A well-laid-out control panel separates color and monochrome photocopying, so you won't waste your color ink on throwaway copies. The Mode button on the console lets you select fax, scan, or copy functions, and a green, backlit, two-inch-wide LCD panel helps you select the options. There's also a dialing pad for fax functions above a USB-based PictBridge port for printing straight from supported digital cameras.
The 100-page paper input tray lies beneath the 50-sheet output tray, which flips up for easy access when refilling. In a masterly bit of design, the single-sheet bypass tray, located on top for easy access, adjusts automatically to envelopes, postcards, and other odd-size paper. To change either of the two ink cartridges, the entire top portion, including scanning tray and ADF, flips open. The power brick for the Dell 962 plugs into the back of the printer, making for a tidy backside--handy in case you need to access the back-mounted panel to clear paper jams. With its built-in scanner, ADF, and fax machine, the Dell 962 operates as a standalone office helper as well as a Windows printer. Slap a document onto the glass platen and hit a button, and you can punch in either color or black-and-white copies. Mess with the settings more to tweak brightness and quality, reduce or enlarge images, and even make multisheet poster copies. To send a fax, just stick a sheaf of documents in the ADF, type in a phone number, and walk away. You can even send print jobs to the printer while it's performing other functions, and it will queue up your tasks for you.
Dell's software offerings, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. The Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8.0 and Jasc Paint Shop Photo Album 4.0 are great programs, but you can use them for only two months. On the plus side, you get the full Abbyy FineReader 6.0 Sprint package to perform optical character recognition (OCR) of text scans. Dell's own print driver software is full of useful features. Every print job you perform kicks up an estimate of ink levels in pages instead of percentages. The printer driver also enables you to set up manual duplex jobs, create booklets, reduce and print several pages on one sheet, produce banners, and enlarge a page into a poster.
This printer comes with two sizes of replacement ink cartridges; we recommend the high-capacity packages that yield double the pages. Whatever you choose, prepare for sticker shock: the high-yield cartridges run $25 for black and $30 for color, but you'd be a sucker to get the smaller cartridges for half the yield and save merely $5 on black or $8 on color. If you want to make photo-grade copies, you should swap out the regular color ink for an optional six-color photo cartridge, about $25. We're not crazy about the ink-swapping design currently popular in multifunction inkjets, though it seems to solve the problem of how to wrap both text and photo printing into one package.
You can add the Dell 962 to your Wi-Fi network by getting the $99 Dell Wireless Printer Adapter 3300, which would keep your costs about $70 below the HP Photosmart 2710 with built-in wireless. Speed
Like its cousin, the Dell 942, the Dell 962 cranks out print jobs at quite a clip. Far ahead of its rivals, the 962 pops out almost 7.46 text pages per minute, even beating the HP OfficeJet 7410. The Dell 962's color photo print pace was less impressive, at 0.19 pages per minute, considerably behind the HP 7410 and the Epson Stylus CX6600. If your office makes only occasional photo prints, however, these speeds shouldn't cause too many complaints.
The Dell 962's scanner is also mind-bogglingly speedy, cranking through 6.55 monochrome scans per minute in CNET Labs' tests, nearly 3 pages more than the HP 7410. Color scanning is only marginally slower at 6.09 pages per minute. The 962's photocopying speeds, however, were among the slowest products in its class, at 1.42 pages per minute.
Overall, the Dell 962 aced our tests and exceeded our expectations for its low cost. We tested it at its default settings, which you can adjust to improve the performance.
Most inkjet printers are less than ideal for text, but the Dell 962 did comparatively well, despite ink overspray and sloppiness at the smallest sizes. The tops and bottoms of letters were misaligned, creating a reverse-italic effect. The curves on larger letters showed stepping at normal print speeds, though switching to finer print settings improved this.
Shading transitions and fine detail came across better in color prints, which were bright but warm. We gave the Dell 962's graphics a fair rating due to graininess and choppy gradients, though details and color matching were decent. Even the middling Lexmark P6250 performed better with graphics. Overall, the 962's images seemed flat, with low contrast and undersaturated colors. Photos were better, but dots were still visible and skin looked pink. If you're looking for a better photo printer all-in-one, we recommend saving up for the HP Photosmart 2710.
In black-and-white scanning, the Dell 962 handled the middle darks well but failed to reproduce black. The high scanning speed may be partly responsible for the merely fair quality of scans; which were washed out and blurry. These drawbacks may not affect business users with marginal scanning needs, but graphics pros should look elsewhere, such as to the superb-scanning Epson Stylus CX6600.
|Copy speed||Color scan speed||Grayscale scan speed||Photo speed||Text speed|
|Color scan||Grayscale scan||Photo||Graphics on inkjet paper||Text on inkjet paper|
Dell's Web site offers top-notch customer service and support options for the Dell 962, including support history, an extensive database of FAQs, driver downloads, documentation, and tutorials on graphics troubleshooting, how-tos, and maintenance. The driver software itself provides a quick and easy way to order replacement supplies, as well as a handy estimated countdown of the number of pages the remaining ink can print.