The Lexmark Z816 color inkjet is a sleek, fast, all-purpose inkjet printer that has very little going for it beyond good looks and zippy text printing. Despite its vaunted 4,800x1,200dpi color and 2,400x1,200dpi maximum black-text resolution, the Z816's output is mediocre at best. And in a world where other $99 inkjets have built-in camera card readers (the ), or support printing to CDs and DVDs (the Epson R200), the Lexmark Z816 just doesn't have much to offer. With the Z816 Color Jetprinter, Lexmark forgoes the typical breadbox-shaped inkjet body in favor of a sleek, forward-tilting, low-to-the-ground, flattop style. That shape, combined with its two-tone silver and dark-gray color scheme with clear, dark-plastic accents, gives the printer a modern look. The Z816 is made of lightweight plastic and comes in at just 6.16 pounds. With its paper trays fully extended, the Z816 is of average size for an inkjet printer: 17.3 by 16.9 by 12.1 inches. The control panel, if you can call it that, consists of two round buttons: one for paper feeding and one for power.
At the back of the printer you'll find a power supply connector and the USB 2.0 port. To connect the Z816 to your PC or Mac, just use the included USB cable (if you already have your own, buy the version of this printer that doesn't come with a cable). The Z816 is compatible with Windows 98, 2000, Me, and XP, as well as Mac OS X 10.1.5, 10.2.3 to 10.2.8, and 10.3.0 to 10.3.2.
The Z816 has a sturdy, rib-reinforced rear paper tray that rises up from the back of the printer to hold 100 sheets of plain paper or 10 envelopes. In front, a plastic access cover hides the print-carriage assembly and the Z816's two ink tanks. Etched inside the cover are four difficult-to-decipher pictographs meant to guide you through ink cartridge replacement. Fortunately, the color-coded labels underneath the drawings match the printer's cartridges and their lids, so getting the ink tanks into their proper slots is foolproof. The Lexmark Z816 comes as a four-color (CMYK) inkjet printer with one color and one black cartridge. You can turn the Z816 into a six-color photo inkjet by replacing the black ink tank with a photo color cartridge, available for $24.99 from Lexmark. The photo cartridge greatly improves the color quality of snapshots, especially high-resolution images printed on photo paper. The Z816 is capable of printing color photos at up to 4,800x1,200dpi, but keep in mind that higher resolution does not automatically translate into better quality.
If you're using the Z816 as a photo printer, you can experiment with Lexmark's Photo Editor and Precision Photo software, the only items that come close to qualifying as extra features. The beginner-friendly Photo Editor gives you all the basic photo-editing tools. You can resize images, remove red-eye, crop a shot, and add text or drawings. Precision Photo offers more project-oriented features. You can choose from an array of single and multiple photo-layout options for albums or cards. The program also gives you a quick way to attach photos to e-mails and set up fun slide shows. With a rate of more than 7ppm (pages per minute) for text, the Lexmark Z816 currently holds court as one of the fastest inkjet printers we've tested. Its photo-printing performance wasn't as impressive, however. It took up to 4.9 minutes to deliver an 8x10 color photo--not the slowest we've seen but pretty close. Throughout our tests, the Z816 performed very smoothly, if a little noisily.
In CNET Labs' inkjet print-quality tests, which were conducted with the photo color ink cartridge installed, the Z816 turned in a mostly average performance. For a supposedly all-purpose inkjet, the Lexmark Z816's text quality was especially disappointing. On the spiffy sheets Lexmark recommends, Kodak's Premium Inkjet paper, letters looked fuzzy--likely the result of excessive dot gain--which made fonts smaller than 4 points almost illegible. This was especially true of colored text and gray lines produced with composite (CMYK) color rather than shades of black. Thanks to the dithering algorithms, colored dots appeared outside the lines. This also contributed to a generally inconsistent, washed-out tone on all colored graphics. In addition, even after realigning the printheads multiple times, we saw severe horizontal printhead banding, which contributed to color banding in the gradients. The Z816 redeemed itself somewhat with its photo output, which was the best among the Lexmark printers we've tested. While they're far from perfect, our prints were reasonably well detailed and crisp, if a bit warm. We estimate that it costs 25 cents for your average color graphics print. We were unable to calculate the cost per photo because Lexmark doesn't disclose that information.
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CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo contributed to this section. Lexmark covers the Z816 with a standard one-year warranty. If you suspect you bought a lemon, Lexmark will replace it within two business days and even pay for shipping. Phone support is available toll free Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on Saturdays. You'll find downloadable drivers, well-written manuals, a searchable knowledge base, and an e-mail link to tech support on the Lexmark Web site. Overall, the content is easy to browse and useful.