The Dell A920 is the least-expensive multifunction device we've seen. For less than $100, you get one compact unit with a flatbed scanner that scans, prints, copies, and faxes. Unfortunately, though it's delightfully easy to use, this multifunction printer performs none of its functions particularly well. Nor can it be used as a standalone device; you must have the PC turned on to copy, scan, or even fax. Worse, the A920 works with only Windows 2000 and XP--a problem for those who haven't yet upgraded. We think that most users would be better off with Dell's more full-featured multifunction, the A940, instead.
Measuring the width and length of your average flatbed scanner but six inches higher to accommodate the print engine, the Dell A920 couldn't be any more compact. The printer's paper-input tray is a plastic guide that holds 100 sheets and folds down over the top of the scanner lid when not in use. The output tray is a flat plastic drawer that slides out from under the device, but you have to lift the whole unit slightly to slide it out, which makes the device seem jury-rigged. Also, this quirk is mentioned nowhere in the included documentation. The print cartridges are very easy to install and remove--just pop open the scanner section to reveal the print engine. On the A920's top, there is a basic control panel with all of the buttons clearly labeled.
The control panel is clearly labeled with one button for each function.
Setting up the USB-connected A920 (cable not included) is easy. Unfortunately, the device driver works with only Windows 2000 and Windows XP; Windows 98 and Me users are out of luck. Assuming your OS is compatible, it will take a few minutes to load Dell's All-In-One Center software.
The best thing about the Dell A920 is its ease of use. Thanks to the simple control panel and Dell's excellent All-In-One Center software, scanning, copying, printing, and faxing are hassle-free. To scan, for example, you just place your material on the scanbed and press the Scan button, which will launch the All-In-One software on your PC. From there, you choose where to send the scanned image (a folder or an application), along with what's being scanned (a photo or text), and how the scan will be used (for printing, the Web, or faxing). Copying is a one-button procedure, just as it is with a regular copier. To make multiple copies or reduce or enlarge, use the software instead of the control panel button.
Lift the scanner flatbed for easy access to the ink cartridges.
The All-In-One Center software is organized around a main, task-oriented dialog box. You can select functions, such as print or scan, or select the Creative Tasks option for more complex tasks, such as enlarging an image or editing text. Dell Photo Editor is a rudimentary but useful editing program that removes red-eye, crops, adds text, rotates an image, and does color fills, among other functions.
If you want to fax, however, you'll need your own fax-modem; the A920 doesn't have one. And, if you have only a high-speed Internet connection, you won't be able to use the fax feature at all.
The Dell A920 may be inexpensive, but its performance isn't worth the money. First of all, the A920 is really slow. It averaged 3.62 pages per minute (ppm) printing text and 3.35 minutes per page (mpp) printing 8x10 photos. The slightly more expensive Lexmark X5150 outpaced it at 5.17ppm for text and 1.85mpp for photos.
The A920 also squirts through ink cartridges at an expensive rate. The cartridges are already pricey at $26.95 for black and $29.95 for each color. According to our ink-drain tests, printing strictly black text will cost you about 10.4 cents per page--three times the norm for most inkjets. Printing documents with mixed-color graphics will run you about 46 cents per page, a reasonable amount but still about twice as high as we'd like.
Overall, our tests showed that the scan quality was poor. Color scans looked grainy and lacked fine detail. Monochrome scans appeared unfocused, and the device was unable to pick up paler shades of gray or render subtler details. The A920's print quality was only slightly better. Text on plain and inkjet paper looked fuzzy; very small fonts appeared moth-eaten. Larger text was feathery. Graphics on plain and inkjet paper was also merely fair. Color gradations suffered from abrupt, uneven transitions from dark to light, and the whole test document was visibly dithered (the tiny dots that blend to make shades of color were obvious to the naked eye). Photo prints suffered from outrageously dark and bold colors, skin tones were overly pink in hue, and again, the A920 missed most of the subtler details that a good printer should reproduce.
Multifunction printer text speed (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Inkjet printer quality|
Dell backs the A920 with a one-year warranty. As with all its products, Dell offers 24/7 phone technical support for the A920. An impressive array of Web-based support options include e-mail, a searchable knowledge base, downloadable drivers, and community forums.
Thanks to the Dell Printer Solution Center, which is part of the All-In-One Center software, you may not even need to look online to troubleshoot. For example, in the how-to section, the task-based manual brings up a graphical page of instructions for issues such as how to use the printer's various functions, how to clean the ink heads, and how to remedy common problems.