The Canon Pixma MP160 is the entry-level model of Canon's all-in-one photo printer line. At AU$89, it's a bargain for a machine that prints, scans, and copies, especially given its surprisingly good print quality. (Unfortunately, we can't say the same for its scan quality.) Befitting its budget price, the printer is missing some features, including media card slots and an LCD screen. As much as we like this printer for both quality and value, we don't recommend buying it: for a mere AU$20 more, you can upgrade to the Pixma MP180. The MP180 is basically the same printer (same speed and print quality), but it comes with both memory card slots and a two-line monochromatic LCD screen, as well as more configuration options for each task. If you want a good entry-level photo-centric all-in-one printer, skip the MP160 and buy the Canon Pixma MP180.
The Canon Pixma MP160 looks a lot like Canon's other photo all-in-ones, with its light-gray-and-black body, control panel "shelf," and rounded edges. It's bulkier than HP's similarly priced OfficeJet 4315, but the inclusion of a flatbed scanner limits how small the printer can be. The Pixma MP160 stands 443mm wide, 381mm deep and 181mm tall, and weighs a light 6.3kg.
The scanner platen is big enough to hold originals up to A4 size, and the lid's hinges rear back to accommodate thick originals, such as textbooks. A PictBridge port on the front of the printer lets you print photos directly from a PictBridge-compatible digital camera or a digital video camera, without touching your PC. But you can't preview them on the printer because it lacks an LCD screen. Also missing are media card slots, but you can get them on the MP180, which costs just AU$20 more. The MP180 also features a two-line LCD, but you can't preview pictures on it.
The MP160's paper-handling options are limited. A paper feeder with adjustable paper guides folds out from the rear of the unit and holds up to 100 sheets of plain paper. A simple tray folds out from the front of the printer and serves as the output tray. It lacks an extension flap, so legal-size pages may fall out if you're not paying attention. Within the output tray is a lever that slides from side to side to adjust the distance between the printhead and the paper. For most paper types, you'll keep the lever to the left; for envelopes and T-shirt transfers, move it to the right.
The control panel is laid out on a shelf that juts out from the front of the printer. The buttons cover just the basics: a single button that lets you tell the printer whether you're printing on letter-size plain, letter-size photo, or 4x6 photo paper; a plus button to increase the number of copies; a fit-to-page button that will automatically reduce or enlarge copies to fit the paper size; a scan initiation button; and black and colour start buttons; as well a stop/reset button.
The Canon Pixma MP160 has a limited feature set that will quickly leave you wanting more, which you can get for just AU$20 extra with the MP180. The MP160 copy options let you fit to page and make multiple copies in one go, though with an odd limitation: using the plus button, you can increase the number of copies to 9. An additional press of the plus button and the LED reads F, which apparently means 20 copies, so you can't specify, say, 10 or 15 copies; you'll have to initiate two copy cycles. Other common features missing from the MP160 -- scaling, adjusting the image quality, and making borderless copies -- can be found on the MP180.
Pressing the Scan button will launch Canon's MP Navigator utility on your PC, which lets you customise your scan job by indicating the type of document, changing the scan resolution, and designating what you want to do with the scan: save to PC, save as various file types, or attach to e-mail. You can also use the included optical character recognition software to scan documents into an editable form. The Canon Pixma MP160 uses a two-tank ink system: one black and one tricolour tank. You can use the same ink to print both photos and documents, so there's no need to swap out for different tasks.
The Pixma MP160 connects via USB only, but it does provide support for both Macs and Windows PCs. Setup is simple and straightforward, and the included documentation will walk you through both the MP160 and the MP180.
The Canon Pixma MP160 posted impressive task speeds, especially given its low price tag. It printed text at 5.81 pages per minute (ppm), graphics prints at 1.62ppm, and 4x6 photos at 1.36ppm. The photo speed is especially impressive, as it's just shy of the 1.84ppm posted by the much more expensive Canon Pixma MP830. It also held its own in scanning: 6.47ppm for black-and-white scans and 5.61ppm for colour scans.
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We were also pleasantly surprised by the MP160's print quality, though we can't say the same for the scan quality. Its text prints weren't perfect -- we saw some jagginess on edges -- but characters were consistently formed and text was readable down to very small point sizes. The colour graphics page was especially impressive: it showed smooth curves, excellent colour reproduction, lifelike skin tones and excellent photo elements, a grayscale devoid of colour, and clean, sharp edges. The only issue we noticed was some minor banding in colour gradients, but overall, we were very pleased with the colour graphics page. The 4x6 test photos were quite good, as well. We liked the sharp detail and the vibrant colours in the photos, including in skin tones, though we did notice some graininess. Still, the quality more than suffices for snapshots.
The MP160's Achilles' heel is scanning -- specifically, colour reproduction. The colour scan was sharp, but the colours were so dark and murky as to be wrong. A magenta gradient turned out purple, and a cyan gradient inexplicably ended up aqua. The grayscale scan didn't fair much better: again, it handled patterns well enough, but both ends of the grayscale were compressed, the dark end in particular, so that details were lost in the shadows.
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Canon provides a one-year limited warranty for the Pixma MP160 that you can extend to three years for AU$99. You can also get tech support via e-mail, and Canon says it will respond within 24 hours. Canon's web site has FAQs, a troubleshooting tool, downloadable drivers and software, and PDFs of product and software manuals.