When buying an all-in-one printer, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the array of choices. But with a little thought and research, you can be confident you’ll find the best one for your needs and your budget.
Define what you need in an all-in-one printer
Think through what functions you need. Although this is basic advice when buying any kind of computer equipment, it’s especially important on a multi-function device like an all-in-one printer.
Do you need the fax function enough to pay for it? Check your computer modem specs to see if it is a fax-modem. If so, you can send and receive faxes on your computer. Or you can “fax” through an online fax service for a small subscription fee. If you rarely fax, if you don’t have a land-line phone, or if you don’t have long distance on your landline, online faxing might meet your needs better than paying for a fax on an all-in-one printer.
Do you print a lot of text, a lot of graphics, or a lot of photos? Generally, printers, including all-in-ones, don’t excel at more than one kind of printing. So weigh which kind of print quality is most important. Does the quality of the text matter? If you’ll be printing resumes, business cards, or client documents, the answer is probably yes. You’ll want a machine that prints nice, sharp dark text. Or is photo or graphics printing more important?
Do you need better resolution on your scans than on your print-outs? Knowing an exact number of dots per inch (dpi) isn’t as important as knowing whether high resolution scanning or high resolution printing is more important to you. But if you haven’t been happy with the resolution of a past printer or scanner, it might be helpful to know what the resolution of that device was, so you can look for higher resolution for that functionality from your new device.
Will you also be using a printer or scanner you already own, as well as the all-in-one? Do you expect it to last for a while, or do you think it’s in its last days? If you think it will last, look for printing or scanning capabilities on the all-in-one printer that complement those of the machine you already own. Look for machines that excel at a different kind of printing than the printer you have or one with great scanning. If you have another scanner you’ll still be using, focus on the all-in-one’s printing capabilities.
Is speed especially important to you? Is printing or scanning speed of more importance?
How much use will the all-in-one machine be getting? How many pages will you expect it to print or scan in a month? If this is just for home of home office this probably isn’t a concern. But if you do a lot of printing in your home office, look at the recommended duty cycles for the function you will use most. Remember with a multifunction device, if part of it breaks down it will probably all break down. So don’t buy a model designed for lighter use than you’ll be giving it. Having some idea of how much you print or scan will keep you from buying a machine that won’t live up to your expectations.
Do you need an automatic document feeder? Do you regularly use multiple types of paper? You’ll want to look for a machine with more than one paper tray (also known as paper cartridge). Both document feeders and additional paper trays are sold as optional accessories on some models. So if you don’t need these now but think you will later, those models might be worth considering. But, of course, the models that come with optional accessories are not cheap.
How important is a wireless connection? Would a USB connection do instead? Do you need to be able to connect it directly to your network, rather than to one of the computers on your network? If so, can the machine accommodate the kind of connection you need for your network?
Does the machine need to go in a particular place? You’ll probably want even a wireless model within reach of your desk. All-in-ones are usually larger than ink-jet printers and there has to be room to lift the scanner lid. If necessary, measure the available space so you’ll know the maximum dimensions of the new machine.
Prioritize Your Needs
Once you’ve thought through all the things you need from your all-in-one, think through which are really needs and which are wants. Even with the price of all-in-one printers going down recently, the odds are against the exact combination of features and specs you’d like being on the machine you want at a price you can afford. So think through what you absolutely have to have – no compromises, what you really need to have but can compromise on and what would be nice to have.
Consider cost of use
Look at more than just the all-in-one’s purchase cost. Research the costs of supplies and how fast you’ll be going through them. Ink jet cartridges are expensive, but some are less so than others. And with some models, you have to replace all the ink colors even if only one has run out because all the ink colors are in one cartridge. And some models use ink more quickly than others. You can research per-page costs at consumerreports.org and pcmag.com.
Look at reviews from both experts and users
Look at reviews from a couple of different sources. Read reviews from an expert or two if available. Users often have different experiences from experts, so read users’ reviews, too. Look at why they didn’t like a particular all-in-one and how they were using it. If you’re a home user, you might have a very different experience with the machine than someone using it in a small office.
Look at brand repair history, customer service and the warranty
Because these multi-function machines are more complex than normal scanners and printers, they have more things that can go wrong, making it that much more important to buy one from a manufacturer with a history of reliable products and with good customer service and tech support. It also makes it more important to weigh the length and quality of the product’s warranty against its price.
Look at the all-in-one machine in person
When you’ve narrowed it down, go to stores that carry the all-in-one printers you’re interested in and look them over in person, even if you plan to buy online.
Watch for seasonal sales and compare online and local prices
While there’s no one season that’s clearly the best time to buy all-in-one printers, they usually go on sale during back-to-school, holiday and post-holiday seasons. Watch for sales on computers and laptops. Printers often go on sale at the same time. Don’t assume the best prices are online. Check online prices against prices at local office, electronic, discount and warehouse stores.
For more on reliability of all-in-one printers, please see pcmag.com’s article and pcworld.com’s reader survey on service and reliability printer section.