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-- by Joel T. Patz
If you're looking for a machine that handles multiple office tasks without taking up too much desktop real estate, consider the Panasonic Panafax UF-344. The 21-pound multifunction unit combines a color ink jet printer, color scanner, color copier, PC fax and plain-paper monochrome fax in a form factor measuring 9.7 by 15.4 by 17.7 inches. And when we put the Panafax through its paces, it was mostly thumbs up.
Control buttons for fax operation, copy and start are on the right of the unit's LCD display, and the numeric keypad is on the left. Buttons for memory, color or monochrome selection when copying, halftone, resolution and contrast adjustment are under the flip-up top.
Setup was fast and easy. It involved installing the Panafax Color Printing and the Multi-Function systems drivers, then inserting the ink cartridge and finally filling the front-loading, 150-sheet paper tray.
Within 15 minutes, we had our first scanned color image (300x300 dots per inch) on plain paper. Results were acceptable. The same image printed on special glossy paper was good enough for a presentation, though some graininess was evident. You can easily adjust saturation, brightness and hue, as well as zoom level and print quality, from the control panel. Monochrome copying was equally as good.
Color printing makes use of Panasonic's Print Smoothing technology to reduce jagged edges and create smooth curves. The scanner is TWAIN-compliant so you can use it to acquire images from a variety of graphics applications.
The UF-344 printed our text-only monochrome document at 2.5 pages per minute in Draft mode (180x180dpi) and 1.94ppm in Business mode (360x360dpi). A three-page mixed text and graphics test rolled out at an agonizingly slow 10 minutes, 51 seconds on plain paper, but printed at a respectable 3 minutes, 45 seconds (at 0.8ppm) on glossy and coated papers. The device can handle up to 99 copies of black-and-white originals, and you can enlarge or reduce documents from 70 percent to 144 percent in 1-percent increments. Our graphics-rich presentation showed reasonable color and flesh-tone reproduction, but it was grainy and displayed streaking. Because of the limitations imposed by the unit's available resolutions, don't expect the same quality found in standalone printers used for photo-realistic printing.
Faxing from your PC is as simple as printing to the Panafax displayed in the print dialog box and then entering a fax number or choosing one from the 50-entry phone book that's part of the device's included software. You can use the unit's memory to store up to 30 pages of outgoing documents for delayed faxing. The fax function will retransmit incomplete pages as well as broadcast a fax to up to 112 stations.
In addition, you can connect an external telephone (not included) to a second jack, next to the one used for your fax line. You decide how you wish to receive incoming communications: faxes only, voice calls with manual fax reception, fax and voice calls, or fax and voice calls with an answering machine connected. You can set the machine for pulse or tone dialing as well as control the ringer's volume. More importantly, you can program 28 one-touch phone numbers and 72 additional numbers using two-digit numeric codes.
The unit's fax input tray holds 30 sheets. For faxing, the UF-344 retains in memory what it has not yet printed; in our tests, a 10-page, text-only document took 8 minutes, 1 second to be received and printed. Sending the same document back to a nearby HP OfficeJet 330 took 6 minutes, 11 seconds to transmit.
The UF-344 handles 150 sheets of plain or coated paper, 20 #10 envelopes or up to 50 sheets of transparency, glossy or reverse transparency media. If you run out of paper, the machine's memory holds 30 pages of incoming material; 1MB ($240) or 2MB ($475) flash memory cards increase this to 110 and 190 pages, respectively.
Cartridge options include a double black ($40), a black and color combination with replaceable reservoirs (black, $10; color, $27) and color-only ($65)
When printing and scanning, the Panafax UF-344 is relatively quiet. However, the trays for collecting printed material and outgoing faxes get in the way when you load paper. Although the machine's design has tried to minimize this, the outgoing fax collection tray appears vulnerable to breakage.
If you require a machine that provides multiple functions and color support, and you have room for only one device, the Panasonic Panafax UF-344 deserves serious consideration, so we've added it to our WinList.