The top cover of the Lexmark X7170 combines the ADF, input, and exit trays plus a scanner-glass cover. The cover opens stiffly, but its metal hinges slide on posts into the printer's body so that you can easily remove it to scan books or bulky objects. The X7170's round-edged control panel, which slopes downward from under the top cover, is easy to see and operate. The centerpieces of the control panel are a two-line, 32-character LCD panel, a 12-button alphanumeric keypad for faxing, and a button that chooses Copy, Fax, and Scan modes.
The top cover of the Lexmark X7170 lifts easily without any tricky clasps, providing easy access to two ink-cartridge holders that slide to the center for quick changes. You'll appreciate the ease of swapping ink; since the X7170 uses single cartridges for photo, color, and black ink, you'll have to trade the tanks every time you try to print photos and text documents back-to-back. This hands-on process will likely annoy anyone who wants hassle-free, flexible features and prefers to keep the innards of the machine out of sight.
A 150-sheet paper-input tray and a 50-sheet exit-paper tray, which includes an adapter for printing envelopes and 4x6-inch photos, rest at the base of the X7170. A dedicated port for printing photos directly from PictBridge-compatible digital cameras rests next to the input trays. But without media-card slots, this machine forces you to have your camera on hand in order to print. Two telephone-connection slots in back of the machine will hook up to a telephone, a phone line, an answering machine, or a computer modem.The Lexmark X7170 comes with a basic set of features in addition to its standalone faxing, copying, and photo-printing capabilities. Without slots for digital-media cards, however, you'll need a PictBridge-compatible digital camera to print photos directly.
Once installed, Lexmark's Productivity Suite software makes document creation, sharing, and management easy. Large, clear thumbnail icons point the way to common office tasks such as attaching documents to e-mails, scanning and editing text, creating PDF files from a wide range of formats, and fine-tuning digital photographs. The machine's drivers even tell you whether a scan's resolution is good for onscreen display, faxing, or printing. Abbyy FineReader optical character recognition (OCR) software turns hard-copy faxes into digital files.
The Productivity Suite enables you to easily program your fax settings via well-laid-out windows and tabbed pages that are better than the endlessly scrolling menu options on the tiny LCD control panel. Options within the X7170's fax software include the ability to create cover pages and set up speed dialing. The X7170 also features fax broadcasts, for sending the same message to a list of people, and delayed faxing, which helps you take advantage of low nighttime phone rates.
Lexmark sells photo cartridges for $24.99, black-ink cartridges for $19.99, and color for $21.99. The X7170 isn't network ready, but you can pair it with Lexmark's N4000e 10/100 Base-TX Ethernet for $129 or add $149 for an 802.11g wireless external print server.The Lexmark X7170 caught us by surprise in CNET Labs' tests since it was one of the slowest multifunctions we've ever tested. Despite the speedy reputation of Lexmark printers, this model somehow managed to eke out only 1.1 pages per minute (ppm) for printed text and took up to 9.6 minutes to finish an 8x10-inch high-resolution photo. Other inkjet printers, such as the Epson CX4600, spend just 3.0 to 5.0 minutes on the same job.
In CNET Labs' bevy of image-quality tests, the Lexmark X7170 came in all over the map, from poor to excellent. In our black-ink printing tests, it performed poorly, smudging letters.
The X7170 performed a bit better in our color-graphics tests, reproducing a test document with excellent color matching, good details, and pale but otherwise accurate hues. Photographs showed a pronounced magenta color cast. We also saw signs of oversharpening, an increase in the contrast between the adjacent tones or colors. The combined effect was especially noticeable in hair and skin.