SAN FRANCISCO (01/24/2000) - For years, PC users have been taking advantage of multifunction peripherals (MFPs) that combine the functions of a scanner, printer, copier, and fax machine. Until recently, Macintosh users had to forgo these attempts at space-saving integration, but with Apple's resurgence, Brother, Canon, and Epson have each introduced Mac MFPs with USB interfaces.
Macworld Lab looked at four MFPs, one each from Brother and Canon and two from Epson. We found that each MFP is strong in one area but weak in another.
Although they share similar components, you won't easily confuse these models.
Brother's $600 MFC-8600 looks and feels like a fax machine; it's fast but limited to black-and-white scanning and printing. Canon's $379 MultiPass C635 and Epson's $349 Stylus Scan 2000, each with an integrated sheetfed scanner, look like ink-jet printers, and Epson's $449 Stylus Scan 2500, which has a flatbed scanner, resembles a photocopier. (Epson's Stylus Scan 2500 Pro, not reviewed here, adds an automatic document feeder for $100 more.) ScanningAmong the four MFPs, only the Stylus Scan 2500 includes a flatbed scanner; the other three get by with sheetfed scanners, which are less convenient and typically offer poorer image quality. And sure enough, the Stylus Scan 2500-whose integrated scanner is based on Epson's Perfection 636U -- did an excellent job of scanning color photographs. The Stylus Scan 2000's sheetfed scanner also produced surprisingly good-looking scanned images.
Canon's MultiPass C635 offers only fair scanning quality; it mildly distorted dark blues and light yellows, and images lost some detail. Don't even consider Brother's MFP as a scanner replacement: it's limited to gray-scale scanning, and images came out too dark. However, all four MFPs did a reasonable job of scanning text.
When it comes to print quality, the Epson MFPs again lead the pack. Both use the same print engine found in the Stylus Color 740, and the output quality is about what you'd expect from a midrange ink-jet printer. However, you'll want to print on ink-jet paper to retain crispness; when printing on plain paper, we noticed some feathering.
Canon's MultiPass produces reasonably accurate colors, but the output suffers from noticeable dithering, and the text was a bit blurry on occasion. The Brother MFC-8600 generated a decent, albeit slightly grainy, gray-scale print of our color photo.
Although the Epson MFPs share the same print engine, the Stylus Scan 2500 offers much better copy quality, despite a minor tendency to saturate colors.
It reproduced text, graphics, and thin lines at least as well as a dedicated copier. The Stylus Scan 2000, on the other hand, produced visible banding and washed-out colors, and thin lines in a spreadsheet printed with slight irregularities-as they did on the Canon and Brother MFPs.
The Canon MultiPass, with an ink-jet printer limited to 360-dpi resolution, does a poor job of making color copies; it yielded oversaturated reds and tended to reproduce dark blues as purple. We also found the color-copy controls confusing: you have to press the Copy button and then the Color Copy button.
Although it's limited to black-and-white output, the Brother MFC-8600 produced reasonably good gray-scale reproductions of our original documents. One unique feature is the Sort Copy function, similar to those on dedicated copiers, for generating collated copies.
The MFC-8600 may offer limited output options, but it's clearly the speed demon when making black-and-white text copies, taking 23 seconds to produce the first copy and 5.5 seconds for each additional copy. The Epson Stylus Scan 2000 was also speedy, copying a text document in 27 seconds and a color photo in 59 seconds. The Epson Stylus Scan 2500 was the slowest at copying text documents, taking nearly 2 minutes for the first copy, but it copied color photos in a reasonably fast 3 minutes, 19 seconds. Canon's MultiPass was the slowest by far when copying photos, taking 9 minutes, 12 seconds.
When it comes to sending and receiving faxes, the Brother MFC-8600 is the hands-down winner. With its integrated handset and fax-specific controls, it even resembles a stand-alone fax machine. Other fax amenities include built-in caller ID (assuming you have this service on your telephone line), call waiting ID, and automatic cover pages that include sender and destination information as well as four standard or two custom messages.
Although the Canon MultiPass lacks a handset, it does include a jack for connecting a telephone. Canon also provides software that lets you set the ring pattern, station ID, and number of rings before answering; Brother's MFC-8600 forces you to do this manually. Canon's software also lets you set up an address book for speed dialing, although import and export capabilities would have been a nice touch.
Epson's MFPs don't function as stand-alone fax machines; instead, you have to run software on your computer, much as if you were sending or receiving a fax directly on your Mac.
All four devices produced decent-looking faxes on the sending and receiving end. We saw some jagged lines in a spreadsheet, but the quality was no worse than you'd get with a dedicated fax machine. The Epson MFPs produced the best-looking gray-scale photos, but the Stylus Scan 2000 added slight distortions along one edge.
All four units include print drivers for output and TWAIN plug-ins for scanning into Adobe Photoshop or PhotoDeluxe; Canon and Epson also include a bundled copy of PhotoDeluxe, and Canon adds Scansoft's Textbridge Professional OCR software.
We tested the Epson MFPs with Newsoft's Presto PageManager, a Mac-based software control center bundled with each Epson unit. PageManager is designed to provide seamless integration among the MFP functions and other Mac applications, but it's hard to use. At press time, Epson was planning to replace it with a program called Smartpanel, but we didn't have an opportunity to look at the new software. Users who have already purchased a Stylus Scan model with the older software can request a free copy of Smartpanel.
Although Mac-based MFP hardware is finally available, Mac users still get short shrift when it comes to MFP software. For example, Brother's Windows software prints your e-mail and stores incoming faxes on the computer's hard disk. The PC software also lets you take advantage of a video-capture port on the MFP; Mac users can't use the video-capture function because the Mac software doesn't support it.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Also see: "Jacks of All Trades?"
MFPs are convenient and save lots of desk space, but they won't save you any money; you'll pay about the same-or less-for a separate scanner and printer. If you're primarily looking for a fax machine that can double as a scanner, printer, and copier-and you can live with monochrome output-the bulky Brother MFC-8600 offers business-class faxing capabilities. To receive faxes anytime without sacrificing desk space, consider the Canon MultiPass C635. If image quality is paramount and you don't mind using your computer for faxing, consider the Epson models: the Stylus Scan 2500 provides exceptional scan, print, and fax quality; the Stylus Scan 2000 trades some of this for a smaller footprint. However, if you're just looking for a scanner and printer, you're better off with stand-alone devices rather than an MFP.
Sidebar: Jacks of All Trades?
Jacks of All Trades ?
Company's Estimated Price
Fast; strong fax features.
Black and white only; mediocre image quality.
Canon Computer Systems
Slow copy speed; confusing hardware controls.
Stylus Scan 2000
Good scan quality; great print quality.
No stand-alone fax; poor copy quality.
Stylus Scan 2500
Great scan and printquality; flatbed scanner.
No stand-alone fax; bulky.