In many regards, the £1,250 inc VAT Lexmark X548dte is an excellent workgroup colour laser multifunction (print/copy/scan/fax). The output quality is good, the paper handling is generous, and the control panel, with its large, 7-inch colour LCD, is a model of efficiency. Several minor design oversights spoil the effect, however.
Setting up the Lexmark X548dte via USB or ethernet is a breeze. The Lexmark Home software takes care of all the printing and scanning chores on the PC. On the Mac, you get a Lexmark printer driver, but Lexmark defers to Mac OS's Image Capture scan application (ICA) or any TWAIN-compliant application for scanner tasks. The unit also has driver and documentation support for Linux.
The Lexmark X548dte performed well in our tests. Text pages exited at a peppy 14.5 pages per minute on the PC and 14.2 ppm on the Mac. With a snapshot-size photo, it managed above-average speeds: 3.15 ppm at default settings on plain paper, and 2.1 ppm with nicer settings and paper. A full-page colour photo printed on the Mac took 91 seconds (0.7 ppm), a tad slower than the norm. Colour scans were very quick - up to three times faster than with most other multifunction printers.
However, the quality of those quick colour scans is a weak point, as they came out overly dark and a little fuzzy. Colour photos appeared oversaturated and a little grainy, while colour copies looked fairly accurate. Monochrome prints and copies were nearly flawless.
The biggest issue with the Lexmark X548dte is the output tray. For one thing, its 150-sheet output capacity seems inadequate for a workgroup-level printer. More concerning is its placement: Pages arrive facing backward at the back of the unit. With the nonretractable control panel jutting out in front, this makes grabbing the output an awkward 2-foot reach. The nearly 2-foot height of the MFP exacerbates the problem. If we were to continue using the X548dte, we'd either have to deal with the distance or set the MFP on a low table to make the output easier to reach--but then, taller users would need to stoop to read the LCD.
One other problem we encountered with the Lexmark X548dte concerned the scanner lid. While the hinges allow it to telescope an inch or so, the cable connecting it with the rest of the unit's electronics doesn't stretch to accommodate - cutting the travel in half on the left side. The official thickness accommodated is one-half inch.
The rest of the Lexmark X548dte's paper handling is excellent. The MFP prints, scans, and copies two-sided (duplex). The automatic document feeder for the scanner holds 50 pages. The unusual and versatile input tray design includes a 250-sheet drawer with a single-sheet input (for one envelope, for example), plus what Lexmark calls a "Duo Drawer," a 550-sheet input tray whose fold-down front panel reveals a 100-sheet multipurpose tray. All of that brings the standard capacity to a generous 900 sheets.
Toner costs per page for the X548dte range from okay to far worse. The extra-high-yield supplies all cost £166; available are an 8000-page black (2p per page) and 4000-page colours (4p per colour, per page), making a four-colour page cost a 14p. Things get even more pricey in a hurry, though: The high-yield cartridges consist of a £106, 2500-page black (4.2p per page) and £117, 2000-page colours (5.8p per colour, per page); a four-colour page would run to more than 21p. The prices quoted are direct from Lexmark's ink shop, and it is occasionally possible to purchase cartridges a little cheaper.