Canon's MultiPass MP730 straddles the line between a photo printer and a do-everything multifunction device for your home office. Drawing on its fast color ink-jet print engine, the MP730 copies in color or black and white, scans to and prints from your PC, and faxes both paper and digital documents. The MP730 includes an automatic document feeder and a built-in digital camera flash card reader--rare extras for a multifunction. But you'll pay for the extras with a lofty $400 price tag. So if you don't anticipate using the flash-memory readers or you need more sophisticated fax features (or if you work on a Mac), consider another multifunction printer, such as the $140 or the $299 HP PSC 2210.
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The scanner lifts to reveal the ink tanks or to clear a paper jam.
The MP730 is designed to operate without a PC. It has two flash-memory slots just under the lip of the control panel that accept digital camera cards in the CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, MultiMediaCard, and Secure Digital formats. When you push the Photo Print button, the control panel's LCD displays menus for printing directly from the cards. If you have your PC attached, you can also transfer images from the cards to the PC. However, unlike photo printers which use six inks (with light shades of magenta and cyan), the MP730 uses only four inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) like ordinary color printers, and this does affect the photo .
The control panel LCD also provides menus to operate the copy and fax modes independently of a PC. One nice touch: the LCD displays small and large type on the same screen, allowing more information about a print job to show at one time.
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The flash card reader under the control panel means you don't need a PC to print photos.
Still, the MP730 provides plenty of features we do like. Using the menus with the Photo Print mode, you can print a photo contact sheet, pick individual images to print, and set up the printer to copy or print onto high-quality glossy paper. In the Copy mode, menus let you print two reduced originals side by side or print the same image on the same page several times (useful for business cards, name tags, and so on). The fax engine distinguishes voice from fax, sending voice calls to your phone or an answering machine and sending fax calls to the printer or to buffer memory so that you don't have to get a second phone line installed for your fax.
Installing the MP730 software is slow but idiot-proof: You just pop in the CD and follow instructions, which require restarting your PC several times. Canon bundles the MP730 with ScanSoft's OmniPage SE, a lite version of on the market, and NewSoft's Presto PageManager 6.0, one of the best document-management databases available. The MultiPass MP730 won't replace top-of-the-line printers and scanners, but its print and scan speeds keep up with other multifunctions' as well as that of most as midrange ink-jet printers and scanners on the market today. In our tests, it printed ordinary text at 6.4 pages per minute and printed CNET's high-resolution test photo in 3.7 minutes. For comparison, the Lexmark X5150 (only $149 but without fax capability or automatic document feeder) prints text at a more common 5.2 pages per minute, and printed our test photo in about 2 minutes. Canon's MP730 scans a page of black in 9.4 seconds and a page of color in 20 seconds; that's seconds faster than the HP PSC 1210. And the Canon makes copies in 18.7 seconds; that's almost twice as fast the HP PSC 1210.
Unfortunately, the MP730 delivers a mixed bag on image quality. When printing, better paper has a big effect. When we printed text on ordinary paper, for instance, it looked grayish instead of black, and a gray shadow haunted the edges of letterforms, while on coated (not glossy) inkjet paper, text popped out in a solid black and looked much cleaner. Our color photo on ordinary paper looked very dotty, had rough transitions between shades, made a blob of detailed areas, printed lines with jagged edges, and mixed inappropriate colors; coated inkjet paper improved detail and let colors appear in the right hues, though much too saturated. And on top-quality glossy paper, textures, shading, and transitions suddenly looked right, and we saw sharp, clear detail.
Grayscale scans on the MP730 when compared with other scans seemed overexposed, losing paler shades of gray along with some detail, while color scans showed accurate colors and fairly good detail despite somewhat grainy textures.
One other post-purchase consideration is the MP730's relatively modest ink prices: CNET's tests show that a page of text or a fax costs only 2.4 cents to print, and a page of color graphics (though not a heavily inked photo) should run about 18.7 cents.
Multifunction printer text speed (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon's support Web site, however, offers only a limited list of FAQs, although its searchable knowledge base covers more ground. The site also provides e-mail access to technicians and downloadable documentation and drivers.
The MP730 ships with an impressive documentation set as well, including an eight-page setup brochure with excellent illustrations and a clear description of procedures; a 100-page quick-reference guide that covers the basics of everything the MP730 does; and a CD with extensive, detailed manuals on each function as well as on the bundled software.