The Lexmark Z1420 is a basic and inexpensive inkjet printer designed for home users who need to make only occasional prints. The key feature of this $80 printer is its ability to print wirelessly out of the box; that's a surprising feature for an entry-level inkjet and a boon for homes with multiple users. It prints quickly for a machine in this price range but sacrifices print quality in the process. If the wireless capability is paramount and you can live without great print quality, the Lexmark Z1420 is the printer for you. If you want to print good-looking holiday cards or newsletters, however, you're better off with a machine like the $50 Canon Pixma iP1800. Keep in mind that you can network a USB printer like the Pixma iP1800 with a print server or a router with a built-in print server, though your overall cost will be more than $80.
The Lexmark Z1420 employs a basic design. The white-and-gray printer is boxy, yet not unattractive in its simplicity. It measures 18.1 inches wide, 7.8 inches deep, and just 4.8 inches tall, and weighs a mere 5.7 pounds. The paper input support juts up from the rear edge of the printer and holds up to 100 sheets of regular paper. A translucent, dark gray shield sits in front of the input area, preventing random objects (such as pens or paper clips) from falling into the paper input area--it's a small, but well-considered, touch. The output tray slides out from the front of the printer.
The Z1420 uses a two-cartridge system--one black and one tricolor cartridge--which is standard-issue at this price. When printing photos, you can swap out the black tank for a tricolor photo cartridge, which gives you six-color photo prints. Lexmark's site offers three tiers of pricing: regular, high-yield, and a return program option. The regular black cartridge costs $26 (215 pages), the return program version costs $22, and the high-yield cartridge costs $30 (500 pages). The regular color cartridge costs $24 (185 pages), the return yield version costs $20, and the high-yield one costs $25 (500 pages). The optional photo cartridge will set you back $25. Using the high-yield cartridges, the per-page costs should be about 6 cents for black and 11 cents for color--both numbers are reasonable for a low-cost inkjet printer.
The Z1420 is a basic, single-function printer, so there isn't much to speak of when it comes to features. It does, however, include built-in 802.11g/b wireless capability, unheard of in an $80 printer. During the printer installation routine, you can opt to set up the printer on your wireless network--it's easy to do. A Wi-Fi icon on the front of the printer alerts you to its status.
The bundled Lexmark Imaging Studio software is useful for basic tasks, but it falls short with creative projects. Your main options are to view/print photos from your PC (individually or in packages a la grade school photos), view the photos as a slide show, make poster prints, or make photo greeting cards. The first three options work as you'd expect. When making prints, you simply select a photo, indicate the size you want printed, and how many prints. For layouts, the process is much the same. Creating a slide show is as simple as dragging and dropping photos into the work field and clicking "view slide show." You can even save slide shows for later viewing.
When it comes to creating greeting cards, however, the options are oddly limited. You can select from a number of layouts and themes: each card has a background image that dominates the print field. Then, you get a blank photo field into which you can add one of your photos and a text field. Sadly, you can't set one of your photos as the main background, nor can you change the size and shape of the text and photo boxes. So you're limited to greeting cards such as a picture of your dog in a garden...that's not yours. Odd.
The Lexmark Z1420 was a tiny bit faster than the slightly cheaper competition (at least some of the $30 price difference can be accounted for by the wireless capability, we think). It printed black text at a rate of 6.68 pages per minute, faster than the Canon iP1800's 5.82ppm. It tied the Canon, however, in 4x6 photo prints with a score of 0.72ppm.