The Canon Pixma MP520 is the 2007 refresh of last year's Pixma MP510. The price and most features remain the same, but the MP520's specs showed speed improvements. This didn't quite pan out in our tests, though, which showed mostly comparable speeds. The MP520 did, however, show some improvement on print quality. In fact, in comparisons to comparably priced all-in-ones, the Canon Pixma MP520 came out on top in terms of task quality. If you're looking for the best quality out of a AU$200 all-in-one, look no further. The MP520 may not serve up wireless networking as does the Lexmark X4550 or CD/DVD printing found on the HP Photosmart C5280), but what it does, it does well.
The silver-and-black Canon Pixma MP520 stands 45.5cm wide, 37.8cm deep, and 17.2cm tall, and weighs 7.5 kilograms. The flatbed scanner is A4 size and can't accommodate anything larger because the unit lacks an automatic document feeder. The MP520 offers two memory card slots and a PictBridge-enabled USB port for PC-free printing from PictBridge devices like cameras and camera phones. We'd like to see Canon include support for storage devices like USB thumb drives.
This model offers two input sources: the standard rear input that holds up to 150 sheets of plain paper, and a front input that can only accept A4, letter, or B5-sized plain paper (up to 110 sheets). This setup is great if you regularly print from both photo paper and plain paper, as you can set up the photo paper in the rear tray and plain paper in the front tray and not have to swap paper in and out. The output tray sits right above the front input area.
The control panel is hidden under a panel that folds up from the printer's top surface. A 2-inch colour LCD is embedded on the underside of the panel and allows you to navigate the menus and preview photos. Canon has reduced the number of buttons in the control panel by putting most of the options on the LCD and implementing a scroll wheel to navigate through the options. For example, to switch between copy, scan, and memory card tasks, spin the scroll wheel and a wheel of options spins along with it on the screen. Press the OK button in the middle of the wheel to make a selection. Second-level menus are presented linearly, but you can still use the scroll wheel to navigate, or you can use the four directional keys that are arrayed around the scroll wheel.
Additionally, two function buttons let you select the options they correspond with on the screen (the options change depending on what menu you're in). Rounding out the control panel are buttons to increase and decrease the number of copies, a switch to designate which input tray to print from, a Home button that takes you back to the top-level menu, and start and cancel buttons. A Navi button takes you to quick explanations for how to implement several common tasks. The Pixma MP520 uses a four-ink system with individual ink tanks.
The Pixma MP520 offers the standard-issue features that you'll find on a Canon multifunction. You can use it to print, scan, copy, and print photos, but it lacks a fax function -- not surprising, given its photo-centric leanings. When copying, you can reduce and enlarge between 25 percent and 400 percent using preset values (fit to page) or custom values in increments of 1 percent. You can also preview the copies on the LCD, a feature we like because it reduces paper waste and frustration. Special copy options include borderless copy, 2- or 4-on-1; image repeat; frame erase; trimming; and masking (you can block out certain areas that won't be copied).
Scan options include save to PC; attach to e-mail; or open in application. While you can initiate scans via the control panel, most of the advanced functionality lies in the bundled MP Navigator EX software that comes on the installation disc. Here, you can designate where scans are saved to on your PC, set the applications to scan into, and edit the resulting scans. Save As formats include PDF, JPEG, TIFF, and bitmap.
Memory card options are also fairly standard for Canon. The main feature is the select-and-print option. You can alter the display to show a thumbnail view (nine images), standard, full-screen, and enlarged. The enlarged view requires you to use the four directional keys to scootch around the image, but it's a great option because the LCD is quite small. Alternatively, you can set the images to scroll in slide show format.
If you have a lot of images on a card, you can sort them by date: either an individual date or a range. The LCD helpfully displays all the dates on which you took pictures, so you don't have to guess. Once you've selected all your photos, you can crop them or edit them. Edit options are available in automatic mode or manual. Manual options include red-eye reduction, photo optimizer, noise reduction, face brightener, and even more granular corrections like brightness and contrast.
Other memory card print options include layout print, sticker print, and photo index print, which produces a scannable index of photos. You can designate on the index which photos you want printed, scan the index, and the printer will print just those images. One feature we couldn't find on this model was the ability to automatically transfer images from an inserted card to your PC. You can do the task manually, because the memory card reader actually shows up as a drive in My Computer (you can drag and drop), but it's more convenient to have that as an option in the printer's control panel.
In CNET Labs' performance tests, the Canon Pixma MP520 made a good showing. It's rated a bit faster than last year's model, the Pixma MP510, so we threw the MP510 in for comparison. The MP520 was the second fastest of comparably priced all-in-ones with text prints: 6.95 pages per minute. It fell behind the Lexmark X4550. At colour graphics it was neck and neck with last year's model and well ahead of the Lexmark, with a score of 2.07 pages per minute. The MP520 was quick with 4x6 photo prints, too, though again, it fell slightly behind last year's model with a score of 1.18 pages per minute. Unfortunately, it fell nearly to the back of the pack at scanning, with a score of 4.77 pages per minute for both greyscale and colour.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
We found some quality improvements over last year's model. The text print was laser-quality with a rich, dark black, sharp characters, and clean lines. The colour graphics print showed pleasing saturation, smooth gradients, sharp details, and smooth curves. The 4x6 photo print was this model's Achilles' heel, but it was still more than passable for casual snapshots. We like the sharp details, but didn't like the slightly yellow cast the entire print took on. It was also very slightly overblown. The colour and greyscale scans were near perfect; our only nitpick was that the greyscale scan looked a bit soft.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon offers a standard one-year warranty for the Pixma MP520. E-mail support is available 24-7 via a Web-based form. Canon's standard online support options include downloadable drivers and software, manuals, and FAQs.