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29th March 2005
Lexmark P315 Review
by Ian Burley

Lexmark's first foray into mini photo printer territory goes under the dpnow microscope

Price: UK£99, US$130, EU€150 (guide prices - check up-to-date prices)

The Lexmark P315 Portable Photo Printer, to quote its official name, is a competitively priced, compact ink-jet photo printer that prints 6x4 inch borderless photos.

Obvious competitors include the HP Photosmart 325 and 375, Epson PictureMate and Canon Selphy DS700. None are significantly cheaper buy or run and on paper the Lexmark has the most features for the money. But is the Lexmark P315 a winner?

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(Our rating system explained)

Design and construction - Above average

On page 2 of this review we examine the P315's design and construction in detail.

Designed for use entirely as a stand-alone printer, the P315 cannot be connected to a PC. Instead, you have the choice of printing directly from memory cards – and all the main formats are supported natively, including Memory Stick Pro and xD – or via PictBridge, using a conveniently located front-panel USB port, if your camera supports this.

Unlike some Lexmark printers we have tried out in the last year or two, the P315 doesn't feel lightweight – it's solid and feels like it should last well. On the other hand, the design and finish is not in the same league as the more expensive Epson and Canon offerings. The P315 is not particularly small for a mini-printer, but will still save useful desk space and it's genuinely portable thanks to its built-in carry-handle and universal international voltage and frequency mains AC adapter.

A relatively large and bright flip-up colour LCD status and preview screen is built in and its viewing angle is adjustable. A moderate number of control buttons are presented to the user and these are clearly referred to by on-screen prompts.

A recommended maximum of 25 sheets of photo paper can be can be handled by the input tray, though there is no output rest. Prints are just left to fall onto the desk space in front of the unit. Part of the input paper rest folds down to act as a dust cover when the printer is not in use.

Just one three-colour ink cartridge is used and like all current Lexmark ink-jet printers, the cartridge has a built-in print head. Lexmark like to say that when you replace the cartridge you are, in effect, renewing the key parts of the printer. Detailed analysis of running costs based on our own consumption tests are detailed later in this review. Incidentally, the P315 is only designed to produced borderless prints.

Ease of use - Above Average

A screen-by-screen examination of the P315's user-interface can be found on page 4 of this review.

As the P315 can't be used directly connected to a PC, you are limited to preparing your photos using tools built into the printer and the user-interface displayed using the integral 2.5 inch colour screen. Alternatively, you can use the print facilities built into your camera if it supports PictBridge. A third option is to use your PC to tune-up your photos and then copy them to a memory card and then print them.

Using the P315's built-in menu-based navigation is easy enough, but there are very few short-cuts, so the process of finding and preparing a specific photo for printing can take a long time. Even if you know the file name or number, you are forced by the user interface to plod through pictures stored on the card one-by-one until you reach the one you want to print.

A major improvement to the P315 would be the provision of a thumbnail view mode that lets you skip through pages of several thumbnail images on a card quickly. Although you can select all the images on a card for printing in one batch, there is no way of using the printer's tools for selecting a sub-set of images for batch printing. For these reasons alone it's probably better to use your camera's PictBridge feature to print photos more conveniently or use its DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) feature to mark pictures and print quantities for each image and then print directly from the camera's memory card.

Print quality - Average

Detailed analysis of the P315's print quality can be examined on page 3 of this review.

With just three ink colours and a relatively modest 4 Pico litre minimum ink droplet size, intensive dithering of large-ish dots is required to build up the detail, tone and colour of P315 prints. There is no getting away from the fact that if you look closely there is visible dot grain and this has an impact on sharpness and fine detail.

But the P315 redeems itself by delivering nicely saturated colours that aren't over the top. Contrast and density proved to be about as good as we would expect from a print head of the P315's specification. There was little evidence of banding and when using Lexmark's own-brand premium glossy photo paper the prints retained a reasonably good shine. When we asked randomly selected people to comment on the P315's print quality, most said it was fine for their needs.

Only keen photographers would really be bothered by the underlying dot grain. In this respect the Canon Selphy DS700 and the Epson Picturemate are the more refined performers, but the P315 holds its own well in comparison to HP's Photosmart 325 and 375.

Although it's an issue shared by all its competitors, the fact that the P315 uses 6x4 inch paper means that significant portions off the top and bottom of a photo taken by the majority of digital cameras will be lost when printed because of the different aspect ratios of the paper and camera image. How much longer will it take for the industry to sort this mess out?

Print durability- Above Average

Straight out of the printer, Lexmark premium glossy paper prints are practically dry to the touch, but as the paper is of the 'swellable' coating variety, care needs to be taken for several hours after printing while retained moisture dissipates. However, there is no danger of prints sticking together.

Dry prints resist physical abrasion well enough, but colour will run on contact with water.

We don't yet have any data on resistance to ozone and other air-borne agents that can degrade the dye-based inks used by the P315, nor resistance to light fading. The P315 doesn't benefit from Lexmark's interesting EverColor hybrid dye and pigment-ink technology as the inks in P315-compatible No.33 and No.35 ink cartridges are purely dye-based. But based on our experience of typical dye-based ink-jet printers, if you want your prints to last, they should kept out of direct or indirect sunlight and stored in air-tight sleeves of frames.

Speed and noise - Above Average

Speed is not a key selling point of the P315. Using best quality mode, a 6x4 borderless print takes about three minutes to complete from pressing 'go' and for a batch of prints the rate improves to around two minutes and 40 seconds per print. Print speed can be double by using 'normal' mode and a 6x4 can be produced in under 40 seconds when using draft mode, though banding starts to become evident at this speed.

The P315 is not a noisy printer by any means, though it's not as quiet as the industry's best either.

Running costs - Excellent

The P315 represents extremely good affordability off the shelf and Lexmark has ensured that running costs will be competitive too. We found that the standard No.33 ink cartridge produced 64 6x4 borderless prints before the yellow ink started to mis-fire.

Lexmark in Europe now sells a combo pack of 70 sheets of Premium Glossy 6x4 photo paper and a No.33 ink cartridge, called a Photo Printing Pack. In the UK this represents about a 13.5% saving on separate items.

The Photo Printing Pack is not the cheapest way to print using a P315, however. If you invest in a higher-capacity No.35 ink cartridge, you can reduce per-print costs by a quarter.

Calculated running costs
Here are example costs per print in a selection of currencies based on guide or typical prices of consumables concerned based on our consumption tests using premium glossy paper and best quality photo print settings:

UK pence (including VAT):

  • No.33 cartridge (£15) plus 60-sheet Lexmark paper pack bought separately (£7). - 35p
  • Lexmark Photo Printing Pack (£20). 30p per print
  • No.35 cartridge (£22) plus 60-sheet Lexmark paper packs (£7) bought separately - 26p
  • Cost per print including purchase price of printer with service life of 250 prints - 66p-75p
  • Cost per print including purchase price of printer with service life of 500 prints - 46p-54p
  • Cost per print including purchase price of printer with service life of 1000 prints - 36p-45p

Euro cents (including VAT at German rates):

  • No.33 cartridge (€19) plus 60-sheet Lexmark paper pack bought separately (€10). 47c
  • Lexmark Photo Printing Pack (€25). 39c per print
  • No.35 cartridge (€25) plus 60-sheet Lexmark paper packs (€10) bought separately - 33c
  • Cost per print including purchase price of printer with service life of 250 prints - 93c-107c
  • Cost per print including purchase price of printer with service life of 500 prints - 63c-77c
  • Cost per print including purchase price of printer with service life of 1000 prints - 48c-62c

US cents (prices with 20-sheet 6x4 paper packs):

  • No.33 cartridge ($22) plus 20-sheet Lexmark paper pack bought separately ($8). - 74c
  • Lexmark Photo Printing Pack (Not available in US at time of review)
  • No.35 cartridge ($30) plus 20-sheet Lexmark paper packs ($8) bought separately - 60c
  • Cost per print including purchase price of printer with service life of 250 prints - 112c-126c
  • Cost per print including purchase price of printer with service life of 500 prints - 86c-100c
  • Cost per print including purchase price of printer with service life of 1000 prints - 73c-87c

In Europe the running costs are very respectable and if you ignore the purchase cost of the printer in the first place, prices are competitive with rival printers and with online photo print services. The photo printer pack doesn't yet appear to be available in the US and nor do bulk packs of Lexmark 6x4 photo paper, so the P315 is less competitive there. However, we found that the P315 works well with third party papers from HP, Kodak, Epson and Canon, so if you can source cheap supplies of these papers and use the better value No.35 cartridge, you can still get competitive per print costs.

Why not go for a P915?
For about the same purchase price as a P315 you could opt for a Lexmark P915. Advantages include PC-less or PC-connected printing, paper sizes up to A4, plain paper printing and EverColor long-life inks. Photo printing quality is also better as photo-denisty inks are used. So what does the P315 have up its sleeve? Apart from space-saving size and portability, it's cost per print. The cheapest we could print 6x4s on a P915 (or indeed the Lexmark P6250, which is basically a P915 with a scanner on top) was 73% dearer than the P315.

Things we liked about the Lexmark P315:

  • Affordable to buy and run with careful choice of consumables
  • Good colour reproduction
  • Large and clear colour LCD screen
  • Generally easy to use
  • Portable and can be used internationally

Things we weren't so keen on:

  • No thumbnail view to speed-up image searching
  • Dot grain on close examination
  • Lexmark EverColor fade-resistant technology not featured
  • Printing from a PC (or Mac) not supported
  • Long print times

The bottom line:

Lexmark has priced the P315 very competitively – there is no other mini printer with a colour LCD screen that can match its price. With careful selection of consumables, buying bulk packs of paper and using the No.35 cartridge instead of the No.33 one, you can achieve very good per-print costs. Print quality is adequate rather than stunning, though to all but the most discerning it's quite acceptable for every day use. Lexmark can certainly improve the user interface of the P315 to make better use of the excellent 2.5 inch screen and speed up the process of finding and printing images, but in its existing form it's still reasonably usable.

So based on the premise that the P315 is aimed at cost-conscious buyers who are probably not as fussy about ultimate print quality or speed, we're confident enough to award the P315 a dpnow RECOMMENDED rating:

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