Multi-functional printers can scan and copy, too

Berlin  - Multi-functional devices are the Swiss army knives of the peripherals world. They can print, copy and scan all in one package. There are downsides, though. If one function breaks, the whole device has to be brought in for repairs. The devices won't win prizes based on their prowess in the individual disciplines, either -their value is as a package.

Potential buyers should decide beforehand how they intend using the device.

"If you do a lot of printing, then laser technology is a good choice," says Jaroslav Smycek, a technology expert at the Consumer Central for Lower Saxony, Germany. If the unit is needed for heavy office use, laser printers print faster and in higher quality than their competitors. Private users primarily focused on photos and colour prints are better served by ink jets - since colour laser multi-function devices cost almost three times as much as their ink jet counterparts.

Would-be buyers should also be clear about which functions are needed. While stand-alone scanners often include shine-through modules for slides or negatives, these units might not be available at all for multi-function devices. A close look should be given to the scanner technology itself, Smycek says. Those who frequently scan books or 3D items should look for CCD technology.

"That is good for clear depictions of objects," the expert says. The cheaper CIS technology performs worse.

The cost of prints from multifunction devices is particularly important. One test from 2006 by Stiftung Warentest in Berlin found that the thriftiest ink devices cost 3 cents per standard (A4) page and 100 cents per colour page. The best devices from 2008 have now cut those costs in half.

The cheapest of the multi-functional devices - with street prices from 50 dollars - often have quite high print costs, the 2008 tests found. "That means that they're recommended only for those who print infrequently," Stiftung Warentest says. The best colour ink jet multi-functional device was the Canon Pixma MP610, available from roughly 120 dollarsIt received a grade of 2.1, equivalent to a B+.

The HP Officejet Pro L7480, from about 180 dollars, provides better scan results, equally good printing and copying, and especially cheap black and white printing. Its grade was only slightly lower (2.3), perhaps due to the simpler features. Also earning a 2.3 was the Epson Stylus Photo RX685 (from 140 dollars).

Its very good and fast black and white printing made it "excellent for office types, not so good for amateur photographers," Stiftung Warentest wrote of the Samsung SCX-4200, from about 110 dollars, and the HP LaserJet M1005 MFP, two black and white multi-functional devices based on laser technology. The latter device has already been replaced by the Laserjet M1120 MFP.

Those looking for printers that run inexpensively can use a few tricks to save money when buying ink. "Third-party ink is not qualitatively worse than original manufacturer ink," says consumer product specialist Jaroslav Smycek. Tests have even shown that third-party ink sometimes scores better than original ink. The bottom line, says Smycek, is that "You can certainly save money on printing costs. " (dpa)