Lexmark printer: the mice run down

Matthew JC. Powell
5 March, 2008
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It’s unusual for Australian Macworld to revise its ratings on a product we’ve reviewed (and generally speaking we revise upwards on the basis of corrections of criticisms we’ve made). For that matter, it’s unusual for us to have a product on hand long enough to do so. However, such a time has most definitely arrived regarding the Lexmark X9350 all-in-one printer/scanner/fax/copier with wireless networking. When I reviewed the product a year ago, in the 02.2007 issue, I gave it a 4.5-mouse rating. As with many of our reviews, that was based on a few weeks’ usage. I’ve had more time with it now, and boy, have I changed my mind.

That’s what the luxury of time affords, and it’s a big part of why forums like this are great — reviewers usually don’t have very much time with a product before it goes back, or goes on to the next reviewer, and the testing we do is often fairly contrived. We have test prints and sample files and benchmarks and so forth. You guys, the Mac community, buy these products and use them in real-world situations over an extended period of time. We — and your fellow readers — are interested in your experiences.

What I didn’t mention in the review was that the unit reviewed was in fact the second X9350 Lexmark sent. The first one developed an odd glitch when I turned it off — upon switching it back on, it started up about halfway, then mysteriously stopped in the middle of its startup routine, beeped, and switched itself off again. Then it would attempt to power up, and go through the cycle again. I have every reason to believe it would have done this in perpetuity had I allowed it. I could interrupt the cycle by opening the cover and pulling out the ink cartridges — hardly a recommended procedure and not something you want to do every time you switch your printer on.

Now, it sometimes happens that a dud unit gets sent out for review. We’re often given early production units for testing, and sometimes glitches that show up are the kind of thing that will be fixed by the time the market sees the thing. It’s a balancing act, between making sure we see the same product that will be on the market (we never review beta software) and getting you the review as early as possible.

So in the case of the X9350 I let Lexmark know about the glitch and Lexmark replaced the printer. As a side note, I had seen exactly the same behaviour from a Lexmark X5470 previously, but elected to take Lexmark’s word that, in both cases, I’d encountered isolated problems. They were two different units with two different engines. For one reviewer to encounter two duds was interesting, but not outside the realm of possibility.

Anyway, the replacement X9350 worked very well. I even managed to get it printing wirelessly from Panther, which strictly speaking wasn’t supported. In the end, I decided I wanted one for permanent use in my office.

Over the subsequent time, some odd things have happened. After mostly using it to scan photographs, I used it once to scan a text document for optical character recognition. That worked well, but from that time on I couldn’t get it to scan photographs satisfactorily. Grey vertical lines appeared on everything I attempted to scan. I tried reinstalling the drivers, and that somehow corrupted Photoshop’s TWAIN plug-in to the point where Photoshop wouldn’t start up if the TWAIN driver was installed. I ended up dragging my old Canon scanner out of retirement.

It should be noted that the Lexmark was still fine for copying and for faxing — just scanning photos was gone.

Then along came Leopard. Last October I updated most of the computers in the house to Apple’s new operating system (the exception being the old PowerBook G4, still on Panther). Not only would Leopard not talk to the X9350, but the attempt to do so prevented it speaking wirelessly to Panther anymore. It still worked fine for the Panther machine plugged into USB, but I also have an old Canon printer plugged into an AirPort Base Station so that’s ended up being the primary printer around here. According to Lexmark’s web site, native Leopard drivers for the X9350 would not appear until March 2008.

Fast forward. it’s March 2008, and now, according to that same web site, the Leopard drivers are available. It’s been several months since I looked at the Lexmark, while it has waited patiently for the drivers to come along and give it new life. On the weekend, I went to switch it on again.

You’ll never guess what happened. The same start-up-stop-halfway-beep-and-shutdown routine? Nope.

Absolutely nothing happened. Without anything untoward having happened to it — indeed, without anything at all happening to it — the Lexmark X9350 has ceased to function. The power supply has a little green light on it, so I know it’s getting juice, but there is zero response. The all-in-one has become a none-in-one. A doorstop. It went to sleep, and never woke up.

If this were just one unit, I’d say "bad luck, I encountered a dud". The fact is, this is the second dud X9350 I’ve encountered, and the third dud Lexmark all-in-one I’ve encountered. I’ve asked around among my colleagues, and read other online reviews, and it seems my experience with the X9350 has not been isolated — there are some duds about. And note that this isn’t a Mac issue — the thing won’t switch on, so it’s unaware of what computers are or aren’t attempting to talk to it.

The bottom line. I’m revising Australian Macworld’s rating on this unit from its previous "Outstanding-and-a-half" to the hardly-coveted single-mouse "Unacceptable". No, I’m not giving it the bomb because it’s not actually "Dangerous" — I just wouldn’t buy one today, knowing what I know now.

I’m in the market for a new all-in-one printer. I’ll be testing a few in the coming weeks, and I’d very much like to read about your experiences of what’s on the market. And if there are any fans of the Lexmark X9350, I’d love to hear from you too.

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