Finding the best all-in-one printer
All-in-one printers -- also called multifunction printers (MFPs) -- are inkjet or laser printers that, in addition to printing, can scan, copy and, in many cases, send and receive faxes. Some newer all-in-one printers can connect directly to the web, so they can print web pages, emailed documents or documents stored in the cloud without being hooked up to a computer. Prices of all-in-one printers have fallen in recent years, with many excellent models selling for $250 or less. As a result, all-in-ones now account for the majority of printers sold for home use.
However, while all-in-one printers might appear to be do-everything devices, reviews show that they are not necessarily equally adept at printing, scanning, copying and faxing. Often, a multifunction printer that excels in one aspect falls short in others. Still, if you only occasionally need to fax, copy or scan, an all-in-one printer can save you from having to buy two or three separate devices. On the other hand, if you don't think you really need to scan or fax, you can save a bit of money by going with a standard inkjet printer. You can also save desk space, since all-in-ones generally take up more room than a standard printer (although not nearly as much as a separate printer, scanner and copier). ConsumerSearch covers inkjet printers in a separate report.
All-in-one printers use either inkjet or laser technology. Inkjet all-in-one printers are cheaper and usually print photos well, but they are also slower. Laser all-in-one printers are faster and cost less to run, but their initial cost is higher -- especially for color models, and they don't do nearly as good a job with photos.
We evaluate all-in-one printers on a number of points, including how easy they are to use, their feature lineup, and, of course, how well they perform overall. Resources we consult include computer-specific publications such as PCMag.com, PC World and CNET. We found PCMag.com the most useful because it offers direct comparisons among printer models. We also look at ConsumerReports.org, which conducts thorough tests for printers, as it does for most products, but provides less discussion than the sites and publications listed above.
For information about how printers hold up under real-world conditions, we consulted user reviews at Amazon.com, Staples.com and BHPhotoVideo.com, as well as reader surveys from PCMag.com and Britain's Which? magazine that rate different printer brands in terms of reliability and customer satisfaction.