In its attempt to do everything, the $300 Kodak EasyShare 5500 All-in-One printer fails to do any one thing well. To use some features of this multifunction inkjet is an exercise in frustration; other features, such as photo editing, are entirely lacking (instead, you have to turn to your PC to use Kodak's included software). Additionally, its print speeds are slow, though it does offer decent print quality. There are better multifunction printers out there, however, to suit varying needs. If you're looking for an office-oriented, all-in-one (you need fax functionality and an automatic document feeder, for example), the Canon Pixma MP830 offers a better set of features, including a built-in duplexer, while the HP Photosmart C6180 offers built-in wireless networking and better fax feature set (though worse print quality). Finally, if you're looking for something a bit more photo-oriented, check out the Canon Pixma MP810.
The Kodak EasyShare 5500's white-and-silver body measures 18.8-inches wide by 14.8-inches deep by 11.3-inches tall, and weighs almost 27 pounds. If you opt for the duplex unit, add a couple of inches to its depth. The 35-page, automatic document feeder sits atop the scanner lid, which conceals an A4-size flatbed scanner. Using the automatic feeder, though, you can make up to legal-size scans.
Two memory card slots and two PictBridge-enabled USB ports are mounted on the front of the device. The memory card slots can take most common types of memory cards, though some will require an adapter (which is not included). The USB ports can be used to connect PictBridge cameras as well as USB storage devices, such as hard drives or flash drives. If you connect an unsupported device, the printer will beep three times to let you know--instead of leaving you standing around, scratching your head, and trying to figure out how to view the device's contents. If you want to print wirelessly, you can also connect an optional Bluetooth adapter to one of the USB ports. We like the fact that the EasyShare 5500 has two USB ports, so the printer can always be ready for Bluetooth printing while also accepting hard drives.
The control panel sits on a shelf that juts out from the front face of the printer. In its center is a 2.4-inch, color LCD, that's mounted on a swivel to let you move the screen from flush with the control panel to a vertical position. The control panel also features four task buttons; standard menu and menu navigation buttons; photo-focused buttons to rotate, zoom, and transfer images; and fax-centric keys, such as an alphanumeric keypad and three one-touch dial buttons. One thing to note: some of the buttons aren't very responsive and require a firm touch.
The EasyShare 5500's paper handling is simple: the combined cassette features both input and output trays, with the former sitting below the latter. The output tray flips up for easy paper loading. Both trays can be extended to accommodate legal-size paper. Mounted in the output tray is a dedicated 4x6 photo paper tray. The photo paper tray's clear cover lets you see whether it's empty and also flips up for loading. The only thing we don't like about this setup is that you have to manually push in the photo tray to engage it. We'd prefer that the printer do this automatically when you select 4x6 paper for printing photos. It's a minor quibble, but the printer's setup adds a step to photo printing.
The EasyShare 5500 employs the same two-tank ink system used by its little brother, the EasyShare 5300. One tank holds black pigment-based ink, while the other holds five dye-based inks. Kodak's claim of six-color printing is misleading, however, because the black tank is used only for text prints, while one of the "inks" in the color tank is actually a clear coating that's applied to photos for finish and protection. The remaining colors in the color tank are the standard black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. The black tank costs $10 to replace, while the color tank costs $15. Kodak estimates that a black-only text page will cost about 3 cents to print, while a color page will cost about 7 cents. While both costs are very low, we can't verify them, as Kodak doesn't supply information about ink volumes in each tank. (There is also some controversy over Kodak's claims for per-print costs for 4x6 photos. Please see our review for the EasyShare 5300 for more information.) One problem we came across is that if one of the ink tanks runs out of ink, you can't do anything with the unit until you replace the tank. You can't scan, send a fax, or transfer photos--yet none of these tasks require ink. We find this predicament incredibly annoying, as well as short-sighted.
The Kodak EasyShare 5500 lets you print, scan, copy, fax, and print photos without using your PC. The copy features are standard: you can make up to 99 copies at a time and reduce or enlarge from 10 percent to 500 percent, in increments of 1 percent. While there are no standard presets for reduce/enlarge (legal to letter, for example), you can adjust for fit-to-page, 2- or 4-to-1, or poster copies. One feature we found on this model that was excluded in the EasyShare 5300 is the ability to copy photographs on to photo paper.
The scan function lets you designate what you're scanning (document or photo) and where to scan to. Options include scan to file, scan to application, and scan to memory card. The scan-to-file option saves the scan as a PDF file, in a new folder within your My Documents folder (the new folder's name is the date you created the file). The annoying part is that you don't get a message--either on your PC screen or on the printer's LCD--confirming that the scan is finished. In fact, the printer's LCD continues to say "Press START to scan," which may lead you to believe the scan was not completed. Another shortcoming is that the EasyShare 5500 doesn't let you designate where you want the scan saved, nor does it allow you to choose a file type. If you want to make these changes, you'll have to start up the Kodak AiO Home Center software that comes on the device's installation disc, and start the scan from your PC. This way, you can save files in RTF, TIFF, JPEG, or PDF formats, and choose where the files end up. If you want to scan to an application, you can initiate from either the printer control panel or from within the Home Center software. The initial list of applications includes only Microsoft Paint, Kodak EasyShare, and Home Center, but you can add applications while in Home Center. Finally, you can scan photos and documents to a memory card, but not to a USB-attached hard drive or flash drive.
The onboard fax machine lets you send and receive faxes. You can use the fax settings menu to alter options, such as the number of rings after which to answer a call, manage redial attempts, or whether to print a confirmation page. You can even program one-touch dial buttons for the numbers you fax to most often--but you can only program three. Yes, three. It's a far cry from other all-in-one devices that let you program, for example, 10 one-touch numbers and dozens of quick-dial numbers that you then can select using a short code. The Canon Pixma MP830 allows for eight one-touch numbers and a multitude of quick dial numbers, while the HP Photosmart C6180 allows for 60 quick-dial numbers. Also, the user guide implies that you can program the one-touch numbers using the printer's control panel, but we followed the directions and couldn't figure out how to do it. You can do it in the Home Center application, however, which is where we were finally successful. There's no junk fax blocker or secure receive mode, either; the Lexmark X9350 offers both.