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Smackdown: All-in-One Printers


all-in-one printers

I don’t think I ask too much of my all-in-one printer. I want it to print, scan and copy when I tell it to. I want it to do all that wirelessly, so I don’t have to connect to it. I want it to be easy to set up, easy to maintain, and easy to refill with ink.

Oh, and I want it to be so inexpensive, it feels almost criminal to remove it from the store. 

Today’s All-in-One printers promise to do all these things, including being easy on your wallet. So how do you choose? Well, each sets itself apart with added features and some techie bells and whistles. We tested four of the most popular All-in-One printers: Check out what looks great on paper (ahem).

canon all-in-one printers Canon Pixma TS5020

Of all the printers in this bunch, the rectangular Canon Pixma TS5020 is the most visually striking, with it’s minimal front and sleek footprint. Paper feeds through the fold-away back feed slot only, so if you want to keep the machine loaded with sheets, note that they will always be on display, which makes it slightly less neat looking. The plastic buttons are a bit old school—there’s no touchscreen— but honestly after struggling with all the other touchscreens it was nice to just push a button and have it work. At $80 ($48 for replacement cartridges) it’s reasonably priced. It prints, copies, scans, has an SD card slot, but no fax. And if you’re thinking this printer is probably good for photos because it’s made by a camera manufacturer, then you’re right. Images are where it really shines.

Setup was easier with this printer than with any other I tested, thanks to animated instructions on the printer’s display and an on-screen walkthrough for wireless setup. The printer is also very quiet.

This machine is aimed at crafters: using the Image Gallery feature, you can make cards and calendars, and I dabbled in artsy collages and color copies. The printed images this machine produces are very strong with excellent detail. The paper guides slide easily, and loading all types of paper in the same slot is convenient. 

Document printing is crystal-clear but slow. I was disappointed to find that the printer doesn’t offer automatic two-sided printing, so trying to print a contract seemed to take forever. If you never print two-sided anything, then no loss. 

Wireless printing? Check. And the Canon PRINT Inkjet/SELPHY app lets you print and scan straight from your devices. Double check.

HP Envy 4520 all-in-one printers

HP Envy 4520 All-in-One

The HP Envy 4520 has an appealing rounded front, smooth curve, and the paper tray kinda resembles a smile with a tongue sticking out. It’s also a touch more compact than most. It prints, copies and scans, but has no fax and no SD card slot. It proves to be a solid, basic printer, especially for documents. 

Installing the drivers was easy— I don’t have a CD drive in my laptop, but Googled them and found them with no problem. Installation and wireless setup took an impressively short ten minutes, and it was very quiet. 

The sheet tray holds 100 pages and sliders allow you to feed A4, A5 and A6 media sizes. Printing, scanning and copying were solid and generally fast: Black text was crisp, and full-color graphics were beautiful. 

Through the HP Printables feature, you can print music paper, calendars, games such as Sudoku and mazes, plus (oddly) discounts from online retailers like Stamps.com. 

And the price is stellar: Less than $60 on Amazon without ink, replacement cartridges cost about $35, or you can sign up for HP’s Instant Ink replacement ink service for a BIG discount.  HP keeps track of your ink levels and automatically sends you replacement ink when your tanks are running low. You choose one of three payment levels starting at $2.99/month, based on how many pages you think you’ll print per month, and can save up to 50% over buying ink in the store.

In addition to being able to print wirelessly, its HP ePrint functionality will give your printer a unique email address, so you can email files straight to it. It’s kinda like magic. Looking for even more fun ways to print things? By adding HP Print Bot to your Messenger contacts, you can also print directly from Facebook Messenger. 

Interestingly, this printer is engineered to work for people with a wide range of disabilities, from color blindness to arthritis—nice to know, since accessible devices are usually so much more expensive than ordinary consumer products.

Epson all-in-one printers

Epson XP-640 Expression 

The Epson XP-640 “Small-in-One” (adorable) is a neat, little rectangle with rounded edges and a handily large screen. It prints, scans and copies, but has no fax. It does have a memory card slot. I noticed that the textured top gets fingerprints. At $80 (and about $70 for a pack of replacement cartridges, which I found to be long-lasting), it’s a heck of a printer, and its major strength is photos.

Installation and wireless setup and took about twelve minutes, with a lot of humming and whirring. There’s an option to connect directly to your computer via USB, but you’ll have to provide your own cable.

There are two paper cassettes which handle all the usual sizes plus CDs or DVDs for printing. In order to print, you’ll have to first choose your cartridge (they’re stacked inside the machine), then lift the touch screen. Lifting the screen may be obvious to some, but I got cryptic error messages until I figured it out. You also have to pull out the output tray, which took me some time to locate. Ordinary text printing, copying and scanning is good. Yet the thing that melted all my frustrations was the printed photos. They are gorgeous. Detail and color is so good that I’d use this printer rather than an online service for photo printing.

As with HP ePrint, the Epson Connect feature will let you print from anywhere, and also let you use a dedicated email address to send files to the printer. The Epson iPrint App can access Cloud-based files and print or scan them from your devices, while the Epson Creative Print App can print and make collages of social media-sourced images. Would be great if there was one app where you could manage all this stuff, but anyways…


all-in-one printers

Brother MFC all-in-one printers

Brother All-in-One MFC-J880DW

The Brother All-in-One MFC-J88DW opens like a bento box, with layers of hidden items within: lift the center panel to discover a document feed, pull out a cartridge to load paper, or pick up the upper layer of the machine for scanning or copying. You can also feed specialty paper from the back. Even the ink is hidden under a panel on the side. And unlike many competitors, this machine includes a fax. (Finally! Wait, I never fax, so…) It also has a memory card slot. At about $120 ($45 for a set of cartridges), the printer has some handy abilities, but it’s pricer and ultimately not as robust as others.

Initialization was a little noisy, but fairly quick. Wireless connection and installation was fast, but used some obscure language that made me feel like I was back in the early desktop days, learning Basic. And I don’t want to go back there. I don’t. 

Adjusting the paper guides for printing was a bit difficult— at times, I actually had to force them. That said, when it was all aligned I found that print quality was very sharp. Copy quality, a bit less so. The printer can do photos, but almost as an afterthought. I had to slide the photo tray several ways, and adjusting the settings on the printer was convoluted. The photo that finally printed was grainy. Sigh. 

Tech-wise, the printer can print straight from your devices using the Brother iPrint&Scan app. The app works very smoothly, and might be the most enjoyable feature of this printer. You can also replace ink via Amazon Dash Replenishment: your printer automatically places an order when it senses ink is running low. I mean, you gotta love it when your printer runs errands for you. 

The Verdict

If you’re looking to print lots of images at home, the Epson and the Canon both win the day. I personally prefer the Epson’s photos, but for ease of use, Canon comes in first. When it comes to documents, the HP Envy is the clear winner based on both price and function.

Got another printer that makes a great impression? Tell me in the comments!



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