Dedicated fax machines are a disappearing breed. Many (but not all) multifunction printers include the ability to scan and fax documents without turning on your computer. In addition, both the Mac OS and Windows support faxing via a fax modem, online fax services or by attaching a scanned document to an email.
However, if the need to send or receive faxes is an important part of your or your business's daily activities, a dedicated fax machine can make sense. While many multifunction printers (MFPs) can fax, a dedicated fax machine is set up to excel at that task. Pluses include a more robust lineup of fax-specific features -- such as lots of slots for one-touch speed-dial numbers and the ability to broadcast faxes to multiple locations. Other pluses include sufficient memory to hold hundreds of pages in storage in case faxes are received but can't be printed out (for example, if the fax machine is out of paper). You'll also find standard phone features, such as a handset for making calls or a built-in answering machine (or the ability to add an external one).
Fighting back against the encroachment of MFPs, most fax machines can handle all of the tasks of a multifunction printer -- including copying, scanning and acting as a printer for a computer or laptop. But if faxing is not a priority, performance in those extra tasks is usually better with an MFP that's designed to be a printer first.
Options among dedicated fax machines are dropping. For this update, we failed to spot a single currently produced fax machine that used inkjet technology; makers have discontinued those in favor of multifunction printers with fax capabilities (though some inkjet fax machines can still be found on retailers' shelves). There's still a good selection of laser fax machines, however, from makers including Brother, Canon, Panasonic and others.
For those looking for a cheap fax machine for occasional use, some thermal-transfer fax machines remain available as well. These print on plain paper, but use a ribbon-ink technology that's not as long-lasting as what you would get with a laser printer or inkjet. Most thermal-transfer fax machines don't do well in user reviews, but some fare notably better and could be worth considering for use at home or in a home office -- as long as you properly weigh their lower purchase prices against their poorer performance and often high consumables costs.
To find the best fax machines, we consider a number of factors. Performance as a fax machine is, of course, at the top of the list. We also evaluate a fax machine's features and extra functions -- such as the ability to act as a printer, copier or scanner -- and how well those work. We also consider value -- both the initial purchase price and the ongoing cost of toner and other consumables. Professional reviews of current dedicated fax machines are hard to come by, but many fax machines have hundreds and hundreds of user reviews, providing a good basis for comparison, and those are relied on extensively in making the recommendations in this report.