Dell V305W inkjet multifunction printer

Dell aims its V305W colour inkjet multifunction printer (US$130 as of August 4, 2008) at budget-constrained small-office users, stuffing it with a multitude of features for the price. Regrettably, a bear trap lies hidden in that low unit price: Very high ink costs overshadow this printer’s many good attributes.

Very high ink costs overshadow this printer’s many good attributes. The V305W is well-equipped for a low-volume small or home office. It has integrated 802.11b/g wireless connectivity, a 100-sheet rear input slot, and a 25-sheet front output tray. It offers manual duplexing (two-sided printing) with helpful prompts. Two media-card slots let you work with photos easily. Dell bundles ABBYY FineReader 6.0 Sprint (a simple OCR package) and Dell Imaging Toolbox, which centralizes scanning, copying, and photo-editing features. The only thing I missed was an automatic document feeder (the similarly priced HP OfficeJet J4680 does offer that feature).

Dell put a lot of thought into the documentation: There’s plenty of it, and it’s extremely thorough. Though the company had some ups and downs on various criteria in our most recent Reliability and Service survey, its overall rating was average.

The control panel’s layout, though very simple, has some quirks. You surf menu options, shown on the two-line OLED text display, using two navigation buttons and a third, big button labeled with a checkmark. The display also shows ink levels, but you can’t tell which cartridge is which. It’s also hard to guess how to wake up the printer; you’re supposed to press an arrow button, but Dell doesn’t document this explicitly.

In our tests, the Dell ranged from awesome to adequate. It blasted through plain-text documents at a rate of 10.7 pages per minute–more than twice as fast as Epson’s Stylus NX400. The text itself was black and crisp. But when we sent colour photos and other graphics through the pipeline, the V305W slowed considerably, to 1.2 ppm or less.

Images printed on plain paper looked anemic; on Dell’s own photo paper, the same images smoothed out and looked a little yellow, but had nice detail. Scan and copy quality were mediocre: dark, rough, and fuzzy.

The ink costs will make your jaw drop. The machine ships with a standard-size black cartridge and a tricolour cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridge. Each of these cartridges lasts for a mere 125 pages in a best-case scenario. The (relatively) high-yield versions of the cartridges offer little relief: A 210-page black cartridge costs $19, which translates into 9 cents per page, while the corresponding color cartridge costs $25 and last 190 pages, or 13.2 cents per page.

It’s too bad about the inks, because the V305W is a nice printer in many ways. But even if you don’t print all that much, you’ll notice the dent in your wallet fairly quickly. And unfortunately, this printer doesn’t print money.

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