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Lexmark Genesis, Part 1 – a new beginning or a bulky gimmick?

Issue #1110 – When Lexmark first announced the new Genesis inkjet All-in-One printer, I don’t think anyone imagined that it would be priced at the upper end of the business inkjet range. Having had an opportunity to use and evaluate the device, can anyone believe that it can justify being priced between £330 and £465 / €250 and €355 / $295 and $570 (ex tax)!! In this first of two articles, we’ll investigate Lexmark’s Flash Scan technology and then look at other aspects, plus costing, in a subsequent article.

What makes this All-in-One different to others on the market is not its market positioning in terms of price, or even its features and capabilities, it is the inclusion of the ‘new’ Flash Scan technology driving the scanning function for the device.

Lexmark Genesis AiOLexmark Genesis AiO

Now, I say ‘new’ because flash scan is actually nothing new as a concept or a technology. It was being used as far back as the mid 1980’s in high-end print room copiers – and very effective it was too, speeding up the copying process and reducing the number of moving parts in the machine.

However, Genesis does mark a substantial development in the technology for two reasons. Firstly, it has a single sensor that scans three times to produce a colour image, once in each of the three primary colours and, secondly, it is implemented in a desktop device costing just a few hundreds of Pounds / Euro / Dollars rather than a few hundred thousand.

A rapid succession of flashes in each of the three colours allows a photo to be taken for each colour. The three photos are then combined to produce a complete white light colour image. This actually proves to be a very effective method of achieving the scanned image – colours are true and the image bright and accurate. There is, of course, a degree of graininess to the image, commonly seen in colour copies.

This then translates into some of the most accurate colour office document copies I have seen from an All-in-One device – the copy is distinguishable from the original but by a relatively small margin whereas, with most AiOs, colours in the copy are most likely to be distinctly more muted than the original, with an equally distinct blotchiness to areas of colour fill.

Interestingly, my biggest complaint about colour copy quality is that black lines and text are printed as composite colour rather than with black ink. This means that the blacks are not black. Black text in a mono document, however, although less dense than the original, is sharp and far better than some black copies I have seen.

Genesis print & copy

Just to show the difference as a comparison, below is the equivalent section of a print and scan from Hewlett-Packard’s Officejet Pro 8550A. Both copies are far more ragged on the edges than the original print, and that is only to be expected, but it is clear that the Officejet copy is produced using black ink only.

officejet print & scan

I have to confess that I was rather concerned about Flash Scan technology when I first heard of it in Genesis, for the very simple reason that the camera used to take scan photographs must have an ultra-wide angle lens. It is extremely difficult to achieve dimensional stability in these circumstances. In other words, a wide angle lens inherently introduces distortion and curvature into the image.

I was surprised! The dimensional stability of Genesis is actually extraordinarily good. A digital distortion correction algorithm has been applied that is very effective, resulting in a grid of lines printed on a page being faithfully reproduced on a copy page. Lines are straight even at the edge of the page and the maximum dimensional error noted is only around half a millimetre (1/50th inch) along the length of the page. To all intents and purposes, that is perfect.

Genesis side viewBulky camera enclosure

There is one downside to flash scan technology though. That is, the bulk of the device required to carry the scanner. It is this restriction that leads to the upright design of the Genesis – while not unattractive, and certainly creating a device that is appropriate for location in a living area of the home, is not actually very practical. The printer unit itself is compact enough but to put a camera onto the printer unit is a different prospect and demands different solutions to putting a traditional thin (CCD or CIS) scanner on top.

Genesis’ upright design actually makes it very difficult to operate as a scanner / copier / fax machine from a seated position – which is, after all, how a business or home office device is most commonly used:

Genesis platen cover openGenesis platen cover open

Firstly, because the scan unit is almost vertical, the paper original needs to rest on a ledge at the lower edge of scan glass. This cannot be seen from a normal seated position (obscured by the scanner lid), meaning that the user has to stand (or half stand) to see exactly where the paper should be positioned. The only way around this is to have the machine located at precisely the right distance and angle from the user so that there is a line of sight down the length of the scan platen – not necessarily very practical, ergonomic or aesthetically pleasing.

This is particularly relevant when a multi-page document is being scanned, copied or faxed.

Secondly, because the scan unit is almost vertical, if several pieces of paper (4×6 photos for example) need to be scanned at once, they have to be held by a special soft felt clip that runs along the upper edge of the scan glass. Big problem – 1.4cm (0.55in) of the original is lost off the edge of the scan area! This is completely hopeless and unusable.

Lexmark Genesis scan coverageLexmark Genesis scan coverage

Thirdly, because the scan unit is almost vertical, there is no option to have an ADF on the device. This means that any multi-page documents have to be fed manually, one at a time.

This might not be perceived to be a major problem but, to a business user, to have to stand with the machine feeding sheets is a major annoyance, time waster and therefore money waster. At least with an ADF, the machine can be left to get on with its job by itself. And – as we will see later, the price of Genesis is so high that almost any other desktop, 4-function, inkjet business AiO can be bought for rather less and even Brother’s new, second generation, range of A3 AiOs do not cost very much more than Genesis while offering significant extra functionality.

These factors have interesting implications to scan and copy speeds. While Lexmark claims that Genesis can accomplish a scan in ‘as little as 3 seconds’, this is not a measurement that is based in reality.

We tested Genesis against the Hewlett-Packard Officejet Pro 8500A, costing approximately 40% less than Genesis, and Brother’s flagship first generation A3 MFC-6890CDW, costing around 35% more. We haven’t been able to put the second generation MFC through its paces yet but starting prices are only 16% higher than Genesis (all prices Median Street price, sourced in Germany).

What we came up with for scanning was as follows:

Time to Scan
(seconds)
Lexmark
Genesis
Hewlett-Packard
Officejet Pro 8500A
Brother
MFC-6890CDW
Single-page
colour document
20 seconds 30 seconds 37 seconds
5-page
colour document
1 minute
24 seconds
1 minute
43 seconds
1 minute
24 seconds

While Genesis is faster when scanning a single page (no placement of original included), the difference is not so very significant. What I suspect Lexmark has not allowed for in a real life scan job is that scan time has to be taken from the point at which the AiO is not available for any other use to the point at which it becomes available again. The process of telling the machine how to scan the page is relevant and all AiOs take a few seconds to reset themselves for further printing / scanning / copying / faxing at the end of the job. It is NOT just the time the machine takes to achieve the scan itself.

With a 5-page document, Genesis users have to stand (and I do mean stand! – see earlier comment) in attendance, feeding paper into the scan unit sheet by sheet, whereas users with an ADF can just place the pages into the ADF and then get on with another task as soon as the instructions have been given.

Here we find that Brother’s MFC-6890CDW was as fast to complete the job as Genesis and with far less hassle. I was surprised that the Officejet Pro was the slowest for this operation. But, even then, the difference was not hugely significant.

Exactly the same situation exists for copy operations.

Time to Copy
(seconds)
Lexmark
Genesis
Hewlett-Packard
Officejet Pro 8500A
Brother
MFC-6890CDW
Single-page
black document
16 seconds 16 seconds 25 seconds
Single-page
colour document
30 seconds 28 seconds 44 seconds
5-page
colour document
3 minute
02 seconds
1 minute
27 seconds
2 minute
53 seconds

Again, the single page times are taken from the point of beginning to command the machine to copy (no placement of original included) to delivery of the copy. For the 5-page copy job, as with scanning, timing was taken from picking up the papers through to delivery of the final page.

Also again, we see that Genesis has no advantage on copy speed – in fact, the situation is worse than when scanning, with the time to complete multi-page colour copy jobs taking longer than with either of the other devices. Here, the Officejet more than adequately redeems itself by completing the job in half the time of the other machines.

Personally speaking, give me an ADF any time!

Obviously, copy speeds are reliant on the print speed of the device just as much as the scanning speed. So, in the test results presented above, from the Flash Scan point of view, it is the scanning tests that are most relevant.

However, this brings us onto print speed, which is perfectly relevant in its own right and represents the other half of the equation in the copy speed tests. With Genesis, it is colour print speed that lets the machine down severely causing the copy speeds to be poor compared to the scan speeds.

Print speed will be dealt with in a subsequent article, along with other aspects including installation and usability. Purely on the basis of these specific results, Genesis scores highly on copy accuracy and single page copy/scan speed but is let down by its near vertical platen, and inability to house an ADF, which compromises its efficiency and usability.

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