Lexmark has now confirmed that the vaguely iPod-style printer design that they debuted with the X5470 is the new official Lexmark "style" for printers going forward. The plus side for consumers here is that the official style does actually look pretty good, as long as you can keep grubby fingerprints away from it -- just like an iPod, in fact. The downside for product reviewers is that it becomes almost impossible for us to say anything new or interesting about the newer models, as by and large they're visually identical to their forebears. Same white styling, same collection of media card readers and so on and so forth. The X3550 measures in at 280mm by 536mm by 398mm with a carrying weight of 5.6 kilograms if you need to know if it'll fit on (or collapse) your PC desk.
X3550's offers no integrated photo previewing screen -- as there is in the X9350 -- but it does share one important feature with that printer, namely wireless printing capability. But we'll get back to that shortly.
Lexmark provides starter cartridges (one colour, one black) with the X3550, along with a USB cable -- many printer vendors aren't quite so friendly in this respect -- and driver CDs for Windows and Mac platforms. One environmentally-friendly addition in the X3550's box is the inclusion of a prepaid envelope for sending back cartridges for recycling (as part of the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark initiative).
Initial set-up of the X3550 involves the usual mix of cartridge loading, default language selection and the removal of all those curious bits of tape -- in the X3550's case they're blue snippets. Whoever came up with the idea of sticking bits of printers down should probably have patented it -- they'd make a fortune.
The X3550 is an all-in-one scanner, copier and colour printer. Lexmark rates print speeds at up to 24ppm for B&W prints, and up to 17ppm for colour prints. An optional AU$41.99 photo cartridge is also available for photo printing. The 48-bit colour scanner offers a maximum resolution of 600x1200.
Lexmark's big recent push in consumer-level printing has been to introduce wireless functionality into its lines. The X3550 represents something of an each-way bet, however, as while it's wireless-capable, this comes about via an optional AU$79 adaptor. There's two big problems with the adaptor that we can see. Firstly, we're not too sure that many consumers will want to spend more than half the cost of the printer again just to add wireless. More pressingly, the X4550 (which is due to hit our shores in June) offers integrated wireless and will sell for AU$199 -- nine bucks cheaper than adding it to the X3550.
On the software side, Lexmark ships the X3550 with two CDs, clearly marked for Windows or Macintosh use only. Aside from the printer driver itself, the CDs also include Lexmark's Toolbar for Web Page printing, along with Lexmark Imaging Studio for very rudimentary photo editing and simple OCR software.
Lexmark provides driver CDs for Mac OS X and "Windows" users, but the Windows disc doesn't make it all that clear which versions of Windows it supports. We discovered this when installing it on a Windows Vista PC, when the installer crashed repeatedly. Lexmark does offer a Vista driver -- a 45MB download from its Web site -- for Vista users, and this was what we used for our testing.
In full coverage black mode, we were largely unimpressed with the X3350's printing speed. A complex test black document printed at just over 2ppm. Switching to draft with the same document helped matters somewhat; we reached around 10ppm. The claim of 24ppm does of course come with the caveat of "up to", and technically 2ppm is "up to" (as in "approaching") 24ppm -- but it's still largely unsatisfactory. Adding colour gives the same kind of speed drops, although our more complex colour document managed the similar 2ppm performance as our black one, despite the difference in claimed printing speeds between colour and monochrome.
Print quality was perfectly acceptable, and with black cartridges selling for an RRP of AU$28.99 and colour at AU$33.49, with expected yields of 215 and 185 pages respectively, it isn't all that expensive a printer to operate.
We were also unimpressed with the X3550's document tray, which tilts upwards, instead of stopping paper with a flat edge. When doing large scale draft printing the force of the ejection tended to shoot paper straight over the tray and onto the floor instead. The optional wireless adaptor wasn't made available to us for testing, but it seems unlikely that it would speed printing up.
Whether or not wireless printing really becomes as important as Lexmark seems to think it will be remains to be seen, and there's always a risk with a both-ways bet like the X3550, especially given the high relative cost of the wireless adaptor. Given its slow performance, we think the X3550 is something of a hard sell, although the fierce competition in this entry-level All-In-One (AIO) space could see it hitting some stores at a bargain price.