Dell Personal All-in-One Printer A960 - multifunction printer ( color ) review: Dell Personal All-in-One Printer A960 - multifunction printer ( color )

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The Good Affordable; includes flatbed scanner; 50-sheet feeder; full-fax capabilities.

The Bad Limited paper capacity; no expansion options; no media-card slots; works with PCs running Windows 2000 and XP only.

The Bottom Line Students and families looking for an affordable flatbed-scanner multifunction printer will appreciate the Dell A960, but small businesses will want more expandability.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 6
  • Support 8

Review summary

The Dell Personal All-in-One Printer A960 is a compact four-color inkjet multifunction printer with a low price. It prints, scans, photocopies, and acts as a standalone fax machine, and it includes a flatbed scanner, a 33.6Kbps fax modem, and a 50-sheet document feeder. However, the Dell A960 lacks the real needs of a small business: network capabilities and expandability. It's fast, too, but with only so-so print quality. Although Dell is marketing the Dell A960 to small businesses, we think that this printer offers more value in the home. The Dell Personal All-in-One Printer A960 is a very close cousin of the Lexmark X6170. (Lexmark and other vendors manufacture Dell printers.) The Dell version stands 11.7 inches in height and measures 17.3 inches deep by 19.7 inches wide, creating a compact box of average size, and it weighs a light 24.9 pounds.

The flatbed scanner on top lifts 90 degrees to let you scan bulky items, such as bound books--a big plus. The Dell A960 comes with a 50-sheet automatic paper feeder, which is about average capacity. The paper tray located at the base, however, holds only 100 sheets, with no option to expand, which makes it too limited for most small offices.

The control panel, located on the top front, is arrayed logically. On the left live the buttons for power, Stop, Copy, Scan, and Fax. In the middle, there's a one-line LCD with buttons to control the brightness, the contrast, and the number of copies you want to make. There's also a keypad near the LCD for dialing fax numbers or selecting the number of copies to print. To the far right, you can select whether you want the print, scan, or fax job in color or monochrome.

Unfortunately, the Dell Personal All-in-One Printer A960 is compatible with only Windows PCs, and then, only those running Windows 2000 or XP. Want to print from a serial port? Too bad--this printer includes only a USB 2.0 connection (you'll have to purchase the cable separately). The A960 lacks media-card slots, popular on other inexpensive inkjet multifunction printers, so you'll have to load digital photos via your PC. Also, there are no 10/100 Ethernet or 802.11 wireless options available nor is there any built-in memory to store incoming faxes or to queue large print jobs. Again, small businesses would be wise to find a multifunction printer with more expandability, such as the more expensive but much more versatile HP PSC 2510 Photosmart. Despite its limited expandability, the Dell Personal All-in-One Printer A960 offers many built-in software features, all accessed through the Dell All-in-One Center, a boxy desktop interface that executes most printer functions. For example, when it's scanning, you can hit Preview Now to see the scanned image onscreen. You may then crop or edit the image--to remove red-eye, for example--before sending a photograph to the printer. For more advanced photo editing, Dell includes an app on its Drivers and Utilities CD called Picture Studio, which offers several fun special effects, such as frame borders and text captions.

The All-in-One Center also provides an application to edit already-scanned text. If you scan text on a regular basis, then you'll want a more complete OCR package for search-and-replace capabilities and other advanced features. For an additional $130, you can purchase from Dell ScanSoft OmniPage Pro 14.0 Office or ScanSoft PaperPort Deluxe 9.0 for $50, also from Dell.

Dell's ink-management software, found in the All-in-One Center, not only informs you when you are about to run out of ink, it also links directly to Dell for replacement orders. From Dell, a monochrome-and-color-cartridge pack sells for $59, two monochrome cartridges go for $56, and two color cartridges cost $64. Unfortunately, this printer doesn't accept ink from third-party ink vendors.

The Dell Personal All-in-One Printer A960 also offers full fax capabilities. Unlike the Lexmark X6170 and the Dell A940, both of which rely on your PC's fax modem, the A960 has a built-in 33.6Kbps fax modem, giving you true standalone fax capabilities. In other words, you'll be able to send and receive faxes whether or not your PC is turned on. Printing performance
In CNET Labs' performance tests, the Dell Personal All-in-One Printer A960 proved very fast, although its speed is nowhere near the 17 pages per minute (ppm) for monochrome or the 12ppm for color printing that Dell promises. On monochrome text, the Dell A960 printed our test document at 6.3ppm, faster than both the Canon MP390's 5.3ppm and the Epson Stylus CX6400 photo's 4.8ppm. And the Dell A960 printed an 8x10 photograph in 1.6 minutes--much faster than both the Canon MP390's 3.2 minutes per page (mpp) and the 3mpp from the Epson Stylus CX6400 photo.

Unfortunately, the Dell A960's printed documents looked only fair to our jury. In text, the characters were hairy and the small fonts blurred together. In color graphics, the colors looked washed out and the small fonts were again blurry. The Dell A960 printed good detail in photos but with muted, dull, almost dirty colors.

Print and scan speed performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Copy (ppm)  
Color scan (ppm)  
Monochrome scan (ppm)  
Monochrome graphics speed  
Monochrome text speed  
Dell A960
Epson CX6400
Canon MP390

Scanning and copying performance
As a scanner, the Dell A960 performed faster than the Canon MP390 and the Epson Stylus CX6400 photo, scanning monochrome images at 6.7ppm, just a little faster than the Canon MP390, at 6.0, and faster than the Epson's 3.5ppm. In CNET Labs' tests, it scanned color documents at 5.2ppm, which was much faster than Canon's 2.8ppm and the Epson Stylus CX6400 photo's 1.5ppm.

Both the color and the monochrome scans produced by the Dell A960 looked much better than the print samples we juried. The color scan showed good color-matching ability and gradients, although the small fonts disappeared in places. The monochrome scan reproduced the test photograph clearly, with good grayscale and sharp details throughout.

As a photocopier, the Dell A960 copied 1.7ppm monochrome. That's slower than the Canon MP390's 2.6ppm monochrome and much slower than the Epson Stylus CX6400 photo's 3.2ppm. We do not test the print quality of the photocopies produced.

Print and scan quality performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Color scan  
Grayscale scan  
Dell A960
Canon MP390
Epson CX6400

Click here to learn more about how CNET Labs tests printers. The Dell A960 comes with a one-year limited warranty that includes 24/7 technical support by phone and Advanced Exchange Service, which means that Dell will replace a defective unit while under warranty (read the warranty for exact details). This is fairly generous given the price of the printer.

Dell also offers some product-specific online support for the A960, although the Dell tech-support Web site is clunky, and the FAQ links are simplistic and do not go beyond the answers already available within the printed user guide. There's also a link to e-mail for technical support.