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When the HP printer we were using finally bit the dust, the second HP printer that we have had that has failed us, the requirement for a quick and expedient replacement inevitably meant that the choice available didn't really tick all of the boxes. The Lexmark X2670 did an OK job, though no more than that and, with the price that Lexmark charges for its inks, it was always unlikely to remain our primary printer for long.
As it happened, there was still a possibility that the HP could be brought back to proper operation but the advice offered on the HP Forum didn't work for us. A battle for compensation with PC World finally bore fruit and although we didn't get all of our money back we did get enough to form the bulk of what would be needed to get a new and more reliable printer with at least all of the same features as the HP.
I decided to turn to a brand that has never disappointed in the past - Canon. I still have a 10 year old "portable" Canon printer (BJC85) that continues to work as well as the day I bought it although it is entirely unsuitable for every day, heavy use: the ink cartridges simply don't last long enough. I have also had a Canon camera in the past, that offered excellent service, only no longer used as it is a 35mm and who uses those any more?
The features we needed were:
> Network connectivity: it needed to be wired networking but if it included wireless as well then that would be OK
> Automatic duplex printing
> Automatic document feed scanning
> Independent colour cartridges
> Photo quality printing
The Canon MX860 comes with all those functions plus also fax send and receive, copy capability and USB connection and data card input. It is more expensive than the HP C7280 though, about £20 more. I got the Canon from Amazon for £190.
The MX860 came in a huge cardboard box. When I opened it I discovered that it wasn't all foam packaging to avoid damage in transit: the printer actually is quite large, certainly bigger than the HP. However, it doesn't take up too much room, happily sitting where the HP previously did. Also included in the box is every type of connector you could possibly want, with the sole exception of a network cable. There are telephone cable adapters for most of the European telephone systems and power cables likewise. There are also CDs for the software for both Windows and Mac.
Setting up the printer involves firstly removing all of the plastic wrapping and installing the print cartridges. What I then discovered was that the MX860, like other Canon printers, has a separate printhead module. This is installed in the print carriage and the ink cartridges then installed in the printhead module. This is a distinct improvement on the HP as, unlike it, if the printhead develops a fault you can get a replacement rather than having to throw the whole machine away, as you have to with the HP, which is what went wrong with the old machine.
The commissioning process is explained in an accompanying booklet. This booklet is probably the worst part of the package. It's divided into three sections, each of which explain the process of bringing the printer into operation. However, each section, rather than being in a single different language, is in three different languages. Consequently, trying to follow the instructions is quite an ordeal. However, I managed to do so and, it would seem, successfully, as the printer worked perfectly first time.
You can download a User Guide in PDF format from the Canon website, purely in English. It isn't the same as the printed version and, amazingly contains nearly a thousand pages. Unfortunately the highlighted text does not link you to the associated section of the guide, as you would expect. Consequently you have to make substantial use of the Find facility of Adobe Reader.
Part of the setup process also involves an alignment exercise where a number of pages are printed off in a grid and for each column of printed boxes you have to enter the row number of the box that has the most even print, free of line bands. I found that in most cases the middle zero row was already the best but in a couple of instances it was either the +1 or -1 row. I suspect I could have left the printer as delivered but the exercise is probably worth doing.
One thing on which I cannot comment is the wireless function as I don't use it and have no plans or need to do so. Our house has a comprehensive wired Ethernet network installed and I much prefer to use that, both because of its speed and its security. However, setup seems to be quite straight-forward and it states it supports WEP, WPA and WPA2 security.
However, once installed, you discover that you Desktop is littered with new icons for all sorts of software items that Canon has decided you really ought to have at your fingertips. In practice you can delete most of these shortcuts; I have, except for the Canon Solution Menu, from which you can access all the functions you will need. The installation process also inserts two tasks into the start-up process and which results in two icons in the System Tray: My Printer, the printer monitor task; and the Network Scan utility, which enables document scanning to be accomplished over a network connection, driven from the computer end. This is perhaps surprising as most other printers seem to be able to do all this with just one task!
The MX860 uses multiple ink cartridges so a single colour running out means only the need to replace that colour rather than a whole tri-colour cartridge. Strangely though, in addition to the usual magenta, yellow and cyan cartridges, there are two black cartridges, one the same size as the colour ones and another "jumbo" sized one. It would seem that this enables a fair run of black prints before you need to replace it. So far we haven't needed to replace any. As each ink cartridge is inserted into the printhead module, it lights up at the front, to confirm correct insertion, which is a nice touch. It will be interesting to see if compatibles do the same.
The MX860 has two paper trays, one that slides beneath the machine and is the normal selection for A4 paper and it holds around 150 sheets of normal weight paper. The second tray is one that pulls up at the rear of the machine and is where 10x15cm photo paper is normally placed, print side facing forward. It will be selected when photo printing is requested. However, the rear tray doesn't have to hold only photo paper: you could use it for low-grade paper for test or disposable prints. This tray can be specifically selected, to override the default lower tray.
Sending a print request to the printer for the very first time appears to involve the printer in an awful lot of clunking and whirring before anything productive happens. I have no idea why this should be necessary but, with a little patience, eventually the print pops out of the slot above the front paper tray. This slot is normally covered by a flap so this has to be opened before printing.
Print quality, both normal and photo, seems good. Colours are vibrant and sharp with good depth. Print speed, once the initial preparation period is over, is good although duplex printing does require a delay to allow one side to dry before reversing the paper back into the machine to print the other side. For this reason I often ignore the duplex and print all one side before restacking the paper to print the other. However, my beloved prefers the simplicity of duplex and, true, she does frequently have lots of multiple page documents to print for her job.
Scanning can be done either from the scanner deck, by raising the lid, or via the document feeder (ADF) on top, where scanning can be single-sided or duplex. The feed seems good and I haven't had any instances yet of more than one page being pulled through at a time. The scan quality is reasonable although it can look a little washed-out. The default is 300dpi for documents scanned via ADF but up to 600dpi is available and is standard via the scan deck, with the consequent increase in file size. Scanned copies can be previewed before saving. Saved format is either image format (JPEG, TIFF or BMP) or document format (PDF).
Faxing is done from the printer rather than over the network. You can do B&W or colour but obviously a colour FAX requires a colour receiving FAX machine, a rarity even these days. In the tests I carried out I found the FAX to be quite dark. The quality of the FAX can be adjusted before transmission for both fineness of detail and also lightness/darkness, so I suggest experimenting. I used my free YAC (Your Always Connected) Fax number, which is actually a virtual FAX machine, to test the machine's capabilities.
The straight Copy function does a good job. I tried a two sided sheet and the bleed-through of the print on the reverse of the sheet was almost completely absent, even though quite obvious. The copy was a bit lighter compared with the original but the lightness/darkness can be adjusted. The size accuracy and sharpness of the copy is impressive though.
You can also print photos direct from an SD, CF or Sony Data Stick memory card and other types via the appropriate adapter. You can also print from your mobile phone, for instance, via Bluetooth. A certain amount of picture correction can be done on the printer itself. A nice touch is that you can get a thumbnail page printed of the pictures on the memory card and then by filling in small boxes associated with the index page, choose which photos to print and at what size, by scanning the page back in again.
So far I am very happy with the MX860. It seems to do most things competently; it certainly does everything we want of it. How durable it it will prove to be, only time will tell. Certainly the ink cartridges seem to be lasting well so far. Original replacements cost around £9 from suppliers such as Cartridge People with compatibles less than half that price. At these sorts of prices this printer should not require a mortgage to run.
Based on my past experiences of Canon products I have high hopes of the MX860. Let's hope my confidence is not dented!
UPDATE ~ Sept 2011
I have discovered a strange thing. I mentioned that the ink cartridges include both a large and a small black ink cartridge. A week or two back, the black ink cartridge ran out and the printer refused to work until it had been replaced, despite the fact that the small black ink cartridge still had plenty of ink in it.
I queried this with Canon support and was astonished to be told that the small black ink cartridge is ONLY used for printing photos! So, if, like us, you use this machine primarily as a SOHO printer then the small ink cartridge is a complete waste of ink and money! I was told that the ink in it runs out because the printer carries out self-cleaning to ensure that the printer nozzles are always serviceable. In future I will only use a compatible ink cartridge in this slot.
Loses one star for Reliability and also Overall.