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Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966 review: Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966

The Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966 lacks a lot of the photo-printing features that make a photo all-in-one compelling, but it throws in some office-oriented features. We say skip all the confusion and spend your money on a better all-in-one printer.

Felisa Yang

Former CNET Editor

See full bio
9 min read

Design
The design of the Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966 makes it look more like an office-oriented multifunction than a personal printer or a photo all-in-one. Its boxy body sits 18 inches wide, 20 inches deep, and 10.6 inches tall, and weighs about 22 pounds. A 50-page automatic document feeder (ADF) sits atop the scanner lid and makes quick work of multipage copy, scan, or fax jobs. It also allows you to photocopy or scan legal-size originals, despite the fact that the flatbed scanner can hold up to only A4-size pages.

6.6

Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966

The Good

Includes fax and ADF; PictBridge port can be used to connect USB flash drives; 24/7 tech support; lots of add-on options, including networking, paper tray, and duplexer; great scan quality and speed.

The Bad

Subpar print quality; limited features for photo printing; ink system not ideal for good photo prints; no Mac support.

The Bottom Line

The Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966 lacks a lot of the photo-printing features that make a photo all-in-one compelling, but it throws in some office-oriented features. We say skip all the confusion and spend your money on a better all-in-one printer.
The Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966 suffers from an identity crisis: Its name pegs it as a photo-oriented printer, but features such as fax and an automatic document feeder mark it as an office-oriented all-in-one. And its subpar photo print quality and lack of photo-oriented features don't help its case, either. We prefer to think of this $200 multifunction printer as an office machine that serves up a few bonus photo features. Add-ons, such as a duplexer and wireless/Ethernet card, make it even more compelling as an office multifunction, though its so-so task speeds and print quality are discouraging. In the end, we recommend you pass on the Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966: There are better machines out there for your money. For an excellent photo all-in-one, check out the $200 --you lose the fax and the ADF but come away with fast, high-quality prints and loads of features. If what you really need is a office-oriented all-in-one and you don't need the photo features (including media card slots), the same $200 will get you the excellent Canon Pixma MP530. If you really want it all, be prepared to spend more for something such as the HP Photosmart 3310.

Four memory card slots and a single PictBridge port adorn the front, allowing for PC-free photo printing. The memory card slots accept most common types of cards, though you'll need to use an adapter for some of them. The PictBridge port also accepts USB flash drives, so you can print photos from a thumbdrive, as well, though you can't insert both a USB drive and a memory card simultaneously to transfer files between them. If you want to print from a Bluetooth device, such as a PDA, Dell offers an optional Bluetooth adapter that plugs into the PictBridge port.

A single cassette in the front of the printer serves as both input and output trays. The input drawer holds up to 150 pages of plain paper, though for $69, you can add a second 150-page drawer for increased capacity. The output tray is simply the lid of the input tray and can hold up to 100 printed sheets. Recessed deep in the output tray is a small media feeder designed for smaller-size papers, such as 4x6 photo paper or envelopes. If you're using the small media feeder, you'll have to insert the pages manually one at a time; for batch printing of photos or envelopes, you can use the main input. The small media feeder is very handy for one-off prints, as you don't have to swap out the contents of your input drawer for just one print.

The control panel is basic, but it gets the job done. It comprises an alphanumeric keypad, the normal set of menu-navigation buttons, and a 2.5-inch LCD for previewing photos and navigating the menus. The LCD is mounted on a panel that swivels up to let you optimize the viewing angle.

The Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966 employs a two-tank system: one black and one tricolor, with cyan, magenta, and yellow. This system is not optimal for photo printing, which again, leads us to think of this printer as an office-oriented machine rather than a photo-centric one. You can switch the black tank for a photo ink tank to improve the color in photos, though we prefer the six-ink systems with individual tanks--less waste, better quality. Dell sells the regular-capacity black-ink tank for $21 and the regular color tank for $24. The high-capacity versions (almost always a better value) cost $26 and $32, respectively. The photo-ink tank costs $26. Dell estimates cost per page at about 5.2 cents for a page of black text and 6.4 cents for a color page; both numbers are based on high-capacity cartridges. Canon's per-page costs are a bit lower, but the numbers estimated by Dell aren't prohibitively high, either.

Features
Like most of the office-oriented printers, the Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966 offers fax functionality and an ADF for batch jobs. You also have the option of purchasing a duplexing unit ($79) for automatic double-sided prints, as well as a wireless and Ethernet print adapter ($80) for networking your Photo 966. Again, both of these options are more commonly found on office-oriented machines. Unfortunately, the Dell Photo 966 is not Mac compatible, so if your home or office network includes Mac users, they'll be left out.

The Dell Photo 966 offers the usual array of features for each function. When scanning, copying, or faxing, you can use either the ADF or the flatbed scanner. Dell recommends using the flatbed scanner for scanning photos, even if you have multiples, so it offers a "scan multiple items before output" option that lets you scan a whole pile of documents before they're printed en masse. You can scan documents using optical character recognition (for text editing), save the scan to your PC, attach the scan to an e-mail, or scan into a number of programs, including Microsoft Word and CorelPSProX. You can even scan a document to another computer on your network; you'll have to set up a computer name and PIN for each PC you intend to scan to.

When copying, you have a number of layout options: reducing and enlarging from 25 to 400 percent; 2-up and 4-up prints; and printing 4, 9, or 16 copies of the original (the resultant prints are shrunken accordingly). You can also do a collate copy, which is, again, a feature found more commonly on office printers.

For fax setup, the included user manual walks you through the various setup options. Once you're up and running, the options are fairly standard. You can program in speed-dial numbers for up to 89 individuals and 10 groups (with 30 numbers each). This feature is convenient if you regularly send broadcast faxes, though you can also send a fax blast by keying in each number individually. You can delay a fax, if you want it sent later, too. On the receiving side, you can block faxes by keying in numbers to be blocked or tell the machine to block faxes coming from a machine that doesn't broadcast its caller ID.

The Dell 966 Photo lacks a lot of the features that make a photo-centric printer compelling for users. When printing from a memory card or a flash drive, there are a couple of restrictions to keep in mind. First, the printer can read only drives that have been formatted using FAT32; NTFS drives must be converted first. Second, only JPEG files can be printed directly from a memory card or a flash drive; all other formats need to be transferred to your PC first. Aside from viewing the contents of a card in a slide show, printing all the photos, and printing selected photos, you don't get a lot of options. For example, while you can print a sheet of thumbnails, you can't print a scannable index sheet the way you can with the many Canon Pixma and HP Photosmart models. The thumbnail sheet tells you the image number but not the filename, which is crucial for cross-referencing the contents of your card. For adjusting your images, your only options are to rotate, crop, correct red-eye, and adjust brightness. You can do a lot more using the photo manipulation tools from Corel (included on the installation CD), but we like having more options on the printer itself, especially on a printer with Photo in its name. This printer also lacks built-in creative layout options that are commonly found on photo-oriented printers.

You can save the contents of a card to your PC by choosing that option in the control panel. Doing so will open Dell's Memory Card Manager utility on your PC, where you complete the task by either selecting all or picking and choosing the files you want to download. The Card Manager is painfully slow to render all the thumbnails of a large card, so find a book to read or something else to do while you wait, if you need to do so. Luckily, you can proceed with the download even if the thumbnails aren't all rendered if you know the filenames of the images you want or if you're simply downloading all the images. Unfortunately, if you're picking particular images, you'll have to check each one individually, and each time a new thumbnail is created, the window goes back to that file, so trying to skip around can be an exercise in patience.

Performance
The Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966's performance was all over the board. It was slow at printing text--compared to both photo- and office-oriented inkjets--with a score of 4.82ppm. By comparison, the Canon Pixma MP600 scored 7.88ppm on the same test. The Dell Photo 966 did a middle-of-the-road job with 4x6 photo prints: 0.67ppm. With grayscale scans, it was once again in the middle of the pack, with a score of 4.71ppm, but it sped things up with color scans, at 6.57ppm. Using the ADF, the Dell Photo 966 produced copies at a rate of 1.19ppm, slower than both the HP OfficeJet 6310 and the Canon Pixma MP530.

CNET Labs' photo inkjet multifunction speed tests (pages per minute)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Copy  
Color scan  
Grayscale scan  
4x6 photo  
Text  
Canon Pixma MP600
4.36 
4.44 
2.33 
7.88 
Canon Pixma MP530
3.83 
5.22 
5.64 
0.29 
6.77 
HP Photosmart 3310*
6.11 
6.22 
1.21 
5.26 
HP Photosmart C5180
3.68 
7.8 
0.56 
5.17 
Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966
1.19 
6.57 
4.71 
0.67 
4.82 
HP OfficeJet 6310
1.43 
1.61 
3.86 
0.85 
2.86 
Note: *This printer's photo speed is for an 8x10 print.

The Dell Photo 966's print quality left a lot to be desired, especially for a photo printer. Its text was beset by ragged edges, adjacent bold characters sometimes merged, and the text could achieve only a dark gray instead of a solid black. The graphics print had a faded quality to it, as though the cartridges were running out of ink (they weren't). That said, it handled gradients nicely, but had problems with bar-code-style patterns. Color blocks showed a faint crosshatch pattern that was distracting, and the photo elements were hazy. The 4x6 photo print's details weren't as sharp as we'd like to see, and colors were faded and didn't pop. The photo prints were also marred by obvious graininess.

The printer fared much better at grayscale scans. The image was sharp, and details and patterns were nicely rendered. We saw very minor compression at both ends of the grayscale, but overall, the scan was impressive. Likewise, the color scans were sharp, with lots of good detail, and it handled color reproduction remarkably. Clearly, scanning is the high point of this unit.

CNET Labs' inkjet multifunction quality
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Color scan  
Grayscale scan  
Photo  
Graphics  
Text  
Canon Pixma MP530
Excellent 
Excellent 
Good 
Excellent 
Excellent 
Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966
Excellent 
Excellent 
Fair 
Fair 
Fair 
Canon Pixma MP600
Fair 
Fair 
Good 
Excellent 
Excellent 
HP Photosmart C5180
Good 
Good 
Good 
Good 
Good 
HP OfficeJet 6310
Good 
Good 
Fair 
Fair 
Good 
HP Photosmart 3310
Good 
Good 
Good 
Fair 
Fair 

Service and support
Dell backs the Photo 966 all-in-one with a standard one-year warranty. You can upgrade to two years for an additional $39 or three years for $49. Dell provides free, toll-free phone support 24/7, but it recommends trying the live online chat option first. For less urgent inquiries, you can e-mail Dell's support team or check out its user forums. Dell's Web site also has product-specific support in the form of online user guides, drivers and software downloads, and a troubleshooting tool. You can find basic tips on common how-tos, as well, such as how to change the ink cartridge.

Because you can purchase Dell products and consumables only through Dell, the included software package comes with a program that monitors your ink levels. When your ink starts to run low, the program will remind you to place an order. In fact, you can click a link in the reminder that will take you directly to Dell's site where you can order ink cartridges, if your printer is networked.

6.6

Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6Support 8
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