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You may recognize the Dell A940 printer as the fraternal twin of another multifunction printer that we reviewed recently: the Lexmark X5150. That's because it's the same printer with a Dell logo slapped on. Why review it, you ask? Because this printer and its two counterparts, Dell's S2500n and P1500 laser printers, represent the company's first attempts to brand its own peripheral devices. Also, Dell's new multifunction costs a bit less than Lexmark's, and it comes with Dell's service and support, which is more comprehensive than Lexmark's. Other than that, you'll find the same wealth of functions and ease of use, as well as mediocre print quality and high ink consumption. In short, the A940 may seem like a bargain at the outset--especially if you're buying a whole system from Dell--but in the long run, a printer such as the Canon MultiPass F30 offers similar quality and speed without costing you as much in replacement ink.Editors' note: Since it originally posted, this review and its ratings have been updated to correct facts regarding the A940's ink costs. For specific details, please see our corrections page.
Standard connection, no cable.
The printer's casing is gray and black to match Dell's notebook and desktop line, which makes it look more interesting than your usual beige printer. But despite its stripped-down appearance, the A940 is extremely functional and, therefore, very easy for beginners to use. Setup is as simple as plugging in the device to your computer's USB port (cable not included). You can access any feature through the software drivers on your PC when you hook up the device or via the clearly marked, easy-to-use one-touch and navigation buttons on the top panel.
What you won't find on this budget multifunction are higher-end features, such as an automatic document feeder or built-in duplexing. To get extras such as these, you'll have to spend two to three times as much on a multifunction, such as the HP OfficeJet d145.
To the Dell A940 printer's credit, it is remarkably easy to take advantage of its many features. The scan bed is simple to use--just open the lid and position your document. Also, the input and output trays (100 sheets in, 50 sheets out) will make sense to anyone who has ever used an inkjet printer, and the device's hood raises easily to expose the ink cartridges for replacement. (See our review of the identical Lexmark X5150 for some minor complaints with these features.)
The operator panel, which consists of a series of function and navigation buttons and an informative LCD, makes performing any of the device's multiple functions a no-brainer. To scan, just press the Select Software button; choose whether you want to scan into programs, such as e-mail, Microsoft Word, or Photoshop; then press the Scan key. Copying is as simple as choosing between color or black and white. And when you want to scan photos, you can choose among reprint sizes (for example, 3x5 or 8x10) with the press of a button.
Small area hinders ink cartridge changes.
Easy-to-use one-touch and navigation buttons.
The LCD is as full of information as your average software print driver--or of the A940's driver, for that matter. The LCD lets you select the number of copies, the output quality, the ink density, and the option for collating (no special attachment needed), and it even shows the ink levels in your cartridges. To scroll through all of these options, simply access the handful of navigation buttons above the one-touch portion of the panel. All in all, you could very well start putting the A940 to good use without so much as a glance at the owner's manual.
You can access all of the A940's functions, including printing--which can't be done without the PC--via the included Dell All-In-One Center software, which manifests an icon in your Windows taskbar. This program neatly groups the access to fax, copy, scan, and print capabilities into one window, and it offers creative solutions, such as how to print posters, e-mail an image, and edit text scanned to the included Abbyy's FineReader 5.0 Sprint OCR software (see this review of version 6.0). Dell also includes its own Photo Editor software, which offers rudimentary photo-manipulation tools for red-eye, cropping, color fills, and more. This software package is the same as the one that comes with the Lexmark version, other than the name (Lexmark Photo Editor).
One caveat for those who are new to multifunctions: While the Dell A940 does have fax capabilities, it does not plug in to your phone line like a standard fax machine does. Instead, you'll have to scan documents and send them via the included BVRP's FaxTools software through your PC's modem. This is fine for occasional faxing, but as with the Lexmark X5150, for frequent or big fax jobs, you may want to consider a standalone fax machine with an autofeeder.
As you might expect, the Dell A940 printer's performance on our speed and quality tests is nearly identical to that of the Lexmark X5150. Its text-printing speeds averaged 5.5 pages per minute, which is a solid middle-range score among both standalone inkjets and multifunctions. The A940 ran slightly faster than the much older but still top-rated HP OfficeJet d145 and a bit slower than the Canon MultiPass F60, another highly rated multifunction. The A940's photo print speeds, on the other hand, are quite impressive for such an inexpensive machine. At 1.83 minutes per page, it ranks up there with highly rated inkjets such as the Canon i850.
Print quality is another story. Our jury rated text as fair on both plain copy paper and coated inkjet paper, while graphics were fair on plain paper and poor on inkjet paper. Text appeared very blotchy and hard to read at both small and regular (9 to 12 points) font sizes. The text also looked decidedly fuzzy and exhibited noticeable horizontal banding in places. Graphics suffered from visible banding and fuzziness; a dithered cast to graphics, photos, and gradients; and soft lines. Our 8x10-inch test photo appeared quite dark and blocky in places, as if the printer couldn't pick up the fine details of the original photo.
Scan quality, on the other hand, looked quite good--comparable to that of better standalone scanners, such as the older Epson Perfection 2400. On our black-and-white test scan, photos came out clear and bright, with expertly reproduced fine details. On the color scan, photos were nice and sharp, and the scanner reproduced color shading nicely.
The A940's so-so copy quality rendered details fairly well but had a greenish cast. It also looked faded in places yet too black (in text, especially) in others.
Before you consider buying any printing device, you must remember that the consumable costs--that is, ink and paper--can jack up the price significantly. The Dell A940's sub-$150 price tag is slightly negated by its ink prices. New cartridges run $29.95 for black and $34.95 for color, and according to our drain tests, the printer ate up about 7.7 cents per page of black ink, which is average for an inkjet, and it cost 47 cents per page of color ink (25 to 30 cents per page is the norm for most inkjets).
Multifunction printer text speed (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Inkjet printer quality|
Dell backs the A940 with a one-year warranty, which is standard for the industry. However, you can upgrade to a two-, three-, or four-year warranty for $99, $129, or $209, respectively--an option that could benefit companies that put more wear and tear on their machines. With the standard warranty, you get access to Dell's toll-free, 24/7 phone tech support for the life of the printer--a generous offering. Dell's Web site also contains a plethora of support options, such as e-mail tech support, a searchable knowledge base, downloadable drivers, and community forums for discussion with other users.
For basic quality or maintenance issues, however, you can simply consult the Dell Printer Solution Center, which is part of the All-In-One software. It also features a how-to section with a task-based user manual that brings up a graphical page of instructions for actions such as scanning, printing photos, and using the device's operator panel.
Given that this printer is set to hit Dell's "virtual shelves" on the day that we post our review, we weren't able to make a test tech-support call as of press time. Check back later for an update on that.