Product Type: Canon All in one Printer
Newest Review: ... the glossy finish, which happens to attract fingerprints rather well. SUMMARY The Canon MP640 is an essential part of a families technolog... more
A Master of All Trades & A Jack of None
Canon Pixma MP640
Member Name: Hishyeness
Canon Pixma MP640
Advantages: Versatile, reliable, high quality output, quiet operation, great value for money.
Disadvantages: Running costs are average. No Bluetooth connectivity.
ALL FOR ONE & ONE FOR ALL
Although we already have a fully functioning and well appointed HP printer (which we use still use for our photo printing) my wife's role as head of our church Sunday School, and an increase in the number of days I work from home, demanded a space-saving multi-function device (MFD) that could handle scanning and photocopying as well. I tend to spend a fair bit of time researching new electronic products before I buy them, and our new MFD proved no exception. After poring over computer magazines and on-line reviews, I settled on the Canon Pixma MP640, which seemed like a good balance between price, functionality, performance, quality and running costs.
The MP640 is a colour-inkjet printer, photocopier and scanner that has in-built WiFi. Similar products from other manufacturers (and indeed Canon) also provide fax functionality, but this wasn't a consideration when we bought it. In the past, my main concern with MFD's was that they were too often a jack of all trades, but master of none. Being a hi-fi enthusiast, where separate "boxes" are the norm - and nearly always better than an all-in-one stereo system - I found the prejudice hard to shake. I was convinced that buying the Pixma was going to involve an inevitable but necessary trade-off between the loss of overall performance, for the benefit of more space.
A key selling point of the MP640 is its in-built wireless capability and the sheer number of input options. With three computers in the house (desktop, laptop and netbook) this function gave us the flexibility to situate the printer where we wanted without having to worry about wires. If you want a "hard" connection to your computer, you can connect it with a standard Ethernet cable or a USB cable (USB 2.0) and still use the wireless connection for other computers. Bluetooth is not included (which would have been icing on the cake). In addition, there is a USB slot and a number of memory card slots (concealed behind a door at the front) that allow you to print direct from almost all known types of memory cards (though some - such as mini-SD - will require an adapter which is not provided). The functionality works both ways - you can scan documents and save them direct to a USB stick or external USB drive without having to turn on your PC.
When buying a printer or an MFD, there are two main costs to consider. The first is the cost of the unit itself, and the second is the running cost - i.e. how many pages you get out of its ink cartridges, how much those cartridges cost to replace (with either "official" Canon products or "compatible" products) and therefore how much it costs to print a page in colour and/or black and white. The RRP of the Pixma is listed at £185, but by shopping around, you can get it for as low as £120 to £125. Given the rapidly evolving world of printers, the Pixma has already been superseded by a "newer" model in Canon's catalogue, which is very similar in functionality, but comes with six individual ink tanks (to the Pixma's five), is a little heavier and larger, and retails for around £20 more. I bought mine direct from Amazon around six months ago for £149 (with free delivery).
This MFD has seen some heavy use over that six month period, but we have only had to swap out the cartridges once each. There are three colour tanks (cyan, magenta and yellow) with two black tanks - one that is pigment-based for B&W document printing and the other that is dye-based for colour printing. This means that the smaller black tank used for colour cannot be used for B&W document printing if the larger (main) black cartridge runs out because it's a different type of ink. The carrier system for the printer is easily to accessed by lifting up the hinged top of the unit. There is a lighted orange LED in front of each cartridge slot which blinks so you know which cartridge needs to be replaced (the printer also lets you know via its pop-up 7.5cm (3") TFT colour display and through the software provided for your PC, but more on that later). Obviously, how quick the tanks deplete depend on the colour composition of what you print.
I used to be sceptical about the quality difference between "official" and "compatible" ink cartridges, especially given the significant difference in cost, however, with the Pixma, the truth seems to lie in between. For general B&W document printing, compatible inks are an acceptable compromise, however, for photo printing and colour printing for documents, there is a noticeable difference in the quality of the end product. Official Canon cartridges for the MP640 cost around £12 for the colour and black dye based inks, and £14 for the larger black pigment ink. In contrast, compatibles can be had for around 25% to 35% cheaper (it pays to shop around). As I mostly use it to print documents, I compromise by using a compatible ink cartridge for text printing, and the official Canon products for colour.
The MFD can be operated either via your PC desktop and the software tools provided on installation (see section on utilities below), or by using the TFT colour display, which, when the top panel is opened up, reveals an intuitive scroll wheel that you use much like the iPod control system to move between and select different functions. Unfortunately, unlike some of its flashier competitors, the screen is not touch operated, but that's a relatively minor niggle in the grand scheme of things, especially given how simple the scroll wheel is to operate.
The top of the unit lifts up to reveal the A4 size scanner, which doubles as a photocopier. The lid doesn't have a soft-close mechanism, so its easy to accidentally bang it shut if you're not paying attention. Paper for printing and photocopying is held in two areas - a 150 sheet tray underneath the unit, and a rear tray, which also holds 150 sheets and impressively provides the capability to print in duplex (both sides of the paper). This also allows you to load plain paper in the base, and photo paper in the rear tray and not have to keep swapping them out.
Print quality is crisp and impressive (even with compatible inks) on B&W documents, costing around half a penny per page to print and knocking them out at the rate of around 8 pages a minute. Colour documents come out at half that speed (i.e. 4 ppm), and cost, on average, 6p per page to produce (Note: costs are quoted without the paper factored in and are taken from the official Canon web-site, using official Canon ink). These figures put it in the middle of the pack when compared like for like with similar offerings from competitors. I leave the photo printing to our dedicated HP Photosmart, so can't comment on the quality of picture reproduction with any authority. The unit also has a special insert for printing DVD/CD covers, but I have not needed this functionality either.
Photocopying and scanning are essentially the same function - with the only difference being that one sends the output to the printer, and the other to the computer (or USB stick). The scanner boasts an impressive resolution of 4800 dots per inch (dpi) which, trust me, makes for impressive and faithful reproduction of source documents. All of its functions - printing, scanning, and copying - are impressively brisk, so you never feel like you are hanging around waiting for it to do something.
The Pixma ships with both Windows and Macintosh set-up software and along with the drivers, installs several Canon applications and shortcuts of varying usefulness. For instance, "Solution Menu" is a wizard that guides you through the most commonly used functions (ex. scanning documents, printing photos, printing DVD or CD labels, navigating help menus etc.), "My Printer" is a diagnostics tool that helps you troubleshoot common problems, and there are two dedicated utilities ("Easy-Photo" and "Navigator") for photo-printing and scanning functions. They are all easy and intuitive to use and have their own help and user manuals. Speaking of which, an electronic copy of the MFD's user manual is also provided, and also, very usefully, a utility to help network the Pixma to your PC wirelessly. All in a this is a well considered, practical, and functional package of genuinely useful tools.
This printer has a fairly hefty "footprint", occupying around a foot by foot and a half space - and that is with both the rear-fed vertical tray and the output tray at the front stowed - so you'll need to allow a bit more space if you want to have these fully extended. A really cool feature is that if you forget to open the output tray, it automatically opens when printing starts. The official specs list the MP640 as weighing in around 9 kilos, but that doesn't include full paper trays and ink cartridges, so it's a bit of a heffalump.
That said, the Pixma is not an unattractive bit of kit, even though the matte greyish silver finish won't exactly set your pulse racing - and the only real bit of excitement is provided by its curvy corners and gloss black trim on top (sadly, also fingerprint magnet). With the flip-up TFT screen in closed position, the only signs of life are a green LED to show its turned on (the power button is next to the scroll wheel, and is concealed with the screen folded down), and a lighted electric blue Wi-Fi badge that confirms its connected to the network. The other thing to mention is that it is a relatively quiet operator and has proved highly reliable. In six months of regular use, it has yet to (touch wood) cause any significant problems.
ALL FOR ONE OR NONE FOR ALL?
The Pixma has not only converted me to the merits of MFD's, its turned me into something of an evangelist. I have been through a dozen home office printers of varying quality over the years, but the MP640, has easily topped the lot for functionality, versatility, speed and quality - attributes that more than make up for its average performance on running costs. Although it's not the newest model on the market (it's been around since late 2009) at £125 this offering from Canon represents genuine value for money and should be seriously considered if you are looking for a substantial printer that is reliable, intuitive to use - a true master of all of its trades, and a jack of none.
Full specifications can be found on canon's official web-site here: http://tinyurl.com/343e7gc
© Hishyeness 2010
Summary: An excellent multi-function home office space saver.
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