The Lexmark Z1420 is a basic and inexpensive inkjet printer designed for home users who need to make only occasional prints. The key feature of this £60 printer is its ability to print wirelessly out of the box -- surprising for an entry-level inkjet and a boon for homes with multiple users. It prints quickly for a machine in this price range but sacrifices print quality in the process.
If the wireless capability is paramount and you can live without great print quality, the Lexmark Z1420 is the printer for you. If you want to print good-looking Christmas cards or newsletters, however, you're better off with a machine such as the £30 Canon Pixma iP1800. Keep in mind that you can network a USB printer such as the Pixma iP1800 with a print server or a router with a built-in print server, though your overall cost will be more than £60.
The Lexmark Z1420 looks basic. The white-and-grey printer is boxy, yet not unattractive in its simplicity. It measures 460mm wide, 198mm deep and just 122mm tall, and weighs a mere 2.6kg. The paper input support juts up from the rear edge of the printer and holds up to 100 sheets of standard paper. A translucent, dark-grey shield sits in front of the input area, preventing random objects (such as pens or paper clips) from falling into the paper input area -- it's a small but well-considered touch. The output tray slides out from the front of the printer.
The Z1420 uses a two-cartridge system -- one black and one tricolour -- which is standard-issue at this price. When printing photos, you can swap the black tank for a tricolour photo cartridge, which gives you six-colour photo prints. Lexmark's site offers 'high-yield' photo and black cartridges for £16.56 each and a high-yield colour cartridge for £19.86.
The Z1420 is a basic, single-function printer, so there isn't much to speak of when it comes to features. It does, however, include built-in 802.11g/b wireless capability -- very unusual in a £60 printer. During the printer installation routine, you can opt to set up the printer on your wireless network -- it's easy to do. A Wi-Fi icon on the front of the printer alerts you to its status.
The bundled Lexmark Imaging Studio software is useful for basic tasks, but it falls short with creative projects. Your main options are to view/print photos from your PC (individually or in packages, like school photos), view the photos as a slide show, make poster prints or make photo greeting cards. The first three options work as you'd expect. When making prints, you simply select a photo, indicate the size you want printed, and how many prints. For layouts, the process is much the same. Creating a slide show is as simple as dragging and dropping photos into the work field and clicking 'view slide show'. You can even save slide shows for later viewing.
When it comes to creating greeting cards, however, the options are oddly limited. You can select from a number of layouts and themes: each card has a background image that dominates the print field. Then you get a blank photo field into which you can add one of your photos and a text field. Sadly, you can't set one of your photos as the main background, nor can you change the size and shape of the text and photo boxes. So you're limited to greeting cards such as a picture of your dog in a garden... that's not yours. Odd.
The Lexmark Z1420 was a tiny bit faster than the slightly cheaper competition (at least some of the £30 price difference can be accounted for by the wireless capability, we imagine). It printed black text at a rate of 6.68 pages per minute, faster than the Canon iP1800's 5.82ppm. It drew with the Canon, however, in 100x150mm (4x6-inch) photo prints, with a score of 0.72ppm.
Unhappily, the speed comes at the expense of print quality. Both colour and black text were beset by obvious flaws: nearly none of the characters showed clean edges, and italicised text looked shrouded by shadow. Colour graphics didn't fare much better -- colours were faded, even with a fresh ink cartridge. Barcode-style graphics were rendered an unscannable blur, and everything was marred by faint, but obvious, horizontal bands and striations. The 100x150mm photo prints showed decent colour, but details should be sharper, and the entire image was distractingly grainy.
We realise this is a low-end £60 printer (with wireless, no less), so it's hard to judge print quality too harshly, but on the other hand, the £30 Canon Pixma iP1800 did a much better job with prints. If you only print the occasional directions and maps for yourself, the Z1420 is fine, but we don't think it's good enough for attractive newsletters or other graphics-laden tasks.
Additional editing by Nick Hide