Pros: Good quality with low-cost inks. Quiet. Photo-printing features.
Cons: Will need dusting. No document feeder or fax.
As anyone who has ever owned an ink jet printer knows, the printers are cheap, and the ink is expensive. My last printer was an Epson CX-5200 which we paid $100 for. During the two years we used it, we spent about $30-50 a month for ink. I estimate that we spent about $1100 on the printer - $100 for the printer itself, plus $1000 for ink. Thus, when the time came to replace it (it suffered the same fate as other CX-5200s - sudden death when you change the ink), we decided that a key factor would be the cost of the ink. That immediately ruled out Lexmarks, which I understand have the highest cost in the industry. No wonder they sometimes give them away free. HP's, except the business ink jets, are also very expensive to operate. The Epsons and Brother are better, but the two lowest cost ink jets are HP Business Inkjets and Canon. Unfortunately Brother ink jets get very poor reviews, and have poor quality to boot. Epsons have their own problems with head clogging and sudden failure, so that left me with Canon. As relates to cost, some ink jets have cartridges that can be refilled, further reducing costs if you choose to do so. Brothers can be refilled, as can prior Canons. I don't know yet if these new Canon cartridges can be refilled, but I expect that they can.
EDIT (12/5/2005) - Unfortunately these new ink cartridges now have gone the way of HP and Lexmark and contain a chip that prevents you from using compatible cartridges. You can, however, still refill them. If you remove an ink cartridge that it believes is empty and shake and re-insert it, it assumes you refilled it. It warns you not to refill cartridges, but will allow you to use the cartridge again until the ink is actually gone, unlike other printer brands.
One other problem with ink jet inks is that they tend to bleed, and they can fade, too. Epson inks use a pigment, little color particles that sit on top of the paper, and are rated to last 70 years. Most ink jets use dyes that soak into the paper. These can bleed with water and fade when exposed to light. Prior Canon printers used a dye that was rated to last 20 years, so long as it isn't exposed to light. The new Canons have a new dye, plus a black pigment, and are rated to last 100 years, a big improvement. That pretty much settled the family of printer for me.
Another ink-related question is related to head clogging. Some cartridges such as HP have new heads in each ink cartridge. This is great from a clogging standpoint, but makes the ink cartridges expensive. At the other extreme, Epsons have permanent non-replaceable heads. This is cheap, unless the heads clog, in which case it becomes really expensive. If you don't print regularly, avoid Epson because the head will clog unless used regularly. Canon is in the middle with this printer (the low end units now include heads with each cartridge). They have heads that are separate from the ink, so they don't get changed with each cartridge, but which can easily be changed if necessary. I think this is the best approach, long term.
In the end, we looked at the various members of the Canon product line, and settled on the MP-500. We wanted a multifunction machine so that we would have a home copier, and we wanted print and scan capability as well. We do have a Canon digital camera, so being able to insert the camera memory cards directly into the printer was a plus. We rarely need a home fax, nor a document feeder, so these features were not important to us.
The MP-500 includes:
Color Printing to 9600*2400dpi,19ppm max
black printing at 29ppm
Borderless photo printing
2 separate paper inputs, one behind the unit, one under it
Color or B&W Copier
Two sided copying capability
Can print directly from camera
Can accept multiple formats of camera memory cards
Can act like a memory drive using memory cards
Can add Bluetooth capability
Noise level is 36.6 dB, which is very quiet
Unpacking the box was easy. The size was manageable. The shiny black appearance was classy, and the feel was solid. I think that the shiny black finish may require frequent dusting, though. The instructions were clear, and setting it up was easy, and inserting the print heads and the ink cartridges was simple. Then you add the drivers and plug the printer in to the computer, and the software gets added with no problem. We use Windows 98 SE, and had no problems of any kind. The printer does not come with a USB cable, but I already had one. The software included Canon Easy Photo Print, MP Navigator, ArcSoft Video Impression 1.7 and Scansoft OmniPage SE 2.0.
As a printer:
The printer takes a bit of time to warm up, but once it starts printing black pages fly out of the printer. The speed is impressive compared to other ink jets I have used. For photos the printing is much slower, though, and it takes a minute or two to print an 8 1/2*11 photo. I printed on plain paper, and the results weren't impressive. I thought that the Epson did better on plain paper. I tried Matte finish photo paper, and the colors were vivid and accurate. The printer really shone, though, when I printed on glossy photo paper. It almost looked like it came from a photo shop. Note that this is not a 6-color ink system, so dedicated photo printers are probably better, but this is pretty good.
The paper handling was easy. You can put 8 1/2 * 11 paper in both feed slots, if you like, and it will automatically switch when one runs out (only if you printing from the computer). Alternately you could use one for paper, the other for envelopes, or whatever. Either slot can handle a variety of sizes.
Copying - It does black and white or color. As far as reducing and enlarging, it does both, as expected. It also will reduce size and make multiple copies of a single image on a single page to make copies of a favorite picture for friends, for example. It will also print 2 different pages onto one by reducing them, or it can automatically duplex, placing one copy on each side. This is a nice feature that you usually see on big printers, but is unexpected on a home multifunction printer. The scanning part of the copy process is kind of slow, but this isn't intended as a high volume copier, so it is OK.
For copying photos, it has a special function for restoring faded photos. I haven't tried this feature, though.
Scanning - I haven't scanned a lot of items as this isn't something I do often. It works as expected, but isn't super fast. I had no major complaints about it.
Accompanying software - I haven't use this version of OmniPage or ArcSoft, but I have used other versions in the past, and both are fine. The Canon Easy Photo Print Software worked well, and it was easy to chose the pictures you want to print, and to manipulate the photo, and print it in the quality you want.
Printing directly from Camera Memory Cards - It supports Compact Flash Type I/II, Microdrive, Smart Media (3.3V only, 1MB and 2MB not supported), Memory Stick, and Memory Stick Pro, AD Secure Digital Memory cards, and MultiMedia Cards. Using an adapter it also supports xD-Picture Card, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick Duo Pro, and mini-SD cards. It also supports PictBridge compliant devices, or can interface via a wireless link, or even via Bluetooth, if you buy an add-on Bluetooth adapter. Printing from the memory card is easy, but the display is really too small to tell quite what you are looking at. You would be better advised to decide which pictures you want to print by looking at them on the camera before starting to print. You can trim the photos, search for photos shot on a specific date, rotate the photos, and control output quality from the printer. Again, this is made more challenging because of the small display, but it does work.
I'm not sure how accurate these are, but I estimated the cost per page for various brands of inkjets using data including the manufacturer's specifications:
Lexmark - .08 black, .29 color
HP - .07 black, .26 color
Epson - .04 black, .11 color
Brother - .03 black, .20 color
Canon - .02 black, .08 color
HP - business ink jets .02 black, .10 color
EDIT 12/5/2005 - It appears that with the change to cartridges with chips in them that the cost of printing with Canon Printers has gone up, especially for black. I now estimate that the cost per page will be about $.04 per page for black, .09 for color.
To compute the cost of a printer over a three year period, if you print as little as 100 black pages a month and 50 color pages (just over three reams of paper a year), your total cost for ink over three years would be:
Lexmark - $810
HP - $720
Brother - $468
Epson - $342
HP Business Ink jet - $252
Canon - $216
EDIT 12/5/2005 - I now estimate that the three year cost of the Canon will be $306.
If you add in the cost of the printer itself, even a "free" Lexmark would cost over $800 while a $200 Canon would cost only $506. Even a user who doesn't print a lot is money ahead to buy the Canon. Since I personally print about a bit over ream a month, my cost differences are even more extreme. With my Epson my costs were about $450 per year, and I expect that with the Canon my costs will be only be about $400 a year. At the other extreme, a Lexmark or HP (except the business line) would cost me in the range of $1000 a year in ink!
EDIT 5/1/2006 - I find that Tom's Hardware page ran some tests computing the actual cost per page of various current inkjet models. These findings confirm my preliminary opinion that the Canon cost per page was very low:
They actually find that the cost per page for black in only $.01, competitive with lasers. These finding are very consistent with my real world results. In the time I have owned this printer I have bought remarkably few cartridges. I am only on the second set of the color cartridges, and the third for black. At this rate my costs will be about half of the $400 I anticipated. The other thing I note from the Tom's test is that some of the Brands, such as Lexmark, while still much more expensive than Canon, aren't nearly as expensive their older models.
Overall comments - I am pleased with my purchase. It performs as I expected. It prints with good quality and low cost. Even though you can buy some other brands of multifunction devices for half the price or less, they will cost you much more in the long run because of the ink price. I recommend spending a little extra up front to save money in the long run. Canon makes a quality product, and based on the fit and finish of this device, it appears to be a device that will last longer than my old Epson. It also gives some nice additional features.