Pros: Solid Construction, Does everything well. Print Quality is Excellent. Auto-duplexing is good.
Cons: Not the fastest, cheapest, or smallest. Ink cost (if Real Canon Ink) is high
After several years of loyal use, the old printer died-for some time, the gears had been grinding on the sheet feeder. Then the paper feeder stopped working (you had to restart after each page). So, I figured, I had reached the end of the working life of the old machine, and it was time for a new printer.
Bottom Line and Stars
This printer met all of my needs and was within my price-range. I am happy with the features, the quality of the product. Overall, it's not the cheapest, not the fastest, and not the smallest. However, it's a solid machine for those with moderate printing needs (say 2000 pages a year, at least).
If you're only going to print occasionally - say less than 500 pages a year, you can probably find cheaper options.
My basic needs for a printer were as follows:
1. Color Printing
5. Sheet Feed
6. Wi-Fi (more on this later)
Prices for multi-function printers are all over the board. Basically you can find a printer meeting these requirements for $75 and up. After researching, my choice was between the Canon MX 870 and the Canon MX 350 (since replaced by the MX 420). Both of these have similar features, the main differences being that the MX-870 is a bit faster, offers duplex printing, uses 5 ink tanks instead of 2.
The MX870 is currently available for $135 ish on Amazon. I think you'll find the same price at the big-box stores that carry it. The MX-350 is about half the price. The newer MX-420 (which replaces the MX-350 goes for about $100).
If cost of printer were the only factor, I'd probably be recommending the MX-350, unless you really need duplex printing. However, a secondary factor is the cost of ink. Basically, with any ink-jet printer, your cost per-page will totally swamp the cost of the printer if you use the device for any period of time. I found that the MX-870 and 350 had comparable ‘rated' costs per page (about 4 cents - don't believe this, I found the actual cost of the MX-870 to be 7 cents - YMMV).
However, I found that there were many sources for third party ink for the MX-870 and none (at the time I purchased), for the MX-350. As discussed below, third-party ink reduces the consumable cost by over 50%, so this factor alone made the MX-420 cheaper in the long term.
When you consider your purchase, pay attention to the cost of consumables, it's more important than the printer cost.
Out of Box Experience
This printer can be set up as either a stand-alone, or as part of a network.
For Stand-alone, you connect the printer to your computer through a USB cable (not supplied). For either wi-fi or networking, you need to have a router. This was somewhat surprising, as it means that you can't simply use this printer with your laptop wirelessly. What you need to do is connect the printer to the router (which can be done wirelessly) and then have the laptop pick up the printer through the router (again, this can be done wirelessly). Not a big issue, but something to be aware of.
For Installation, I'd say that you need to be an advanced beginner, but not an expert.. The quick start guide was clear and concise. All told, it took maybe 45-minutes, including unhooking my old printer, installing the software, and getting the new printer to work. From there I'd say 15 minutes a machine to get it networked.
Essentially, you unpack the computer and follow the instructions. They will walk you through installing the ink cartridges and setting up the network. The reason I say "advanced beginner" is that between the cartridge head, multiple ink cartridges, and the settings for wireless networking, it takes a little familiarity with computers. However, a person with average computer skills should be able to do the job.
The biggest problem - though I suspect this is a problem with all printers, is that Windows 7 isn't really fully compatible with Windows XP and Windows Vista. If all of your computers run the same version of Windows, networking will be easy, if not, it will take some tinkering. For some reason I found that I could hook up all of my machines if I hooked the printer into the router wirelessly, but could not get a Windows Vista machine to recognize the printer if I was hooked into the router through a USB cable. I suspect this is a problem with a Vista driver. Either that or an hour with tech support would get me fixed. However, having the printer work wirelessly, I didn't go through this step.
Use of the features is fairly straightforward, but not obvious. There is a surprisingly well-written manual that walks you through everything, however, if you're the kind of person who hates manuals and wants to figure it out yourself, you may be frustrated.
This machine is somewhat larger (and seems to be sturdier) than others. Leaving room for ventilation, you probably need about 24" by 24". Not necessarily a problem, but look at the machine, and measure your space, so you won't be disappointed.
WI-FI or Not WI-FI
To be honest, I find this feature to be a bit overstated. As stated, you need to use a router with this machine. If you plan to keep the computer near the router, there is no reason that you can't just hook it up with a USB cable (save on bandwidth). However, it does work wirelessly, so it meets the bill.
With the drivers, the printer set up easily for Windows . Before printing, go to your settings and make sure this is recognized as the default printer. When I tested it out, with Word documents, both on my main computer, and with networked laptops, there was no problem.
Print quality was acceptable for all home, and most business purposes, however, it's not as crisp as a laser printer.
Instead of using overstated print speeds, the MX870 is rated based on ISO standard print speeds. It lists 9.4 pages per minutes black and white, and 6.1 ppm color. These are pretty much ‘honest' ratings, meaning you should expect somewhat near this performance. What does it mean?
Essentially, there are faster printers out there. I've seen printers that can maintain 12ppm, so the difference is noticeable. However, for normal use, this machine is fine.
Sheet feeder copier was important for me. I was not disappointed.
The copying here is as good as most inkjets -- meaning it's fine for everyday use, but not as good as with a dedicated copier. Also, copying is relatively slow 4-5 secs a page. Fine for light use, but not for heavy use.
One feature I like is auto duplexing - this means that it can print front and back on the same page automatically. So, if you have 20 typed pages, and you run it through the sheet feeder, it will print front and back of each page (so the end result is on 10 pages). However, duplexing considerably slows down the copying process.
Standard, acceptable quality, nothing special.
The scanner allows you to either scan as a graphic or a PDF. OCR software is not included (OCR software translates ‘copies' to editable text.. However, anyone who has MS OFFICE One Note should be aware that One Note can be used as an OCR Software (i.e., you can past a PDF into One Note and it will translate for you).
However, graphic scanning is excellent. I've been testing out the printer by scanning some old snapshots. Although there is minor loss of color and clarity, for 4x6 photos, the scanner does a really nice job.
This was a bonus for me, since it wasn't part of my original specs. The printer is designed to double as a photo printer.
I've played with this feature with really excellent results in printing 4x6 pictures. They're as good as I get back from the drug store/costco/photo shop. As stated below, my tests were with "Official" Canon Ink, I'm not sure whether it would be the same with third-party ink.
Though I don't have a complete line on costs, based mostly on what I read in third party reviews, I'm expecting a cost of about 40-45cents per photo (which is considerably higher than other sources). However, the advantage is convenience, and the ability to better control the output (i.e., red-eye correction, sharpening colors, etc.). It's a nice feature to have.
In fact, the printer will work as a photo printer even if you don't have a computer. The MX 870 has readers that will allow most of the standard memory cards. There is also a smallish screen that allows you to preview your pictures before printing. Further, some of the basic photo editing can be done directly from the printer.
The MX 870 uses 5 ink cartridges. Three ‘colors', a photo black, and a regular black cartridge for printing.
An advantage to a 5 cartridge system is that you only replace the ink that you use. If, for example you burn through ‘yellow' quicker than blue, you don't have to replace the entire color cartridge, only the yellow ink. As a practical matter, I find that I run through the cartridges at a relatively even clip, except for the text cartridge, which needs to be changed more frequently. All told, with normal printing, relatively little photography, I find that I get 400 pages per Black print cartridge, and about twice that per each of the other cartridges. A set of "Official" ink cartridges (1 of each color, plus 2 print blacks) is about $60-65, so that comes to about 7-8 cents per page.
There are companies out there that sell "third-party" ink for less than half this price, and this is the way I buy my Ink. www.4inkjets.com has a package of 12 cartridges (4 black print, and 2 of each of the others) for $53 delivered. I expect to get about 1700-2000 total pages from this, so it reduces my total cost per page to about 3 cents per page. There are even cheaper companies out there (some a lot cheaper), but I know that the cartridges from this vendor work, and produce acceptable quality, so I'm not trying to squeeze out the last few dollars.
The subject of third-party ink, can be controversial. Some people swear by it, others swear at it. If you're a very light user, it's probably not worth it. For a moderate-heavy user, it's worth a try, but the vendors vary in quality, so if you find a reputable dealer, think hard about chasing those last few dollars.
If you decide to go the third party ink route, make sure that the ad specifically mentions the MX870. Make sure the cartridge has an MX870 compatible chip - see note below. My first couple of forays into finding cheap ink didn't work, because the supposedly compatible cartridge was not recognized by the printer. This was about 6 months ago, so all the makers may have caught up by now.
(Note, modern printers have software, which reads a chip on the printer cartridge. Though the MX870 uses the same ‘official' cartridges as the older model MX860 and other canon printers, there were changes to the cartridge recognition software in the printer, and many cartridges that will work in the MX860 will not work in the newer model).
Finally, my ‘photo' testing was with the real ‘Canon' cartridge. Looking at pictures that are printed from the internet, I suspect that the quality of pictures will be ok with the off-brand ink, but I'd certainly make sure to test this out before I planned a major photo print run.
Basically, this printer does everything I want it to do. It could be a little faster, it could be a little cheaper to run, but it's a sturdy machine and I'm happy with it.