Dell 962 review: Dell 962

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The Good Speedy black-and-white inkjet printing; decent-looking output; 50-sheet automatic document feeder; full fax; good ergonomic design; solid construction.

The Bad The color printer and photocopier are slow; non-Windows users need not apply; photos require ink-swapping.

The Bottom Line The Dell 962 crams four multifunction features into a single speedy printer without too many compromises along the way--unless you crave fast photocopying.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Support 8

Review summary

We applaud the sturdy Dell 962 all-in-one for offering so many functions in such a low-cost package, but it doesn't merit a standing ovation. This device wraps color printing, copying, scanning, and faxing into a single well-designed unit, and it packs in a few features rare for a $179 multifunction, such as a 50-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF). It's fast for an inkjet printer, too, cranking out 7.46 pages per minute (ppm) of black text, with output quality good enough for office use. Digital photo geeks get a PictBridge port, though no memory card slots. If you want to bump up the photo print quality, just slip a six-color cartridge in place of the regular three-color one. This ink-swapping design, however, joins the machine's other drawbacks: it photocopies slowly and lacks collating features, and its color test scans are pale. Most of the bundled software expires after a few months. And if you don't have Windows XP or 2000, forget it. Still, the Dell 962 makes a fast, friendly-to-use inkjet printer, scanner, and fax machine--whether it goes solo for a small business or gets paired with a laser printer in a corporate department. The Dell 962's charcoal-gray livery and silver highlights make for a classy look, albeit one that will betray dust in an unkempt office. This machine is compact at 19.6 by 16.5 by 11.9 inches (WDH), but it packs in useful features, including a 50-sheet ADF for faxing or photocopying. Although the ADF weighs down the photocopier lid, its spring-loaded hinges are firm enough to hold the lid open as you place a letter or A4-size sheet of paper on the glass. Unless you extend the four-inch exit support, however, outgoing copies will fall on the floor.

A well-laid-out control panel separates color and monochrome photocopying, so you won't waste your color ink on throwaway copies. The Mode button on the console lets you select fax, scan, or copy functions, and a green, backlit, two-inch-wide LCD panel helps you select the options. There's also a dialing pad for fax functions above a USB-based PictBridge port for printing straight from supported digital cameras.

The 100-page paper input tray lies beneath the 50-sheet output tray, which flips up for easy access when refilling. In a masterly bit of design, the single-sheet bypass tray, located on top for easy access, adjusts automatically to envelopes, postcards, and other odd-size paper. To change either of the two ink cartridges, the entire top portion, including scanning tray and ADF, flips open. The power brick for the Dell 962 plugs into the back of the printer, making for a tidy backside--handy in case you need to access the back-mounted panel to clear paper jams. With its built-in scanner, ADF, and fax machine, the Dell 962 operates as a standalone office helper as well as a Windows printer. Slap a document onto the glass platen and hit a button, and you can punch in either color or black-and-white copies. Mess with the settings more to tweak brightness and quality, reduce or enlarge images, and even make multisheet poster copies. To send a fax, just stick a sheaf of documents in the ADF, type in a phone number, and walk away. You can even send print jobs to the printer while it's performing other functions, and it will queue up your tasks for you.

Dell's software offerings, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. The Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8.0 and Jasc Paint Shop Photo Album 4.0 are great programs, but you can use them for only two months. On the plus side, you get the full Abbyy FineReader 6.0 Sprint package to perform optical character recognition (OCR) of text scans. Dell's own print driver software is full of useful features. Every print job you perform kicks up an estimate of ink levels in pages instead of percentages. The printer driver also enables you to set up manual duplex jobs, create booklets, reduce and print several pages on one sheet, produce banners, and enlarge a page into a poster.

This printer comes with two sizes of replacement ink cartridges; we recommend the high-capacity packages that yield double the pages. Whatever you choose, prepare for sticker shock: the high-yield cartridges run $25 for black and $30 for color, but you'd be a sucker to get the smaller cartridges for half the yield and save merely $5 on black or $8 on color. If you want to make photo-grade copies, you should swap out the regular color ink for an optional six-color photo cartridge, about $25. We're not crazy about the ink-swapping design currently popular in multifunction inkjets, though it seems to solve the problem of how to wrap both text and photo printing into one package.

You can add the Dell 962 to your Wi-Fi network by getting the $99 Dell Wireless Printer Adapter 3300, which would keep your costs about $70 below the HP Photosmart 2710 with built-in wireless. Speed
Like its cousin, the Dell 942, the Dell 962 cranks out print jobs at quite a clip. Far ahead of its rivals, the 962 pops out almost 7.46 text pages per minute, even beating the HP OfficeJet 7410. The Dell 962's color photo print pace was less impressive, at 0.19 pages per minute, considerably behind the HP 7410 and the Epson Stylus CX6600. If your office makes only occasional photo prints, however, these speeds shouldn't cause too many complaints.

The Dell 962's scanner is also mind-bogglingly speedy, cranking through 6.55 monochrome scans per minute in CNET Labs' tests, nearly 3 pages more than the HP 7410. Color scanning is only marginally slower at 6.09 pages per minute. The 962's photocopying speeds, however, were among the slowest products in its class, at 1.42 pages per minute.

Overall, the Dell 962 aced our tests and exceeded our expectations for its low cost. We tested it at its default settings, which you can adjust to improve the performance.

Quality
Most inkjet printers are less than ideal for text, but the Dell 962 did comparatively well, despite ink overspray and sloppiness at the smallest sizes. The tops and bottoms of letters were misaligned, creating a reverse-italic effect. The curves on larger letters showed stepping at normal print speeds, though switching to finer print settings improved this.

Shading transitions and fine detail came across better in color prints, which were bright but warm. We gave the Dell 962's graphics a fair rating due to graininess and choppy gradients, though details and color matching were decent. Even the middling Lexmark P6250 performed better with graphics. Overall, the 962's images seemed flat, with low contrast and undersaturated colors. Photos were better, but dots were still visible and skin looked pink. If you're looking for a better photo printer all-in-one, we recommend saving up for the HP Photosmart 2710.

In black-and-white scanning, the Dell 962 handled the middle darks well but failed to reproduce black. The high scanning speed may be partly responsible for the merely fair quality of scans; which were washed out and blurry. These drawbacks may not affect business users with marginal scanning needs, but graphics pros should look elsewhere, such as to the superb-scanning Epson Stylus CX6600.

CNET Labs' multifunction speed tests  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Copy speed  
Color scan speed  
Grayscale scan speed  
Photo speed  
Text speed  
Dell 962
1.42 
6.09 
6.55 
0.19 
7.46 
HP OfficeJet 7410
1.79 
3.15 
3.02 
0.52 
7.06 
HP Photosmart 2710
3.27 
4.63 
4.79 
0.26 
7.00 
Epson Stylus CX6600
3.35 
1.64 
3.84 
0.35 
4.67 
Brother MFC-420CN
2.27 
3.1 
2.95 
0.15 
3.19 
Lexmark P6250
1.57 
3.08 
4.15 
0.18 
1.15 

CNET Labs' inkjet multifunction quality tests  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Color scan  
Grayscale scan  
Photo  
Graphics on inkjet paper  
Text on inkjet paper  
Epson Stylus CX6600
Excellent 
Excellent 
Good 
Good 
Excellent 
HP OfficeJet 7410
Fair 
Good 
Excellent 
Good 
Excellent 
HP Photosmart 2710
Fair 
Fair 
Excellent 
Good 
Excellent 
Brother MFC-420CN
Fair 
Fair 
Good 
Good 
Good 
Lexmark P6250
Fair 
Fair 
Good 
Good 
Good 
Dell 962
Fair 
Fair 
Good 
Fair 
Good 
The Dell 962 gets an industry-standard one-year warranty, with its Advanced Exchange Service thrown in to guarantee that you'll get replacement parts in the mail if you find faulty ones. Phone and e-mail tech support is available 24/7 during the warranty period, which you can upgrade to up to three years for an extra $149, a fair price.

Dell's Web site offers top-notch customer service and support options for the Dell 962, including support history, an extensive database of FAQs, driver downloads, documentation, and tutorials on graphics troubleshooting, how-tos, and maintenance. The driver software itself provides a quick and easy way to order replacement supplies, as well as a handy estimated countdown of the number of pages the remaining ink can print.

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