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New Lexmark inkjet range looks very promising for homes and businesses

Issue 0930/1 – Lexmark has also introduced a large number of new inkjet models to market in recent weeks and, like Hewlett-Packard, is attempting to inject a degree of inventive naming into the mix. With all products built on the same print engine and offering exactly the same print speed, all models are built for business use of some sort, whether home office or professional business, indicating a major departure from tradition for Lexmark on several fronts. High-end specifications are high and functionality is extensive.

Lexmark J110Lexmark J110

Perhaps the most significant factor involved here is the fact that Lexmark has changed its life-long strategy of producing inkjet devices based only on integrated print head ink cartridges and has moved to a configuration employing separate ink tanks and a semi-permanent print head. A decade ago, Lexmark did actually launch a business-oriented inkjet printer model with separate ink tanks (J110). However, the product failed miserably and was withdrawn early, not to be replaced. This is sure to be one of the reasons Lexmark romanced the home consumer market so strongly for so many years and ended the company’s foray into the business inkjet market – until recently.

In the past couple of years, Lexmark has attempted to step back into that market but with devices based on its traditional stronghold of integrated cartridges. These products have been very expensive to run, have not been inspirational to any great degree and Lexmark’s inkjet revenues have continued to decline rapidly.

Now, perhaps, we see a product range that is capable of living up to the company’s desire to focus on the high-volume business market, where potential demand for aftermarket supplies makes the building and selling of the hardware worthwhile.

However, this is going to depend entirely on the market’s confidence in the Lexmark brand and reputation for reliability – the problem being that it has no reputation for reliability! All indications are that inkjet users have been abandoning Lexmark, and the Lexmark inkjet devices they own, for other brands with better reputations and reliability records.

What Lexmark desperately needs right now is a range of highly capable, highly specified and immensely reliable inkjet All-in Ones – at the right Total Cost of Printing, of course.

So, again perhaps – just perhaps – this new range is capable of achieving that goal. Certainly, at a specification and feature level, the range looks promising and print quality is reportedly better than that achieved by some other brands (not yet tested by CharisCo Printer Labs).

Lexmark Impact S305Lexmark Impact S305

At first glance though, the range is utterly confusing and some considerable time is needed to determine just how the models differ from one another and which model is going to suit a particular user best.

Part of the attempted revival process is a new naming structure. There are Impact; Interpret; Intuition; Interact; Prospect; Prevail; Prestige and Platinum models – but what on earth does it all mean? Apart from Prestige and Platinum, the other names appear just to introduce a degree of alliteration and little else.

Model numbers say more about the devices than the names. Starting with the S305, there are four ‘S’ models and these are targeted at the home office environment. So perhaps these should be named the e’SS’ential range. Numbers run logically from S305 through S405 and S505 to S605 but with a not entirely logical increase in specification with the numbering sequence.

As indicated, all eight models are built on the same engine, offering the same print speeds and basic features as the bottom of the range S305, such as USB, Wireless and PictBridge interfaces, together with memory card slots.

Lexmark Interpret S405Lexmark Interpret S405

In the S405 we see fax functionality and a corresponding ADF added to the base engine. But, the S505 drops back to being 3-function again but this time adding auto-duplex unit and a 6cm LCD display. At the top end of the ‘S’ range, the S605 is still 3-function, and with the auto-duplex unit of the S505, but adds wireless-n capability to the b/g capability of the other models and also a fascinating and large web-enabled touch screen – more of which later.

Surely, instead of giving the range four individual names, it would have been far clearer to have used two names to distinguish between the 3-function and 4-function models, then using numbers to distinguish between the feature sets?

Model Lexmark Price Characteristics
Impact S305 £85
4 separate inks
Memory card slots
Wireless 802.11b/g
Max duty cycle 5,000 pages per month
Interpret S405 £111
As Impact S305, with:
35-sheet ADF
Intuition S505 £128
As Impact S305, with:
Auto-duplex printing
6cm LCD display
Interact S605 £170
As Impact S305, with:
Auto-duplex printing
10.9cm Web-enabled touch screen
offering SmartSolution technology
Wireless 802.11b/g/n
Prospect Pro205 £145
As Interpret S405, with:
6cm LCD display
Ships with XL cartridges
Prevail Pro705 £170
As Prospect Pro205, with:
10/100 Ethernet
Auto-duplex printing
Wireless 802.11b/g/n
Max duty cycle 10,000 pages per month
Prestige Pro805 £255
As Impact S305, with:
10/100 Ethernet
Auto-duplex printing
10.9cm Web-enabled touch screen
offering SmartSolution technology
Wireless 802.11b/g/n
Ships with XL cartridges
Max duty cycle 10,000 pages per month
Platinum Pro905 £340
As Prevail Pro705, with:
10.9cm Web-enabled touch screen
offering SmartSolution technology
150-sheet second paper feed

At the upper end, all business-oriented models are given a name beginning with ‘P’ and include ‘Pro’ with the model number. At least the use of ‘Pro’ indicates that the models are clearly intended for business environments but again the logic of the numbering falls down.

Lexmark Prospect Pro205Lexmark Prospect Pro205

With the same 4-function capabilities of the S405, the Prospect Pro205 adds the 6cm LCD display and ships with XL cartridges. Now, the use of XL cartridges in the shipping box is a significant step for Lexmark and certainly helps to set all of the Pro models apart as business devices – well done Lexmark on that point!

However, why give this a lower number than the S405 that it is based on? Had Lexmark not skipped the ‘2’ level in the ‘S’ range, the Pro205 could have been the Pro605, thus introducing a more logical progression up the scale.

As we move to the Pro705, a whole raft of extra features are added, turning the machine into a full-featured business device. Perhaps most significantly is a boost to the duty cycle, taking it to a reasonably healthy maximum 10,000 pages per month (not enough to match the 15,000-page rating of Hewlett-Packard, though).

Then, in the Pro805, we drop back down to a 3-function device but with all the high level features of the S705 and the added bonus of the web-enabled touch screen.

Lexmark Prestige Pro805Lexmark Prestige Pro805

How to sit the Pro805 model in the Pro range is slightly problematic because, on the one hand, it is 3-function rather than 4-function but it features the web-enabled touch screen not available in the Pro705. This would tend to point to this being another case where splitting the naming of the range would have been helpful – give the Pro805 a name of its own while giving the three 4-function devices in the range a different name shared between them.

Lexmark Platinum Pro905Lexmark Platinum Pro905

Finally, the Pro905 brings it all together in a 4-function AiO with everything, including web-enabled touchscreen.

On to the more technical features and characteristics of the range then.

‘Vizix’ is the brand name given to the latest Lexmark ink technology. Black ink is pigment-based for fast drying and crisp text on plain paper, while colour inks are dye-based, ideal for photo printing, and the print head is a semi-permanent fixture in the machine.

Lexmark Vizix logoLexmark Vizix logo

Use of individual ink tanks on a semi-permanent print head is a very good move but one that Lexmark has been forced to adopt because every other major inkjet manufacturer is now offering business-oriented devices with this configuration. Lexmark is not offering a 5-ink configuration, with both pigment and dye black inks for text and photo printing respectively (as offered in a number of models from Canon and Hewlett-Packard) but only a 4-ink configuration. As only the black ink is pigmented the printers would benefit from an additional dye black for photo printing, as offered by several models from Canon and Hewlett-Packard.

Lexmark Vizix inkLexmark Vizix ink

A further excellent feature from Lexmark is the availability of XL cartridges for all of the machines in the range. Models in the home/home office range (S), are shipped with standard cartridges but all of the business-oriented, Pro, machines are shipped with XL cartridges in the box.

Lexmark claims in its press release that these cartridges provide one-penny-per-page printing, quoting a price of £4.99 for a black XL cartridge that yields 510 pages. In fact, the message is slightly confusing in that the cartridge in question is the #105XL black cartridge, not the standard 100XL black cartridge. This distinction is not made clearly enough in Lexmark’s documentation and makes a huge difference. But, beware, the #105 cartridge is exclusive to the high-end Prestige Pro805 and Platinum Pro905 models! The difference it makes is targeted fairly and squarely at the business community and cuts the cost of black printing by almost 80%. Note also though, that the #105XL is a Return Program cartridge only.

Incredible – a cartridge with 510-page yield that normally costs between £14.98 and £24.12 (inc. VAT) in retail outlets (yielding a CPP between 2.94 pence and 4.73 pence), can actually be bought for between £3.07 and £4.82 (yielding a CPP between 0.6 pence and 0.95 pence) just by specifying the #105XL Return Program cartridge! This puts Lexmark’s mono inkjet printing directly at the cost level of a high-end laser MFP under contract – totally unheard of till now – and within the range of costs associated with printing black pages with the Hewlett-Packard No.88 black ink cartridge.

Taking print economy one step further – Lexmark has included an Eco Mode button on these devices. Normally soliciting a very sceptical response from me, this feature actually sounds like it might have hit the nail on the head! It is a single button that sets duplex printing as the default mode for the device at one touch – no more need to navigate around the printer driver, trying to find where to set for duplex. Ultimately, duplex printing can reduce paper consumption by a significant proportion (see for further explanation).

Unheard of in the industry is such a wide-ranging product line-up all based on exactly the same print engine, providing exactly the same print speed throughout – draft speeds of 33ppm in black and 30ppm in colour. It is, however, an entirely logical step, particularly for a company such as Lexmark where revenues have been dropping so badly. This approach allows the company to present this wide range of products to the market while taking full advantage of the economies of scale offered by building and integrating one engine only.

As always, basic print speed is quoted in draft mode. Unlike Epson and Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark does not quote a print speed for correspondence quality printing. Particularly for the business range, this would have been very useful for the prospective customer and a very good move for Lexmark. All manufacturers should be quoting this as a standard, even if draft speed is also quoted.

Lexmark web-enabled touch screenLexmark web-enabled touch screen

Perhaps the most intriguing feature is the web-enabled LCD touch screen with SmartSolutions capability. In some respects, this feature goes some way further than the Hewlett-Packard implementation of a web-enabled touchscreen but, like the Hewlett-Packard system, it does not enable full web-browsing and the printer will not print all web content that is displayed. Just what capabilities it does have is still somewhat unclear, especially as Lexmark has so far published nothing to explain the detail of its operation and capabilities and has been unavailable to discuss the feature on the phone.

Where detail is given, and one of the most productive capabilities of the system, is that the touchscreen acts as a software platform for shortcut and workflow productivity solutions. This places the inkjet AiO into the same category as high-level MFPs that can run third party applications to streamline the digital workflow and perform complex operations at the touch of just a few buttons. In this way, Lexmark has brought enterprise workflow solutions to small businesses. It remains to be seen whether developers will consider the platform to be worth investing time and money in.

ID card copy is one existing application for the SmartSolutions system, allowing a two-sided ID card to be scanned and printed on one side of a sheet of paper. This functionality has existed on Xerox MFPs for several years but is, again, a first on an inkjet AiO. Also available now is Business Card Scan that uploads information from a business card to a variety of commonly used address book applications automatically.

Lexmark Interact S605Lexmark Interact S605

At the web-connection level, another existing SmartSolutions application allows the system to receive RSS feeds and to email items straight from the printer.

These programmable solutions capabilities make those members of the Lexmark AiO series that are equipped with the touchscreen very powerful tools in the hands of business process intensive small businesses.

It may seem that this review of the new Lexmark range is far from positive. Indeed, to add to the total confusion of the naming system, in the UK (only) there are also four SE models to match three of the S models and one of the Prospect Pro models but with xx8 in the numbering instead of xx5. WHAT IS SE?? SE models use the slightly higher capacity #108 cartridges instead of #100 but are otherwise identical to the main range. What the SE stands for is still a mystery and it is entirely unclear why a separate range should be needed.

However, apart from the confusing nomenclature, and Lexmark’s mysterious claim regarding Cost of Printing, the range looks to have enormous potential for both home and business users and, IF the build quality and reliability issues have been addressed successfully, these products just may be able to give Brother, Canon, Epson and Hewlett-Packard a run for their money.

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