With its built-in fax and duplexer, the MP520 handles small-office tasks well.
The Canon Pixma MP520's solid combination of features makes it ideal for a small office that works with documents and photos. Priced at just $199, it handles faxing, scanning, copying and printing. Nevertheless, it lacks a few features that you might expect to find on an office-oriented multifunction printer.
For instance, the MP520 comes without built-in networking, so you'll have to use Windows' printer sharing to make it available to other PCs on your network. Also missing are media slots and a colour LCD. The only way to print directly from a digital camera is to connect it to the MFD's PictBridge port and use the camera's screen and controls. Of course, this may not be a significant issue if you prefer to store and edit images on your PC before printing them.
The MP520's control panel features a two-line monochrome LCD surrounded by sensibly arranged buttons. You can program up to 40 speed-dial numbers for destinations you frequently send faxes to, and the fax is rated to transmit pages at a standard 33.6Kbps (in either black-and-white or colour). The MP520 possesses a 150-page memory in case it runs out of paper while you've run out to buy more.
The glass platen accommodates letter-size paper, and the automatic document feeder lets you scan 30 sheets of legal-size paper at a time. Dual paper trays hold a total of 300 sheets, split evenly between the cassette in the unit's base and the upright feeder at the rear. The rear feeder is convenient for switching among different types of paper, and its straight paper path makes it a good choice for thicker media. For example, you can stack 10 envelopes in the rear feeder, whereas Canon recommends stacking no more than five in the cassette. The built-in duplexer lets you save paper by making double-sided prints.
Each of the printer's five ink cartridges -- one per primary colour, plus two black inks -- incorporates a red LED that flashes when the ink runs low. On photo paper, the printer uses dye-based black, but to produce stronger and sharper darks on relatively absorbent plain paper, it adds pigment-based black.
Print quality was good, albeit with some flaws. The MP520 produced attractive dark text, but some edges looked splattered and we detected occasional slight horizontal banding. Our line-art sample suffered a few ripples in blocks of closely spaced vertical lines. Photos printed on plain paper had surprisingly sharp details, though the level of contrast was almost too much. On photo paper, images came out beautifully sharp with bright, vivid colours. Scans and copies of photos and documents earned consistently high marks from our judges.
The MP520 may not be the fastest printer on the block, but it performed well in our speed tests, at 8.9 pages per minute (ppm) for text and 3.2ppm for graphics. It rolled out our test photo on letter-size photo paper in a commendable 41 seconds, and its 4.3ppm copy speed was impressive, particularly given its high quality. Finally, the MP350 completed our 100dpi test scan of a 4x5in photo in a snappy 7.2 seconds.