Lexmark Genesis inkjet multifunction printer

Lexmark can’t be faulted for modesty in picking the lofty name of Genesis for its groundbreaking new inkjet multifunction. The price is similarly ambitious at $400, far more than most home or small-office users would typically pay for an MFP. Is it worth the money? As with the equally innovative and expensive Hewlett Packard Co.‘s (NYSE: HPQ) Photosmart eStation All-in-One, that depends on how much you want the gadgets tacked onto the machine.

The Genesis is visually unique due to its vertical, display-like profile, which practically invites you to walk up and examine it. The front panel showcases a 4.3-inch, capacitive touchscreen LCD and context-sensitive touch controls that light up only when needed. This display is especially fun to use with Lexmark’s Smart Solutions, an ever-growing collection of apps that you can program to automate local multifunction tasks or use to access Web-based services. Lexmark is adding the ability to search and view your Twitter feed, as well as to view and print from your Facebook wall. I’d love to see this display get a lot bigger on a future model so that it could function as a Web browser, digital frame, or kiosk.

Behind the design news, you’ll find the technological news: a 10-megapixel camera for creating digital images, instead of the traditional CIS (contact image sensor) or CCD (charge-coupled device) scanning technology. The vertical platen has a wide clip for holding small pieces in place, and the cover telescopes to accommodate media up to 10mm thick. In our tests it scanned any kind of image, regardless of complexity, in a matter of several seconds, as opposed to dozens or hundreds of seconds using conventional means. Even though the Genesis, like many consumer-level multifunctions, lacks an automatic document feeder for handling multipage documents, the speed of its scanning certainly compensates.

Beneath those two head-turning features, Lexmark managed to shoehorn a modestly configured printer. A 100-sheet rear vertical input lives in the shadow of the front display and scanner. You adjust its width guides horizontally by a right-hand slider that, counter intuitively, moves vertically. The front, sliding output tray holds merely 25 sheets. On the side you’ll find a single media-card slot for MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, SD Card, and XD-Picture Card, as well as a USB/PictBridge port. A lower front panel unfolds to reveal the ink cartridges, which large hands might have trouble handling within the small, cave-like opening. A commendably lengthy three-year warranty covers the Genesis.

As a printer, the Genesis performed fairly. On the Mac platform, plain-text pages limped out at an anemic rate of 3.9 pages per minute, but color PDF pages and a high-resolution colour photo posted comparatively high speeds of 1.8 ppm and 0.8 ppm, respectively. On our Windows testbed, it improved, with 6.4 ppm when printing plain, black text; 1.9 ppm when printing snapshot-size colour photos on letter-size paper; and 3.7 ppm when printing a typical monochrome copy of a text page.

Output quality was generally good. Text printed on plain paper was deep black and mostly crisp, though we did see some feathery places here and there. Colour images on plain paper looked washed out and orangey. On Lexmark’s own photo paper, the images sometimes erred the other way (coming out oversaturated) but they still appeared smooth and mostly natural. The camera showed its own foibles in our copy and scan samples: Copied text looked a little faded, and finer details in line art and colour photos seemed a little foggy or jagged. The camera also picked up more surface flaws on our samples than most scanners do.

The inks are the only truly disappointing part of the Genesis package, tolerable if you print fairly little. The standard returnable sizes include a $16, 170-page black cartridge that translates to a sky-high 9.4 cents per page. The separate, $10, 200-page cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges come to five cents per color, per page. A four-colour page would cost 24.4 cents. The high-yield returnable versions are a little more expensive than average: A 510-page black cartridge costs $25 (4.9 cents per page), and 600-page cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges cost $18 each (three cents per colour, per page), making for a 13.9-cent four-colour page. Nonreturnable versions cost more.

Macworld’s buying advice

Lexmark certainly has something to brag about with the Genesis, offering a game-changing design and technology that other high-end home MFPs like the Canon Pixma MG8120 and Epson Artisan 835 can’t touch. I’d be more excited about the Lexmark Genesis if the inks weren’t so expensive; even so, it’s a very interesting and appealing MFP.

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