures. However, large areas of color converted to grays show some streaking and patchiness.

Copied text has a grayish tone; white dots or drop-outs interfere with text quality on smaller type sizes; and copied color documents show the same kind of streaking and patchiness as when printed. The graphics copy quality is what you expect from a mono copier, but I was hoping for better text copies.

Lexmark includes a year of on-site warranty in the price; one extra year costs $589, two more cost $1,078, and three more cost $1,599.

Lexmark has made good progress with MFPs since we reviewed the X646e’s predecessor, the X830e, about 18 months ago. The X646e is versatile, moderately priced, and reasonably easy to use. But the machine’s copy quality may put off some potential customers, and Lexmark needs to reconsider its basic scan-to-network interface.

Correction:
In this review, we reversed the Bottom Line Box scores for Output Quality and Speed, but it did not affect the product's overall score. The Output Quality score should have been 7 and the Speed score should have been 9. InfoWorld regrets the error, which has been corrected.

The PC World Test Center contributed methodology and logistical support to this project.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Features (20.0%)
Output quality (25.0%)
Value (15.0%)
Speed (25.0%)
Ease of use (15.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Lexmark X646e 8.0 7.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 8.2
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