A color laser multifunction aimed squarely at small offices and work groups, the $700 Lexmark X502n prints, scans, copies, and faxes, and does it all quickly and well. (If you don't need fax, the X500n saves you $200.) The X502n isn't perfect--it's missing some fax features that are often important to offices--but if you can live without group dialing, secure-receive mode, and a junk-fax blocker, the X502n is an excellent choice. It's one of the fastest lasers we've tested, and its excellent speed doesn't come at the expense of print quality. It's also one of the more affordable lasers to maintain, thanks to reasonable print-refill costs.
The Lexmark X502n is a behemoth of a printer. It measures 21 inches tall, 19 inches wide, and 17.2 inches deep, and weighs a hefty 77 pounds. It's possible to move it yourself (speaking from experience) but not recommended, for fear of dropping the printer and breaking both it and your toes. The multifunction unit that sits atop the printer comprises a flatbed scanner, an automatic document feeder, and the control panel. The flatbed scanner is only big enough to scan A4/letter-size originals, but using the ADF, you can scan legal-size documents, too. The ADF can hold up to 35 pages.
The X502n comes with a 250-sheet input tray that can be configured to hold up to legal-size paper. An optional 530-page drawer is available, too. Unfortunately, there's no manual feed slot, so one-off prints still have to go through the main drawer. The output well, located below the control panel, can hold up to 250 sheets.
The control panel is basic and well-organized. Three buttons let you switch between copy, scan, and fax tasks. For faxing, there's an alphanumeric keypad, 10 one-touch dial buttons (and a shift key, for a total of 20 one-touch numbers), and redial, hook, and directory buttons. The standard reduce/enlarge, lighter/darker, image quality, menu navigation keys, and start and cancel buttons are all present and accounted for. Finally, the control panel includes a backlit, two-line text LCD for perusing menus.
The X500n uses four toner cartridges: black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. Each cartridge is offered in regular- and high-capacity versions. The regular black costs $90 and yields about 2,500 prints, while the high-capacity version costs $134.70 and yields about 5,000 pages. Each regular color cartridge costs $98.45 and produces about 1,500 pages, while the high-capacity versions cost $119.70 apiece and yield about 3,000 pages. Using the high-capacity cartridges for best value, we estimate that a black print will cost about 2.7 cents per page, while a full color page will cost about 14.7 cents per page. Both costs are low.
The Lexmark X502n features a 366MHz processor and 128MB of nonupgradable memory. It offers both USB and Ethernet connectors, so it can be connected directly to a PC or on a network for a multiuser environment. The X502n prints, scans, copies, and faxes; the X500n offers everything but faxing for $500.
When copying, your options are standard: you can scale from 25 to 400 percent (preset or custom values); collate; and make 2-on-1 or 4-on-1 copies. There's no duplexer, though, so you can't make automatic double-sided prints.
Scanning presents a bit of a mystery. While there's a scan task button on the control panel, we couldn't figure out how to scan directly to a USB-attached PC. It turns out, you can't. Walk-up scanning is limited to a networked X502n. For direct-attached scanning, you must initiate the task from your PC, either using Lexmark's Presto PageMagic software, which offers a wide range of options or WIA- or TWAIN-compliant software, such as Adobe Photoshop. Using Presto PageMagic, you can scan files and open them in a variety of programs, including Adobe Acrobat, Word, Excel, and Outlook, among others. If you want to be able to edit the document, you can avail yourself of the optical character recognition component. And you can save files in a wide variety of formats, including TIFF, JPEG, and PDF.
The fax machine lets you save up to 20 Quick Dial (or one-touch) numbers and an additional 50 speed-dial numbers. Unfortunately, there's no group dial option, though you can send fax blasts to up to 100 numbers (you have to manually dial each number or choose a quick-dial or speed-dial entry). A group dial option is often important to work groups, so it's a puzzling limitation. The X502n also lacks a secure-receive mode and junk-fax blocker. The Xerox Phaser 6115MFP/N and the Samsung CLX-3160FN both offer a better set of fax features.
The Lexmark X502n basically kicked the competition's butts in CNET Labs' speed tests, including models that cost more. It cranked out black text at a rate of 19.71ppm (pages per minute), which was 5ppm faster than the $800 Xerox Phaser 6115MFP/N. The X502 produced black graphics pages at a rate of 13.95ppm, a little slower than the Xerox, but still much faster than either the HP Color LaserJet CM1017 or the Samsung CLX-3160FN. With color printing, it was still the fastest of the pack, though not by such a wide margin: it produced color text at a rate of 6.97ppm and color graphics at a rate of 6.82ppm.
At scanning, the Lexmark X502n was again the fastest of the four by a good lead. It scored 6.30ppm for grayscale and 6.23ppm for color. Finally, for copying using the automatic document feeder, it was a speed demon: 14.65ppm. This machine is a workhorse!
|Copy||Color graphics||Color text||Black graphics||Black text|
|Color scan||Grayscale scan|
Often, great speeds come at the expense of quality, but happily, this isn't the case with the Lexmark X502n. Its black text prints were basically perfect, which we would expect of a printer in this price range. Black graphics were also very good, marred only by faint horizontal lines. Color text was nearly perfect, though very close inspection revealed some inconsistencies in character formation. Color blending was very smooth, though. The color graphics print was a bit more problematic, but very good nevertheless. Color blocks were nicely saturated, gradients were smooth (though we saw banding in the grayscale gradient), and the photo elements were sharp and detailed. Our only big problems with this print were that the colors were a bit too ruddy and it had some problems handling barcode-style patterns.
The X502n's Achilles' heel is grayscale scanning. It did a pretty good job handling various patterns, but the scan was very overblown, with a faded look to it. None of the blacks were remotely black, and details were shot in the highlighted areas of photo elements. But the X502n did a better job with the color scan. Colors were smoothly rendered and pleasing and details were sharp. The only problem was again, its inability to handle the closely set lines of barcode graphics. Overall, we were very impressed by the X502n's quality. Only the HP Color LaserJet CM1017 did better, but that particular model sacrifices speed to quality and is better suited for workgroups that need very high quality graphics.
|Color graphics||Color text||Black graphics||Black text|
|Grayscale scan||Color scan|
Service and support
Lexmark backs the X502n with a one-year warranty. Free and toll-free phone support is available weekdays from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT for the length of the warranty. Lexmark's Web site includes a knowledge base, downloadable drivers, and a resource center to help get you started on new printing projects.