Editor's note: On June 4, 2003, we updated this review to reflect that the Lexmark X6170 does print on legal-sized paper.
Lexmark's full-featured X6170 all-in-one office center replaces several familiar pieces of equipment in a home office or at a cubicle desk, providing an easy, confidential way to fax, scan, and print documents in color or monochrome. Sure, the X6170 suffers from astoundingly slow print speeds compared to those of other multifunctions, such as Lexmark's own X5150. And if your business correspondence demands the sharp-quality text that only a laser printer can provide, you'll want a multifunction that's built around a laser engine, such as Hewlett-Packard's LaserJet 3330mfp. (Macintosh users will have to look elsewhere; Lexmark has no Mac drivers for the X6170.) Nonetheless, considering the X6170's impressive features, its ability to copy and fax without being attached to a PC, and its decent CNET image-quality test scores, its less-than-$250 price tag makes it a bargain.
More photos and the full review of the Lexmark X6170:
Design | Features | Performance | Service and support
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A standard USB connection hooks the X6170 to your PC.
To install the X6170, run the USB cable to your PC, power up the printer, and insert the CD; Lexmark's installer does the rest. A ledge in front of the scanner contains the control panel. Surrounding a backlit LCD are several groups of buttons, which provide all the controls you need to copy and fax without a PC and to initiate scans to the PC. The control panel's buttons and menus are uncluttered and clearly labeled. For example, to make a color copy, first push the Copy button, then the "Color start copy/scan/fax" button; to send a monochrome fax, push the Fax button, then the "Black start copy/scan/fax" button. The up-arrow and down-arrow buttons next to the LCD scroll through menus to reduce or enlarge a copy, set how many copies to make, and so on. The telephone keypad sends one-off faxes and, used in combination with the fax menus on the LCD, stores frequently used fax numbers in the X6170's flash memory.
Unfortunately, the X6170 has one design problem that limits its usefulness for collating copy jobs. The automatic document feeder goes through a stack of pages only once; it can't send pages back to the top of the pile after it runs them over the glass. This means that it can't count them before making copies, so you'll have to hand-count the pages in the document and enter that on the control panel. If it's any consolation, most inexpensive multifunctions and copiers suffer from the same omission.
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A brace holds the scanner up to expose the copier beneath.
On the other hand, there are some functions that the X6170 performs better with the help of its Lexmark All-In-One Center software. For one, the X6170 doesn't have enough memory to collate color copies on its own, but the software's Copy Settings command will collate a color copy, though you still have to hand-count the initial number of pages. The software also includes a descreen command, which reduces dot patterns in copies of documents that were printed on an offset press.
If you initiate a scan from the control panel, the LCD displays a list of applications on your PC that can receive the scan and a list of scan resolutions up to 600dpi. If you initiate a scan from the PC software, you can scan up to 1,200dpi optical resolution. The All-In-One Center software can sharpen blurry images and provides some color-correction settings. The Lexmark software bundle includes Abbyy's FineReader 5.0 Sprint Plus optical-character recognition to convert scans of text documents into editable text. Lexmark's own Photo Editor, on the other hand, offers only a few primitive touchup features, such as those for adjusting contrast, cropping, and eliminating red-eye; a line tool; a bloblike paintbrush; and a way to paste text on top of the image.
The X6170 takes faxing seriously. Using the LCD's control panel menus, you can print reports of fax activity, scan a document and postpone sending it (to wait for lower nighttime telephone rates), create a simple text header for outgoing faxes, and forward faxes to a different number. It supports distinctive ring tones and can add a date/time stamp to incoming faxes. It also has a Call Diagnostics setting that Lexmark technicians use for remote troubleshooting. If you don't have legal-sized paper in the tray, it will split incoming legal-sized faxes onto two letter-sized pages or reduce them to fit on one.
Unfortunately, Lexmark's Fax Setup Utility software doesn't add much to the party. It stores up to 80 speed-dial numbers and 20 groups on your PC, and it can upload them to the X6170's flash memory so that you don't have to duplicate the entries by tediously punching them in to the numeric keypad. But the Fax Setup Utility doesn't provide a place to keep notes on your contacts or even to store voice numbers or e-mail contact addresses. Another feature that's missing from both the PC fax software and the X6170 itself is remote call-in to change the fax-forward number. To redirect incoming faxes when you're traveling, you'll need a helper back home.
For small offices, Lexmark sells an Ethernet adapter for $100 and a wireless network adapter for $150, which makes the X6170 available for your workgroup for printing (but not for scanning). The Lexmark X6170 passed some of CNET Labs' performance tests in reasonable time, but we were dismayed when we compiled its printing-speed scores. Ordinary text documents dribbled out at only 1.2 pages per minute, less than one-third as fast as the next-slowest printer in CNET's recent records. And a high-resolution color photo on glossy paper took 11 minutes to print; most other recent printers managed the same file in 2 to 4 minutes.
On scanning color, however, the X6170 ran in the middle of the pack, completing our test document in 19.5 seconds, while recent competitors have ranged from 16.5 to 23 seconds. It also scanned our grayscale test page in 10.5 seconds, near the fastest in a range of 9.4 to 18 seconds. It copied a page of mixed text and color graphics in 17 seconds, while the competition ranged from 7.1 to 32.1 seconds.
The X6170 made an adequate image-quality impression with prints, and it did somewhat better with scans. Black text on plain paper looked slightly grayish, cracked, and broken up, especially in smaller font sizes, but it was definitely legible and free of shadowing or spatter--good enough for most basic office functions. On coated inkjet paper, text showed up blacker and easier to read, though close examination still showed some roughness around the edges.
Color prints had a dotty texture throughout, and colors looked slightly foggy; they generally matched the hue well but didn't get the correct shade. Transitions between colors came out blocky, with mixtures of inappropriate colors in some places. Our high-resolution color photo on glossy paper showed surprising posterization--that is, solid blocks of color where there should have been subtle textures--and colors and lighting were too dark in the darkest areas of the image; one judge described it as "dingy." Color scans, on the other hand, had accurate, saturated colors and good detail on small objects, though there was some dottiness. Grayscale scans made the best impression, with very sharp detail, similar to that captured by a good standalone flatbed scanner. Unfortunately, the X6170 seemed to drop some of the lightest grayscales, which affected shading and texture in light areas.
Lexmark says that its black cartridge should print 600 pages of text while its color cartridge should print 450 pages of light graphics. In CNET's tests, the X6170 actually printed the equivalent of 520 pages of text and 208 pages of color. This works out to 5.8 cents per page of black and 38.1 cents per page of color. We've seen better costs per page on other multifunctions.
Multifunction printer text speed (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Inkjet printer quality|
Lexmark also includes a poster with crystal-clear instructions for setting up the X6170, along with a manual that provides good detail on using the machine. Unfortunately, the documentation is not as strong for the bundled software. When CNET called Lexmark's tech support to ask a question that the manual didn't cover, we got through to a technician within two minutes after navigating the voicemail system. Our technician admitted right up front that he wasn't familiar with the new X6170, then put us on hold for three minutes and came back with the right answer.