The Lexmark X4650 is a big black monolith of a printer that Lexmark pitches at the home and student market; the basic idea is that this is the unit you'll buy after having a cheap home inkjet, but before breaking out the bigger dollars for either a better photo unit, or a fully fledged SOHO laser.
Big is exactly the right word to describe the X4650; with a footprint of 175x459x331mm and carrying weight of 5.3kg, this is going to make a serious dent in any student's desk. Most of that size is taken up with the scanner array, although you may be slightly disappointed the first time you pop up the lid, as despite its large size, there's a fairly big bezel around the A4-sized scanner plate.
Controls on the X4650 have been kept simple, with direct buttons for copying, scanning and direct photo printing. Unlike a number of MFDs in the AU$100-$200 price space, you won't find a full LCD for photo preview and menu selection duties. Lexmark has instead opted for a simple monochrome LED display, which is fine for menu selections, but means you've got to fall back on printing proof sheets if you're printing from a camera or storage media.
On the print side, Lexmark rates the X4650 as capable of printing up to 25 pages per minute (ppm) in black and 18ppm when colour printing. Those aren't the most extravagant claims we've seen out of a printer vendor, which raised our hopes that they might actually be close to real working conditions — very few claimed figures come close to what we've seen testing with real documents. The scanner on the X4650 is a CIS (Contact Image Sensor) type unit with a claimed resolution depth of 36-bit in colour and 12-bit greyscale.
The other feather in the X4650's cap is wireless printing. This is something that Lexmark's pushing quite hard in most of its printer lines, so it's not surprising to see it here. Wireless support extends to 802.11b/g only, which is reasonable enough. If you've read any of CNET.com.au's reviews of 802.11n equipment, you'd be aware that the promises of that technology still seem a long way off becoming reality, so it's reasonable enough that printer vendors aren't jumping that way yet either.
Unlike a lot of printers, the X4650 omits a set-up poster. Instead, when you fling the supplied CD into your system, a series of images guides you through unpacking the printer, removing all of the inevitable little bits of tape that hold it together during shipping — we're still wondering why they're necessary, really — and getting print cartridges installed. One feature we appreciated during set-up was that the installer explicitly asked us if we wanted additional software (for OCR, Web printing and so on) installed, rather than just assuming we would and installing it anyway. This kind of opt-in empowers consumers, and also leads to less software kludging up your system if you don't in fact want it.
The X4650 gave us distinctly mixed results when it came to print testing. On the plus side, its basic draft text speed was quite good for a printer in this price range. A single draft document flew out in just under 10 seconds, and we managed a healthy 12ppm for draft documents. Going up to normal coverage dropped the average speed to 8ppm, which is still enough for most home printing needs. Text quality was good throughout, and for most home or student users on a budget, the coverage offered in draft mode would be more than satisfactory.
What was less than satisfactory were the X4650's photo printing capabilities. We tested with the standard four-colour inkjet cartridge supplied with the printer, although a six-colour photo cartridge is also available. We found it somewhat amusing that the utility that Lexmark provides for photo printing is called "Fast Pics", as it neatly sums up what the X4650 isn't capable of. A single 4x6-inch photo, printing over USB to maximise speed and eliminate interference, made its way out in a very leisurely two minutes and 10 seconds. Print quality was only average (although we'd expect more of the dedicated photo cartridge) at best.
Consumers are incredibly spoilt for choice in the MFD space, and if your interests are primarily in throwing out lots of text pages, but budget (or the need for a scanner) keeps you out of the low-cost laser market, then the X4650 is worthy of consideration. If you're a photo fanatic, on the other hand, look elsewhere.