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Lexmark Z review: Lexmark Z

Lexmark Z

Kristina Blachere
6 min read
The Z55se Color Jetprinter, which brings Lexmark's high-resolution photo printing to a broader audience, attempts to deliver high-quality color output and fast print speeds for less than $100. It's a tall order--one that the Z55se ultimately falls short of fulfilling. The Z55se has many strong points, including some of the fastest print speeds we've seen, a no-brainer setup, and excellent software. But despite its 4,800dpi resolution, the Z55se's graphics and photo-print quality is poor, and it burns through ink so fast that what seems like a bargain at first quickly grows costly. Other inkjet printers, such as the Canon S520, deliver better output, lower ink costs, and similar features for about the same price.

Simple, sturdy design.
The Lexmark Z55se takes the standard, full-bellied Lexmark design to the next level. The front of the printer is one smooth, unbroken curved line reminiscent of the famed Sydney Opera House. The curved top panel flips up to reveal a 100-sheet input tray, and a thin, plastic exit tray slides out from the bottom of the printer.
The Lexmark Z55se is incredibly easy to set up and run. It's both USB and parallel-port compatible (cables sold separately), and it runs on Windows 98, Me, 2000, and XP, as well as Mac OS 8.6 and above. A Quick Start poster describes how to plug in the printer, install the ink cartridges and the software, then begin printing.

USB compliant.

Skins for download.

The included CD contains a handful of skins for the print-status monitor (a gray, high-tech-looking box with status bars), but you can also download more from Lexmark's Web site. One skin looks like a Japanimation factory teeming with coils and zipper lights, and another looks like--wait for it--a baked potato. Depending on your tolerance, you can opt to turn off its voice feature. Yes, the print monitor actually speaks, with such exclamations as, "Printing complete!"

Lexmark has been playing the resolution game since the release last March of the Z65 Color Jetprinter, the first 4,800dpi consumer inkjet. (The maximum resolution has as much to do with marketing as with the actual capabilities of inkjets; higher resolutions don't necessarily translate to better print quality.) The Z55se, which replaces the Z55, offers the same high-resolution printing at a lower price. It can print at resolutions of up to 4,800x1,200 on photo paper and 4,800x600 on plain paper. The Z55se also comes equipped with an automatic paper-type sensor that adjusts the print settings to match the paper type (plain, photo, card stock, and so on).

Intuitive driver software.
We found the Z55se's nicely organized driver software quite easy to use. Unlike the horizontal tabbed interfaces of most driver programs, the Z55se's interface consists of three vertical tabs: Quality/Copies, Paper Setup, and Print Style. When you adjust settings (such as paper type, number of copies, or print quality) within each section, your changes appear on the original tab so that you can view your print settings at a glance.
You can also access any of three drop-down menus (Save Settings, I Want To, and Options) at the top of the main screen to save up to six preset print settings. You'll find task-oriented presets such as "Print a photo" or "Increase speed or quality of printouts," or you can manually adjust the color palette and half-toning, among other options. All of these settings are organized into presets such as natural color, fine dither, or line art. If you prefer more detailed control, you'll need a more advanced (read: expensive) photo printer such as the highly rated Epson Stylus Photo 2200.
Still, this printer's feature set leaves us wanting more. Its basic photo software lends the Z55se experience a touch of class, but most printers are doing the same these days. Naturally, we don't expect to get a lot of innovative extras with such an inexpensive inkjet, but we wouldn't mind seeing a few.

For all its ease of use, the Lexmark Z55se just doesn't deliver when it comes to what matters most: output quality. Its text on plain paper had some positive aspects. It was clear and legible at small point sizes and heavily saturated with ink, which made the text look good at a distance. But closer scrutiny revealed that individual letters looked hairy and fuzzy instead of sharp and crisp. On the Kodak Inkjet paper that Lexmark recommends, the quality improved. The fuzziness was much less obvious, though you could still see it on italic fonts, which looked almost serrated.

Good text quality.

High-color ink costs.

Graphics on our plain-paper document displayed visible white horizontal bands throughout, and all the graphical elements, from photos to gradients, were so dithered that they appeared almost porous. In short, its undersaturated graphics output pales in comparison with that of most similarly priced printers, especially the Epson Stylus C60. On the plus side, the printer did a great job with color matching. On Kodak Inkjet paper, our test document looked a bit crisper overall, but the document still appeared porous and banded. Unfortunately, on specialty paper, the color-block elements looked oversaturated, too bright, and almost fluorescent.
Although Lexmark boasts that the Z55se offers high-definition photo printing, our test photo output looked merely mediocre. The background of our test photo was smooth, and the printer captured fine details fairly well, but skin tones looked purplish and dingy, and colors--especially reds and blues--looked garishly bright. This output can't hold a candle to that of several other sub-$100 printers, such as the Lexmark Z35 and the HP Deskjet 3820.
Inkjet printer quality
Poor   ••Fair   •••Good   ••••Excellent
 Printer Text Graphics Photo
Plain paper  Coated paper  Plain paper  Coated paper  Photo paper 
 Canon S330 Color Bubble Jet •• ••• ••• •• •••
 Epson Stylus C60 ••• ••• ••• ••• ••••
 HP DeskJet 3820 •• ••• •• •• ••••
 Lexmark Z55se ••• ••• •• ••
But at least the Z55se is a speed demon. On our text test document, it averaged a brisk 6.24 pages per minute (ppm), making it one of the 10 fastest inkjets we've tested recently. And with a rate of 1.43 minutes per page (mpp) when printing our 8x10 test photo, the Lexmark is the fastest inkjet we've tested in that area.
Inkjet printer text speed
Pages per minute (longer bars indicate better performance)
Lexmark Z55se
Canon S330 Color Bubble Jet
Epson Stylus C60
HP DeskJet 3820
Inkjet printer color photo speed
Minutes to print a color photograph (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lexmark Z55se
Canon S330 Color Bubble Jet
HP DeskJet 3820
Epson Stylus C60
As we expected from the highly saturated text and graphics, the Lexmark Z55se consumes a lot of ink. With black ink, the printer will cost 7 cents per page--about twice the norm for all the inkjets we've seen. Color ink costs 49 cents per page, compared to the average and far more reasonable 25 cents. Replacement cartridges run $30 for black ink, $35 for color, and $44 for high-capacity color. Just three ink changes cost as much as a new printer.
The Lexmark Z55se carries a standard one-year warranty, which includes toll-free phone support Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET. The Lexmark Web site offers drivers, troubleshooting tips, a searchable knowledge base, e-mail tech support, FAQs, and, of course, new skins for the print monitor.
The small but info-packed paper user guide is intuitively organized into chapters such as "Learning about Your Printer" and "Using Software to Select Printer Settings." The included CD also contains Lexmark's helpful Solution Center. Click the icon to see printing ideas, a troubleshooting section, maintenance information, and support contacts.
In short, the Z55se's support is as run-of-the-mill as the printer itself. It doesn't lack any crucial elements, but there's nothing extra or special about its services or documentation.

Lexmark Z

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 5Performance 7Support 5