Do you need an all-in-one or standard printer?
Multifunction printers (MFPs) -- also called multifunction devices and all-in-one (AIO) printers -- are inkjet or laser printers that, in addition to printing, can scan, copy and, in some cases, send and receive faxes. Some newer MFPs also offer web connectivity, so they can connect to and print from web pages without being hooked up to a computer. Prices of MFPs have fallen in recent years, with many excellent models selling for $250 or less. As a result, MFPs now account for the majority of printers sold for home use.
However, while MFPs 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 in addition to printing, a multifunction machine 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 MFPs 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.
Multifunction printers use either inkjet or laser technology. Inkjet all-in-ones are cheaper and usually print photos well, but they are also slower. Laser MFPs are faster and cost less to run, but their initial cost is higher -- especially for color models. Some MFPs have an integrated fax modem, which allows you to fax hard copies as you would with a regular fax machine. Some MFPs can upload or download documents from web sites, receive documents for printing as email attachments from the web or print wirelessly from mobile devices.
We used a variety of sources for our evaluation of multifunction printers. ConsumerReports.org conducts thorough and well-documented tests for printers, as it does for most products. Computer-specific publications such as PCMag.com, PC World, and CNET provide more detailed reports. We found PCMag.com the most useful because it offers direct comparisons among printer models. For information about how printers hold up under real-world conditions, we consulted user reviews at Amazon.com, as well as a reader survey from PCMag.com that rates different printer brands in terms of reliability.