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On paper, the low-cost Lexmark P915 offers most of the things you need in a home photo printer: six-color printing, 4,800x1,200 resolution, PC-free operation via PictBridge and media card slots, and an easy-to-use software bundle. Unfortunately, its relatively poor print quality quickly deflates any warm, fuzzy glow the bargain may inspire. The Lexmark P915's low price is hard to beat, but it is reflected in the construction of the printer. You almost want to treat the paper-exit tray, the paper guide, and the cartridge bays gingerly for fear of damaging the printer. The P915's modest footprint measures 16.9 by 9.3 inches and with the standard rear-loading, front-delivery paper path closed, about 5.9 inches high. The clear, bright 2.5-inch LCD sits in the center of the front panel, surrounded by the controls. Lexmark seems to have located the buttons more for design than for usability; Rotate and Number Of Prints are separated from the rest of the controls, making navigation a little awkward. As is typical of printers with media card slots, you can easily access the media card bay, which is covered by a flip-down plastic door on the front panel of the unit. The P915 supports 11 memory card types and a PictBridge port for directly connecting your PictBridge-enabled camera. As is the trend with most photo-inkjet printers on the market today, the Lexmark P915 enables computer-free printing from your digital camera or a media card. It supports CompactFlash Types I and II, Microdrive, SD/MMC, xD, SmartMedia, and Memory Stick media, as well as the Memory Stick Duo with an adapter. The PictBridge port is accessible via the front-panel media bay. Computer-free printing is relatively straightforward with the P915's media bay and control panel, but editing is limited to basic cropping and brightness. If attached to your computer via the included USB 2.0 cable, the Lexmark lets you easily transfer photos from media cards or cameras plugged into the P915's media bay.
The front-panel LCD screen is large and bright, enabling you to easily see a preview of your prints and the printer status information. It also provides a graphical representation of the ink levels in the two combo cartridges--you pair either a black or photo cartridge (light CMK) with a standard CMY cartridge--and the type of cartridge in the printer.
The P915 supports a wide variety of paper, envelope, and card sizes, and the printer lives up to its borderless-printing-media claims, with output ranging from the small Hagaki format (3.9x5.8) to full 8.5x11-inch sheets. As images are printing, the Lexmark displays a countdown timer on the LCD, but the company's team must have learned information display from early Microsoft programmers because the timer fluctuates up and down on each refresh, making it an almost worthless estimate.
The included support software is simple and easy to use. When you insert a media card, a pop-up dialog asks if you would like to save the images to your computer or select images to print. Lexmark's Fast Pics image software lets you select the photos you'd like to print, the number of prints, and the output size, though you're limited to 4x6, 5x7, and 8x10-inch sizes. You can also use the Print Center utility to output various layouts of multiple prints on pages up to 8.5x11 inches; this is useful for scrapbooks, photo frame collages, and contact sheets. The driver software has a friendly voice that tells you when printing has started and stopped, but if you print a lot, you'll probably want to turn it off. From a distance, text looks OK, but closer up, you can see the results of poor control over ink droplets and printhead alignment; jaggies and ink spray are the predominant problems. Furthermore, the slow-drying ink wicks along the grain of plain paper and, as mentioned earlier, tends to smudge. Photos printed from the Lexmark P915 will smudge easily if touched within a few minutes of printing, so you will have to be sure to avoid contact with the print surface and not allow multiple prints to stack up on the paper-exit tray. On our graphics test, the driver exhibited some odd behavior, printing black text and graphics with both process black and CMY composite ink when using the standard color and black cartridges (usually, it's one or the other). As a result, these items have a slight magenta halo, not to mention the huge waste of ink. Furthermore, we saw both printhead and color banding on the coated paper. A typical text page should run you about 4.2 cents in ink costs; an 8x10 photo uses approximately 24 cents' worth of ink.
The P915's photos lack the dynamic range of other six-ink printers, producing muddy shadow areas and oddly intense flesh tones. We also spotted several pizza-wheel-type tracks from the feed mechanism running down the length of the page.
The prints may not be very good, but they come out relatively quickly. Though its photo-print speed is fairly average for its class, the P915's text-printing speed is quite zippy for a photo printer.
Measured in pages per minute (longer bars indicate better performance)
|Photo speed||Text speed|