An all-in-one inkjet printer with a scanner, copier, fax, card slots, built-in Wi-Fi, a duplexer, individual ink cartridges, a sheet feeder and great output should cost about £300. So why does Lexmark want just £170 for the Prospect Pro205? It has more features than you can shake a sizeable number of sticks at, but the elephant in the room is its cheaper, less ambitious sibling.
The 'Pro' in this printer's moniker points to its business focus. As well as standard scanning and printing capability, it has a built-in fax with dedicated dialling buttons on the front-mounted panel, and a sheet feeder on top of the scanner so you can let it get on with the job while you head off to make coffee. Unfortunately, in many cases, there's no need to hurry back.
Compare the Pro205 directly to the cheaper, less feature-rich Lexmark Impact S305, which lacks a fax and feeder, and it trails by a considerable margin. While the S305 completed our 10-page text test in just 58 seconds at draft quality, the Pro205 took 1 minute and 43 seconds. When the quality was raised to normal, the Pro205 took 2 minutes and 6 seconds to complete our test, while it took 5 minutes and 44 seconds at best quality. Comparatively, the S305 took 1 minute and 24 seconds at normal quality and 4 minutes and 39 seconds at best quality. The Pro205 has a duplex facility, confusingly invoked using a button labelled 'eco', that increased the draft print time to 2 minutes and 24 seconds.
On a brighter note, the Pro205's results are excellent, so you may not mind waiting for them to arrive. We'd be perfectly happy using the draft results in a business context, and using the highest quality settings gives results as good as a laser printer's output.
White text on a black background looks sharp and unfeathered right down to eight points at the normal- and best-quality settings on photocopy paper, and the blacks themselves are solid. Set to draft quality, we saw some misalignment in blocks of solid colour where the head passed in each direction, so business graphics should only be printed in this mode for testing and proofing purposes.
There was no evident bleeding when we printed black characters on a coloured background, but we did notice a lack of differentiation between mid-tone greys. On a 21-step scale running between white and pure black, the steps between 35 per cent and 50 per cent were difficult to differentiate, running into one another. Likewise, 95 per cent and 100 per cent black were both rendered solid black. Colours look realistic, though, with strong primary and secondary tones, even on cheap office paper.
Despite being so well-suited to business use, the Pro205 is an excellent photo printer, which immediately adds to its appeal for home users. Again, taking 3 minutes and 12 seconds per page, it isn't fast when compared to the S305, which takes less than half the time to produce identical results. But, if you don't mind waiting and use appropriate photo paper, you'll be rewarded with bright, realistic colours, satisfyingly strong blacks, and super-smooth transitions between neighbouring, similar shades. We saw no sign of stepping in broad swathes of graduated sky, fine detail was handled with aplomb, and areas in shadow retained definition, without the muted colours being lost in the dark.
The Pro205's build quality is excellent, and there's no denying that it's a visually attractive device. It's compact and unobtrusive, and, although we conducted our tests on a PC, it looks great beside a MacBook or MacBook Pro, thanks to its complimentary silver and glossy black details. Our only complaint is that the mechanics of the scanner's sheet feeder don't allow you to raise the lid to scan fat originals, like magazines, in the way you can on the S305.
Judged on its output alone, the Lexmark Prospect Pro205 is a great printer, and its extensive feature set -- in particular the sheet feeder, built-in duplexer and fax -- more than justify the price. It's a shame, then, that direct comparison with the cheaper Impact S305 dents its appeal.