For some, a dedicated fax machine is still a wise buy
The fax machine isn't
the crucial piece of office equipment today that it was 10 or 20 years ago.
Many (though not all) all-in-one printers, which are covered in their
own report, include the ability to scan and fax documents without even turning
on your computer. It's also possible to send faxes via a computer fax modem
(seldom included in new computers, but available separately for $10 to $50),
via an online fax service, or by attaching a scanned document to an email.
But 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 all-in-one
printers (also called multifunction printers or MFPs) can fax, a dedicated fax
machine is set up to excel at that task. The best fax machines offer 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.
They also include enough 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). Fax machines might also include standard phone features, such as
a handset for making calls, caller ID, and a built-in answering machine (or the
ability to add an external one). Moreover, most modern fax machines can also
handle basic printing and copying-- although they won't perform as well at
those tasks as an MFP that's designed to be a printer first.
Most modern fax
machines use laser technology, just like a laser printer. A few cheaper fax
machines, however, use the older thermal-transfer technology. They print on
plain paper using a thermal ribbon, which typically results in a higher
cost-per-page than printing with toner. As a result, these cheaper machines are
usually only a reasonable choice for light fax users, since the low cost of the
machine itself won't be outweighed by the high cost of consumables.
Brother fax machines score best with owners
every site we consulted for this report, we found more recommendations for
Brother fax machines than for any other brand. Of these, the best all-around
performer appears to be the (Est. $170). This fax machine uses laser
technology, which is faster and produces better print quality than older
thermal-transfer technology machines. Its built-in Super G3 (Group 3) fax modem
has a speed of 33.6 Kbps and can transmit a page in as little as 2.5 seconds
under ideal conditions. It can make copies as well, and it includes a
USB 2.0 interface that lets it double as a computer printer.
The IntelliFax 2840 can easily handle the faxing needs of a home or small office. Its paper
tray holds 250 sheets, and its document feeder can handle up to 20 pages at a
time. It can also store up to 400 pages in memory, so you can run several large
documents through in quick succession and walk away while the machine sends
them. It's capable of scanning one fax into its memory while receiving another,
and it can send the same fax to multiple numbers at once. Its 2,000 page-per-month
rating should handle the needs of all but the busiest offices.
Users give the IntelliFax-2840
high marks for its speed, ease of use, and print quality. They also say it's
easy to set up and the toner cartridge lasts a long time. However, they have a
few complaints about its reliability. One big problem is that when the fax
machine sits unused for a while it goes into a deep-sleep mode, and an incoming
fax cannot always jolt it back to wakefulness. (It's possible to disable this
deep-sleep mode; it requires a trick that isn't covered in the manual, but it's
easy to find discussion of that online.) Users also report occasional problems
with paper jams, trouble receiving faxes from specific numbers, and bugs such
as "out of paper" and "out of toner" messages that aren't accurate. And several
users say the printer's display screen is hard to read unless it's placed well
below eye level.
heavier office use, reviewers recommend the (Est. $225). Like the cheaper 2840, this fax
machine incorporates a laser printer, but it's a heavier-duty one, with a
recommended print volume of up to 3,000 pages per month rather than 2,000. It
has the same high-speed modem as the Brother
IntelliFax-2840, along with its copying capability, plus a few other
features that make it more suitable for office use. It has a larger 30-page
document feeder, and its memory can store up to 500 pages of faxes at once. Also,
a standard toner cartridge can print 3,000 sheets, as opposed to 1,200 for the IntelliFax-2840's standard cartridge.
Its top transmission speed of 3 seconds per page isn't quite as lightning-fast
as the 2840's, but it can scan a page to memory in just 2 seconds compared to
2.5 seconds for the 2840, so you spend less time standing at the machine. Also,
this machine can retain stored faxes in memory for up to four days during a
power outage, while the 2840 will lose stored faxes if power is lost.
at retail sites, as well as at Brother's own website, praise the IntelliFax-4100e
for its speed and good print quality. Most also find it easy to set up and use.
However, the 4100e has many of the same reliability problems as its less
expensive cousin. Users complain that the fax machine often malfunctions,
producing black streaks or even entire black pages. They also say it occasionally
has trouble waking from deep sleep and can miss faxes due to noise on the phone
lines. Another common complaint is that replacement parts, such as the toner
drum, are pricey – so pricey that some users found it cheaper to replace
the whole machine.
A cheap fax machine for
home users who only need to send and receive faxes once in a while, both of
these Brother machines are probably overkill. A more reasonably priced option
is the (Est. $50). This ultra-basic fax machine uses thermal technology and doesn't
have the wealth of features found on the pricier Brother fax machines. It can't
be used for printing, and its copying capabilities are very basic. The 9.6 Kbps
modem takes 15 seconds to send a page, and the built-in memory can only store
up to 25 fax pages. Its automatic document feeder is limited to 10 sheets, and
the print quality, though decent, is well below that of most laser-based fax
On the other hand,
the FAX-575 has several features that make it ideal for home users. Its smaller
footprint fits easily into a home office. Also, it can be hooked up to your
regular telephone line and can automatically detect the difference between
incoming faxes and voice calls, so you can receive both on one line without
having to switch the machine on and off. It can even use your phone's caller ID
and distinctive ring detection features, if you have them. It doesn't have a
built-in answering machine, but it's possible to hook one up.
Most users describe
the Brother FAX-575 as a good value. They say it's very easy to set up and use,
and the image quality is reasonably sharp. The main complaint about this
Brother fax machine is its high consumables cost. The thermal ribbon cartridges
cost about $18 each and are good for only 150 pages; that works out to a
whopping 12 cents per page, not counting the paper. (though,
on the plus side, the FAX-575 uses plain paper rather than pricey thermal
paper.) We also saw more complaints about paper jams and missed or partial
pages in a multi-page fax than we did with the pricier Brother fax machines. Still,
overall, users who send or receive no more than a few pages a day largely say
that they are satisfied with this fax machine.
Expert & User Review Sources
These days, credible
professional reviewers have pretty much stopped reviewing dedicated fax
machines. Thus, we had to rely on user-written reviews from retail sites to get
the lowdown on these machines. The fax machines covered in this report have
received hundreds of reviews on Amazon, Staples, Walmart, Office Depot, and Best Buy. These comments, written by both home and office
users, provide details about the machines' reliability, image quality, speed,
and overall ease of use.