October 11, 2006

Copy/Print/Scan/Fax Warranties:

While in this digital era it has become increasingly difficult to find standalone office machines on the market, it has also become very difficult to find anything for sale with more (or less) than a year's warranty.


With the convergence of paper-handling technologies such as fax, scanning, and printing, it has become incredibly difficult to buy an office machine that does nothing but make copies. To be sure, there are numerous companies that still sell office copiers, but most of the machines also do something else besides copying.

In this column, the October installment of our now-monthly warranty tour, we'll augment the roundup of computer printer warranties delivered in the August 8 issue with a closer look at what some people call all-in-one devices and others call multifunction peripherals, or MFPs. At first we were going to cover just copiers, but of the 114 copy machines canvassed amongst 15 different manufacturers, we found that only two -- the Canon PC160 and the Sharp AL-1631 -- did nothing but make copies. All the rest also did something else.

A total of 59 office machines were what we'll call four-in-one units: fax, copy, print, and scan. Actually, three of those were five-in-one units, with a built-in phone handset. An additional 28 units were three-in-one units: copy, print, and scan, but no fax or phone. So clearly, that's the way the market is going: towards multifunction and away from standalone.

We also found four units that were combination fax machines and convenience copiers. We found another 13 that were copy machines with both a fax capability and a built-in phone. Some of the phone handsets were even wireless, though so far none have included mobile phones instead of landlines (that's next year's model, no doubt). And we found six units that did fax, copy, and print -- some with a phone and some without.

We found no units for sale that did fax and nothing but fax. All provided at least a convenience copy capability of some sort, even if they still used thermal paper. So apparently, fax has disappeared as a standalone market. We did, however, find quite a number of standalone scanner-only units, and we've included a representative sampling of those in the last list below.

No Warranties At All?

In our tour so far, we've found that some computer, consumer electronics, and office product warranties are incredibly short, given the expected lifespan of the product. For instance, one digital camera manufacturer warrants its rechargeable batteries for only 10 days. Another warrants the screens on its rear projection TVs for only 30 days. But so far on our tour of the warranty landscape, we've never run into a product for which there was no warranty.

However, it finally happened this week with office machines. Major vendors such as Pitney Bowes almost never issue a product warranty, while others such as Xerox and Canon don't issue warranties on a portion of their product lines. And it's not at the low end, as one might expect, where sub-$100 unit prices and rapidly evolving technologies encourage replacements over repairs. Actually, it happens at the high end, where $10,000 or even $20,000 pricetags on some units make it imperative that they never be out of service.

Here's where warranties bump up against routine maintenance contracts. In the classic sense, a warranty is a guarantee that is given and an extended warranty is a form of insurance that is sold. If a product fails or is in need of a repair because of a manufacturing defect, those who issued the guarantee or sold the insurance must honor the claim. If the product doesn't break, there's no claim.

In contrast, a maintenance contract is a promise to perform an expected service. For instance, an office might need someone to empty the trash or vacuum the carpet each night. A homeowner might need to hire someone to cut the grass or shovel the snow. True, all the grass may die in a drought, and it may not snow all winter, but the point is that the contract arranges for a service which is likely to be needed. In contrast, an extended warranty is written for a service that one hopes is not needed.

Maintenance or Warranty?

Central heating systems are frequently sold with service contracts that straddle both sides of the dotted line. Yes, they provide for routine annual inspections and cleanings, but they also might cover the cost of unexpected breakdowns. Is that maintenance or warranty? Or is it a little of both?

Within the office equipment category, companies such as Pitney Bowes sometimes avoid the issue of warranties by avoiding the sales process altogether. Only 30% of the company's 2005 revenue came from sales of equipment, none of which were covered by product warranties. Around 15% of its revenue comes from rentals of postage meters and other office machines -- arrangements which, as those who lease passenger cars are now discovering, do not usually convey any warranty rights to the customer.

But Pitney Bowes doesn't leave its customers to pay for repairs themselves. The remaining 55% of the company's revenue comes from services such as maintenance and financing. And if a postage machine should cease to function, it will be replaced or repaired at no cost to the customer. But it's not a warranty. It's routine and predictable maintenance.

Canon and Xerox operate in much the same way, at least with their high-end business-to-business sales. If you buy or lease a high-end office copier, chances are you'll also buy a maintenance contract. Copier breakdowns aren't as predictable as snowstorms or dirty carpets, but they are at least probable. Especially with all-in-one units, there are more moving parts, more friction, and more things that can go wrong. And while maintenance contracts aren't absolutely required, they are strongly suggested.

These maintenance/service contracts take the place of a product warranty. Therefore, these companies sell their high-end units with no warranty, expecting the customer to purchase a maintenance/service contract instead. However, both companies also have low end "consumer" or home office" product lines, for which they do indeed issue product warranties. Those product lines are included below.

Sharp's Indirect Approach

To further cloud the issue, Sharp Electronics Corp. does not actually issue a manufacturer's warranty to buyers of some of its copiers and multifunction devices. Instead, for high-end products such as the AR-M355N, Sharp issues a warranty to the authorized dealer, who in turn is expected to issue a warranty that's at least as generous to the buyer. If the dealer does not honor its warranty, then the buyer should contact Sharp directly. But it's up to the dealer to issue the warranty to the buyer, not Sharp.

With all these uncertainties, we had to modify our methodology a bit. Instead of assuming that every product had a warranty and looking everywhere possible to find out the warranty period, we assumed that anything selling for over $2,000 for which warranty information was not available did not in fact have a warranty. U.S. law states that any seller of a product for which a warranty is available must make the terms of that warranty available before the sale takes place. So, either the merchants are breaking the law or the products aren't covered by a warranty. We'll leave the law enforcement up to the Federal Trade Commission, and we'll leave the allegedly warranty-less models off our list.

That leaves us with 146 different office machines from 17 different manufacturers. We briefly considered running them in one long chart, with notations for what functions they did and didn't do. But instead, we're going to chop them into six groups: four-in-one, three-in-one, fax/phone/copier, fax/copier, copier, and scanner. All are listed alphabetically by manufacturer, then in ascending order based on warranty period and then price. Since so many of the units carry one-year warranties, it's essentially a function of increasing price alone. All warranties are for products sold in the U.S., and all prices (not listed) are in U.S. dollars.

Let's start with the four-in-one units (and the handful of five-in-ones). All but two carried one-year warranties, which is amazing given the price range within this category. For instance, HP sells the Officejet 4315 for $80 and the Designjet 820 MFP for $21,000. Both have identical one-year warranty periods, although the way in which service is delivered (on-site, drop off, etc.) varies considerably.


Four-in-One Office Machine Warranties
(fax, scan, copy & print)

  Brand, Make & Model   Description     Warranty (years)
  Brother MFC-3240C color ink jet 1
  Brother MFC-3340CN color ink jet 1
  Brother MFC-620CN color ink jet, phone 1
  Brother MFC-820CW color ink jet 1
  Brother MFC-8220 b/w laser, phone 1
  Brother MFC-8860DN b/w laser 1
  Brother MFC-9420CN color laser 1
     
  Canon imageClass MF3240 b/w ink jet 1
  Canon PIXMA MP830 b/w ink jet 1
  Canon MultiPass F50 color ink jet 1
  Canon imageClass MF2300N b/w laser 1
  Canon imageClass MF7280 b/w ink jet 1
  Canon imageClass MF6560 b/w laser 3
     
  Dell All-In-One 946 color ink jet 1
  Dell All-In-One 964 color ink jet 1
     
  Epson AcuLaser CX11NF color laser 1
     
  HP Officejet 4315 color ink jet 1
  HP Photosmart C6180 color ink jet 1
  HP Officejet 7200 color ink jet 1
  HP LaserJet 3390 b/w laser 1
  HP LaserJet 3055 b/w laser 1
  HP Color LaserJet 2840 color laser 1
  HP Officejet 9130 color ink jet 1
  HP Color LaserJet 4730x color laser 1
  HP Designjet 820 MFP 42" color ink jet 1
     
  IBM Infoprint 1650 b/w laser 1
  IBM Infoprint Color 1664 color laser 1
  IBM Infoprint 1580 b/w laser 1
     
  Konica Minolta magicolor 2480 MF color laser 1
  Konica Minolta Bizhub 180 b/w laser 1
  Konica Minolta Bizhub 420 b/w laser 1
     
  Lexmark X5470 color ink jet 1
  Lexmark X8350 color ink jet 1
  Lexmark X342N b/w laser 1
  Lexmark X642e b/w laser 1
  Lexmark X632 b/w laser 1
  Lexmark X772e color laser 1
  Lexmark X854e MFP b/w laser 1
     
  Oki OkiFax 4580 fax machine 1
  Oki Office 87 b/w LED 1
  Oki OkiFax 5780 fax machine 1
  Oki ES3640e MFP color LED 1
     
  Panasonic KX-FLM651 b/w laser, phone 1
  Panasonic KX-FLB851 b/w laser 1
     
  Ricoh AC204 fax machine 0.25
  Ricoh Aficio 1515MF b/w laser 0.25
  Ricoh SP C210SF flatbed laser 1
     
  Samsung SCX-4521F b/w laser 1
  Samsung SF-565P laser fax 1
  Samsung SCX-4720FN color laser 1
  Samsung SCX-5530FN b/w laser 1
  Samsung 755P fax machine 1
  Samsung 5315F fax machine 1
  Samsung 6320F b/w laser 1
     
  Xerox WorkCentre PE220 flatbed laser 1
  Xerox M15i fax machine 1
  Xerox F116 fax machine 1
  Xerox M20i fax machine 1
  Xerox WorkCentre 4150X fax machine 1
     

Of these 58 different units, 55 carried one-year warranties, one unit from Canon carried a three-year warranty, and two Ricoh units carried 90-day warranties. In all cases, the warranty periods for parts and labor were the same, so we listed it only once. However, we noticed that some companies provide for on-site repairs during just the first three months of the warranty period. Others will send a replacement unit during the first few months and will attempt a repair for the rest of the year.

Since so many of the units carried one-year warranties, we didn't go into any great detail with the descriptions. We noted whether they print in color or in black ink only, and we assumed that anything marketed as a photo printer was color. Basically, the units are driven by either a laser printer engine or an ink jet printing mechanism, although a handful of thermal units still survive (primarily in the fax category), and Oki uses LEDs instead of lasers.

Interestingly, a few of the four-in-one units were marketed as fax machines that also copy, scan, and print, but most were identified as either all-in-one units or as MFPs. The problem is, so were most of the three-in-one units in the list below.


Three-in-One Office Machine Warranties
(scan, copy & print)

  Brand, Make & Model   Description     Warranty (years)
  Brother DCP-110C color ink jet 1
  Brother DCP-7020 b/w laser 1
  Brother DCP-8060 b/w laser 3
  Brother DCP-8045D b/w laser 3
  Brother DCP-8065DN b/w laser 3
     
  Canon PIXMA MP150 color ink jet 1
  Canon PIXMA MP460 color ink jet 1
  Canon PIXMA MP600 color ink jet 1
  Canon PIXMA MP950 color ink jet 1
     
  Dell All-In-One 810 color ink jet 0.25
  Dell All-In-One 924 color ink jet 1
     
  Epson Stylus CX3810 color ink jet 1
  Epson Stylus CX6000 color ink jet 1
  Epson Stylus Photo RX700 color ink jet 1
     
  HP Deskjet F380 color ink jet 1
  HP Photosmart C3180 color ink jet 1
  HP PSC 1610 all in one 1
  HP Photosmart 3210 photo printer 1
  HP LaserJet 3020 b/w laser 1
  HP Color LaserJet CM1017 MFP color laser 1
  HP LaserJet M4345x b/w laser 1
     
  Konica Minolta PagePro 1380 MF b/w laser 1
  Konica Minolta Bizhub 200 b/w laser 1
     
  Lexmark X1270 b/w ink jet 1
  Lexmark P4350 color ink jet 1
     
  Oki C5510n MFP color LED 1
     
  Samsung SCX-4200 b/w laser 1
     

This time around, there were 24 three-in-one units with one-year warranties, three units from Brother International with three-year warranties, and one Dell unit with a 90-day warranty. So while one year remains the benchmark warranty period for these multifunction peripherals, it's not quite unanimous.

Sticking to a Year

As we gradually lose paper-handling functionality in the four lists below, most manufacturers seem to stick with the one-year warranty periods, though some have low-end units at three or six months. This stubborn adherence to one-year warranty periods is somewhat surprising, because the drawback of the three- and four-in-one units has always been their complexity, and the likelihood that one failure in one module could take the whole unit out of service.

One would expect the three- and four-in-one units to have the shortest warranties, and the tried and true plain paper fax machines or standalone scanners to have the longest warranties. Obviously, since all but seven of the units below carry one-year warranties, and all but seven of the units above do as well, this is not the case.


Fax Phone & Copier Warranties

  Brand, Make & Model   Description     Warranty (years)
  Brother Fax-575 ribbon transfer 1
  Brother IntelliFax-1840C color ink jet 1
  Brother IntelliFax-1575MC ribbon transfer 1
  Brother IntelliFax-1940CN color ink jet 1
  Brother IntelliFax-2800 b/w laser 1
  Brother IntelliFax-4750E b/w laser 1
  Brother IntelliFax-5750E b/w laser 1
     
  Canon FaxPhone L80 laser fax, printer 1
  Canon FaxPhone L120 laser fax, printer 1
     
  Panasonic KX-FHD331 thermal transfer 0.5
  Panasonic KX-FPG391 thermal transfer 0.5
  Panasonic KX-FL511 laser fax 1
  Panasonic KX-FL541 b/w laser, scanner 1
     
  Sharp UX-B700E plain paper 0.25
  Sharp UX-B800SE ink jet 0.25
  Sharp UX-B20 plain paper 1
     

Careful readers will notice that one of the Panasonic fax phones in the list above is also a scanner. In theory, at least, all fax machines contain scanners, though the resolutions that are acceptable for fax would not be acceptable for desktop publishing applications. In addition, two of the Canon units are also computer printers, forming a still-small subclass of three-in-one functionality (fax, copy & print, but no scanner). On the list below, another Canon model and one of the NEC models can also double as a computer printer. None are fax only.


Fax & Copier Warranties
(no phone)

  Brand, Make & Model   Description     Warranty (years)
  Canon imageClass D880 b/w laser, printer 3
     
  HP Fax 1040 plain paper 1
  HP Fax 1250 plain paper 1
     
  NEC IT1825 b/w laser 1
  NEC IT2530 b/w laser, printer 1
     
  Samsung SF-560 laser fax 1
     

Oh, we should mention that while most of the three- and four-in-one units are using plain paper (and either laser, ink jet, or LED print engines), there are still a few units in the fax category that use the special rolls of thermal paper, or that use some kind of typewriter-like ribbon to print on plain paper. As the standalone copier and the standalone fax machine become less common, these printing technologies are likely to fade out as well. But notice how the different technologies seemed to have little effect on the warranty period (except in Panasonic's case).

The fifth list is the shortest. As was mentioned, this whole exercise started out as a tour of just the copier industry, but it turned into a tour of the intersection between fax, phone, scanner, printer, and copier functionality. Of the five units on the list below, only the first and last are copiers and nothing else. Two are also computer printers and one is also a computer scanner.


Copier Warranties

  Brand, Make & Model   Description     Warranty (years)
  Canon PC160 personal copier 1
  HP Digital Copier-Printer 610 photo copier, printer 1
  NEC IT35C1 color copier, scanner 1
  Oki ES1624n color copier, printer 1
  Sharp AL-1631 b/w laser 1
     

Finally, we have list containing the last of the standalones: the scanners. Some are flatbed, while others are sheet-feed. Some are best for scanning pages of documents, while others with higher resolutions are better for photos, slides, or film negatives. All can scan in color, as can most of those listed above as containing a scanning capability. But of course it takes a color printer to make a color copy, and in the case of fax, it takes a color-capable fax machine at both ends to effect a color copy at the receiving end.

Most of the manufacturers listed below are also represented on the lists above. But two -- Visioneer and Microtek -- make their first appearance here in the scanner list. So while we can conclude that those two have focused on scanning alone, it's also apparent that the other 15 vendors love to cross product categories -- adding scanners to fax machine, combining copiers and printers, etc. Canon and HP, however, are the only vendors with at least one product on every list.


Scanner Warranties

  Brand, Make & Model   Description     Warranty (years)
  Canon CanoScan LiDE 25 photo scanner 1
  Canon CanoScan LiDE 70 photo scanner 1
  Canon CanoScan 4200F photo scanner 1
  Canon CanoScan 8600F flatbed scanner 1
  Canon CanoScan 9950F photo scanner 1
     
  Epson Perfection 3490 Photo scanner 1
  Epson Perfection 4490 Office scanner 1
  Epson Perfection V750-M Pro scanner 1
  Epson Expression 1680 scanner 1
  Epson GT-30000 scanner 1
     
  HP Scanjet 4370 photo scanner 0.25
  HP Scanjet 4850 photo scanner 0.25
  HP Scanjet 4890 photo scanner 1
  HP Scanjet N6010 document scanner 1
  HP Scanjet 8390 document scanner 1
  HP Designjet 4500 42" color scanner 1
     
  Microtek ScanMaker i320 flatbed scanner 1
  Microtek ScanMaker s400 scanner 1
  Microtek ScanMaker i800 Pro flatbed scanner 1
  Microtek ArtixScanDI 2020 scanner 1
  Microtek ArtixScan 4000tf film scanner 1
  Microtek ArtixScanDI 1800F scanner 1
     
  Ricoh IS330DC color scanner 1
  Ricoh IS450DE color scanner 1
     
  Visioneer Strobe XP 100 portable scanner 1
  Visioneer OneTouch 9520 photo scanner 1
  Visioneer Strobe XP 200 portable scanner 1
  Visioneer 9450 USB scanner 1
  Visioneer 9750 PDF scanner 1
     
  Xerox OneTouch 6400 flatbed scanner 1
  Xerox DocuMate 510 document scanner 1
  Xerox DocuMate 252 document scanner 1
     

Except for two HP units, all the standalone scanners carried one-year warranties. In fact, after concluding this portion of our warranty tour, we can safely conclude that very few manufacturers of fax, copier, printer, or scanner systems are straying very far from the one-year benchmark. We noticed quite a few manufacturers selling their own brands of extended warranties; perhaps this is a major reason why almost everything is a year. Among retailers too, extended warranties were featured prominently. Nobody was blatant enough to say that copiers and printers frequently malfunction, and therefore are prime candidates for extended warranties. But perhaps they don't have to? Anyone who has ever owned one knows the value of getting someone to fix it for free when it breaks.


Other Stops on the Warranty Tour

Automotive Warranties


Computer Warranties


Consumer Electronics






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