The Canon Pixma MP980 is a capable all-in-one device that prints, faxes, and copies documents in full color 4,800x9,600-pixel resolution, thanks to a unique six color ink bay that includes a special gray cartridge for more distinct grayscale photo prints. The $300 MP980 lends a hand to amateur photo enthusiasts with a large 3.5-inch LCD screen, an easy-to-use control panel, and a media card reader, but we're unsatisfied with the difficult wireless setup, the slower-than-average output speeds, and the inflated price. Compared with the HP Photosmart Premium Fax all-in-one that throws in a fax machine and an auto-document feeder for less, we think HP offers a better deal.
The Pixma MP980 AIO takes the same shape as the rest of the Canon's MP series, but this year's model gets the shrinking ray, measuring 7.9 inches high by 18.5 inches wide by 15.2 inches deep. The all-in-one weighs a hefty 24 pounds because of the auto-duplexer built into the back for double-sided prints, so you probably won't want to move it around a lot on your work space. The silver and glossy black body exudes stylish professionalism, and the scanner lid sits so flush against the main body that you can barely tell its there. In addition, the main output tray and control panel fold in to save space.
The control panel rests on the lid and houses a bright 3.5-inch color LCD similar to the screen on the Pixma MP970. The menu is arranged in a circle, and you use the tactile dial on the base panel to access the different settings. The wheel and "OK" buttons offer a satisfying click with each selection, but there's also a four-way directional pad surrounding the dial if you don't feel comfortable with the wheel. Most of the time, we preferred the scroll wheel, but the buttons are also easy to use when you know exactly where to go.
The rest of the pad contains the rest of the shortcut buttons, including a Navi button for help with onscreen menus, a home button, instant color and black copy keys, two buttons to increase and decrease the amount of copies, as well as a stop button to cancel a job in progress. Finally, two soft buttons sit directly underneath the screen to navigate through the onscreen menus.
The printer handles paper input by the main 150-sheet cassette as well as another 150-sheet tray that folds out of the rear. We always prefer two input trays to one and found that using the main tray for plain and the rear tray for smaller photo paper is much more convenient than constantly switching the different sizes. We do have a gripe with build quality of the main tray, which rolls out of the bottom and feels as if it's made out of cheap plastic. Only time will reveal the tray's true durability, but we're disheartened by its flimsy feel out of the box.
Canon uses six individual ChromaLife100 ink cartridges including one dedicated gray cartridge for better quality monochrome photos, but many users on the MP980 product page have complained about not being able to find the gray cartridge in retail stores. Canon's online store seems to carry an abundance, so be sure to order one before the gray runs out. All of the dye-based color inks cost $12.99 to replace, and the pigment-based black tanks run a bit more at $14.90. Canon estimates a black-and-white document to cost 3 cents, a full-color document costs 5 cents, and it costs 29 cents per 4-inch-by-6-inch color photo; these prices are average for today's typical photo printer.
The Pixma MP980 offers a collection of features that make life much easier for the home photo enthusiast. You can connect the printer to a computer through a standard USB cord, or to your network with the Ethernet port on the back, or even go wireless with the built-in 802.11b/g wireless print server. There's also a PictBridge USB port on the bottom as well as a full media card reader for transferring and printing photos directly from a digital camera. Unlike the competition, Canon doesn't include a wireless configuration tutorial with its software, so you might encounter problems similar to ours during setup, which requires you to establish a USB connection first. After several days of trying to get our router to connect with the printer, we finally just started clean and reinstalled the driver. After that, everything went smoothly, but it might take you a couple tries before your system connects with the MP980.