Monochrome laser printers still have a place in small offices and workgroups, and so does fax. The $ 279.99 Lexmark MB2236i is a multifunction (print / copy / scan / fax) or all-in-one printer intended for heavy duty in a home office, or moderate duty in a larger one, competing with mono lasers such as the Canon imageClass MF267dw and the Brother MFC-L2717DW. The three offer similar paper capacities and recommended duty cycles, as well as similar speeds in our tests, and each has a flatbed scanner with automatic document feeder (ADF). One big difference with our review model, though: Lexmark takes a different approach to faxing, using the internet rather than phone lines to connect to other fax machines. Saving on the cost of a dedicated office fax line could make it your favorite.
Easy Setup, But Mind Those Drivers
At 13.9 by 16.4 by 14.2 inches (HWD) and only 22 pounds, the MB2236i is small enough to sit on your desk, but connection options that include Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi Direct in addition to USB let you put it anywhere you like. Setup is simple — slide out the toner and drum tray to remove the shipping materials, slide the tray back into place, and then run the supplied setup program — but I hit a snag when the automated routine did not install a scan driver. When I realized it was missing, I installed one using Windows’ Add a Printer or Scanner function, which gave me a TWAIN scan driver plus a second instance of the print driver. However, I still lacked a program for scanning, so I downloaded the free Windows Scan app.
It was only after talking to a Lexmark rep that I learned there are several driver variations available for download from Lexmark’s website, as well as a Lexmark Network Scan Utility elsewhere on the site. The latter lets you scan to PDF, JPG, and other file formats, and also scan to email, automatically using your email app to open a new message with the scanned file as an attachment. It can also scan multiple photos on the flatbed at once, analyzing the resulting image to send scans of each photo to a separate file. Unfortunately, the printer comes without any information to help guide you to the online drivers or scan app. Lexmark is aware of this issue and says it is “taking steps to improve the included documentation.”
The front control panel features a 2.8-inch touch screen. That’s a little small for large fingers to enter text easily, if you’re inputting an email address for the printer’s direct email feature. But it’s easy enough to navigate for entering scan, copy, and fax commands, as well as for adjusting settings.
As mentioned, paper handling is robust enough for anything from a micro office to a workgroup. The 250-sheet main paper drawer is supplemented by a single-sheet bypass tray, and automatic duplexing is available. For scanning, the 8.5-by-11.7-inch flatbed is paired with a 50-sheet, single-sided ADF that can handle up to legal-size paper. While menu options let you turn simplex originals into duplex copies, scanning is single-sided only, lacking even the ability to flip over a stack to scan the second page and automatically interfile pages in the correct order. If you need to scan double-sided documents, this will likely be a deal-breaker, unless you have a standalone scanner on hand.
Lexmark recommends a monthly duty cycle of up to 2,500 pages. But if you want to keep the chore of refilling paper to no more than once a week, a more realistic maximum is about 1,000 pages per month, which works out to about 50 per business day.
As with any printer, the more you expect to print, the more attention you should pay to its running costs. For the MB2236i, the toner cost per page is 3.1 cents. The cost for the imaging unit, which has a rated life of 12,000 pages, works out to 0.68 cents per page should you print enough to need a replacement. (For more on running costs versus total cost of ownership, our guide to saving money on your next printer focuses on inkjets but also applies to monochrome lasers.)
In addition to standard printing, scanning, and copying, the Lexmark offers menu options to print from or scan to a USB flash drive, as well as several cloud sites, including Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. There’s also an option to send emails directly from the AIO. Faxing, as mentioned, uses your internet connection rather than a phone line. The printer comes with a three-month subscription to the EtherFax cloud service for sending and receiving faxes, including to and from standard analog fax devices. The cost after the trial can be as low as $ 7.99 monthly — less than the cost of a dedicated phone line. Note that EtherFax is of particular interest to medical offices, as it offers end-to-end encryption and is compliant with HIPAA regulations.
Testing the MB2236i: Solid Speed, Suitable Quality
In our performance tests with the MB2236i and our testbed PC connected via Ethernet, the printer narrowly topped its rated 36 pages per minute, producing our 12-page Microsoft Word document (not counting the first page) at 36.7ppm. That tied the Brother MFC-L2717DW and beat the Canon MF267dw (30ppm), competing machines both mentioned earlier. Of course, the fewer pages there are in a print job, the more important a printer’s first-page-out time is to overall speed. With the first page included, we clocked the Lexmark at 25.7ppm, ahead of 24ppm each for the Canon and Brother AIOs.
The performance differences among the printers were greater for our full business applications suite, which combines the text document with colorful Excel charts, PowerPoint slides, and PDFs. In this overall speed test, the Canon took the gold medal at 18ppm, with the MB2236i close behind at 16.9ppm. The Brother trailed at 14.2 ppm. The Lexmark printed our 4-by-6-inch test photos in an average of 11 seconds.
Text output quality was excellent. For all the fonts in our tests that you’d likely use in business documents, characters were well-formed and properly spaced even down to 4 points. One of two stylized fonts with thick strokes was also easily readable at 6 points, which is unusually good even for a laser printer. The other, which is harder to render well, was clearly legible at 12 points and only a little less so at 10 points.
Graphics were good by monochrome laser standards, though I saw obvious banding and uneven pile height. A one-pixel-wide line on a black background held, but a thicker dark blue line was missing, presumably due to the printer rendering it as a dark gray indistinguishable from black. Photos also showed banding, but they looked better overall than you’d expect from a black-and-white image in a printed newspaper.
A Prime Pick (Unless You Need Duplex Scanning)
The Lexmark MB2236i is a strong contender in its category. It shares its biggest shortcoming — the lack of duplex scanning — with the Canon MF267dw and Brother MFC-L2717DW. That won’t be an issue, however, if you do not need to scan double-sided documents, or if you have a standalone scanner or another AIO in your office to handle that task. If you need an AIO in this price range (or below) that offers the feature, consider an inkjet like the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4830 instead.
If you do not need duplex scanning and want laser-quality text, the three mono AIOs discussed here are closely matched, but each offers different strengths. In our performance tests, the Lexmark and Brother tied for fastest text output, but when documents including color graphics were added, the Canon came in first, with the Lexmark second. Both the Brother and Canon printers offer a slightly lower cost per page, but the Lexmark model offers the convenience of faxing through the cloud, which can cost less than a dedicated fax line. That thrifty detail, if you fax a lot, might make the MB2236i the front-runner for your office.