The perfect office machine: is the following wish list all rolled into one perfect unit too much to ask? – Brief Article

Scott Cullen

The search for the perfect office machine is like the search for the Holy Grail. It’s a never-ending quest that leads buyers through many dark twists and turns often ripe with frustration. With higher-priced equipment, such as a copier or a copier/printer, one false move, and you’re stuck with that device for maybe the next five years.

Here is our realistic look at the essential characteristics found in the perfect office machine. Because the perfect office machine may be a copier, a fax, or a printer, we’ve tried to keep characteristics as generic as possible. At times, however, we’ll denote those characteristics more likely to be found, or be essential, on a specific type of machine. At the same time, we’re going to avoid, as much as possible, venturing into a fantasy world of features and capabilities. Virtually all of the qualities we’re describing are available now. Are they all neatly bundled into one perfect unit? Not necessarily. As a result, we’re not sure if there really is a perfect office machine. If there were, it would possess these qualities.

ease of use

Even though it’s so important, ease of use may be one of the most overlooked criteria when selecting office equipment. After all, if users don’t know how to use the machine properly or if they spend more time than necessary trying to figure out how to use it, there’s going to be a loss of productivity from both a machine and a personnel perspective. On a copier, for example, there will be wasted copies either, for example, too dark or off center. You’ve probably seen the waste before. Sure, anyone can place a document on the platen, select the number of copies, and then press “print.” It’s when one needs to reduce or enlarge, staple or sort, or make two-sided copies when problems can occur.

Intuitive touch screen displays are becoming more prevalent, particularly on copiers. But are they easier to use for the average walk-up user? Not necessarily. Give manufacturers points for trying, although they’re not quite there yet. At least it’s a step in the right direction toward perfection. Even the best touch screen displays sometimes use symbols that can be cryptic for the novice user. Things to look for in a touch screen display are large buttons, logically designed menus that match the typical office workflow, and easy access to the most commonly used features.

Test for ease of use by having a typical walk-up user–maybe yourself–try using the device without any help from the sales rep. This gives you a general idea of how intuitive the display really is. Be sure to compare this quality on a variety of machines.

One day the perfect office machine may even be able to respond to voice commands. Indeed, that technology is being developed right now. But for now, the perfect office machine has an intuitive control panel that simply and succinctly guides users through the copy-making or fax-sending process, or if it’s a printer or networked copier/printer, guides them through the process at their desktop.


The perfect office machine never breaks, never jams, and its parts never wear out. Well, parts do wear out, especially on heavily used machines. Internal workings get out of joint from time to time and eventually paper jams. No machine is perfect when it comes to reliability, although it’s not always the machine’s fault. Sometimes paper jams are caused by the way the paper is loaded into the machine by the user or by the paper itself.

How do you know a machine is reliable before you buy it? You can be sure the sales rep is going to vouch for its reliability from the outset. You can also check the results of a number of third-party office equipment testing companies. Buyers Laboratory Inc. ( and Industry Analysts ( routinely test equipment for reliability. The caveat here is they don’t necessarily test every model on the market, and it may take a while before the test results are in for a new model. Another option is talking to owners of similar machines, although this might not be so easy to do with a brand new model. After that, it’s a crapshoot. With digital technology enhancing reliability, the odds of acquiring a reliable office machine are in your favor.

When it comes to reliability, don’t overlook the service organization behind the copier. Whether you purchase the machine from the dealer or the manufacturer, reliability can often be affected by the service organization you rely on to perform periodic maintenance and service.

fast setup

The perfect office machine offers fast setup out of the box, whether it’s a copier/printer being installed by the dealer or a workgroup, fax-based MFP you’re installing yourself. The key to fast setup from an end-user perspective is plug-and-play. And if not plug-and-play, the next best thing is a quick-start guide that’s easy to understand.

quiet operation

Quiet is good. Loud, annoying, and disruptive are not so good. One of the last things you want is a device that distracts people from doing their jobs, especially where people must interact with customers on the phone. Thanks to digital technology, noise levels on many copiers have been significantly reduced while most printers and fax machines tend to operate quietly, although the sounds some fax machines make when receiving a fax can be annoying.

energy efficiency

The perfect office machine has an Energy Star seal from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which signifies efficient, energy-saving operation, particularly when the machine is idle for an extended period of time. Most machines currently offer this capability, although some industry observers say the difference between an Energy Star and a non-Energy Star model is modest at best.

network and computer compatibility

The perfect networkable office machine is compatible with every computer platform and network platform known. In most instances, this is true, but some machines are a bit more finicky if you try to connect them to certain types of networks. In the early days of networked copiers and printers, this was more of an issue. And although issues still exist, they’re becoming less prevalent.


Speed is relative and will depend on the class of machine you’re looking to buy (low volume, midvolume, or high volume). When it comes to speed, the perfect office machine operates at its maximum rated speed no matter what task it’s performing. That means if it’s a copier rated at 50 ppm, it will make copies at that speed even when producing two-sided copies or sorting and collating. Note that most machines tend to slow down from their maximum rated speeds when performing these tasks. If it’s a printer or fax machine, it will perform at maximum speed even when printing complex pages loaded with graphics. Unfortunately, when it comes to printers and fax machines, this is more fantasy than reality. Some of the speed issues with these devices are related to memory–the more memory the unit possesses, the faster it can process jobs.


The perfect office machine is loaded with memory, which enables you to process jobs fast, store numerous jobs in memory, and perform a host of memory-related tasks. The great thing about memory is you can usually add more if you find your machine doesn’t have enough.

image quality

On the perfect office machine, every page that comes out looks…well, perfect. When it comes to text documents, 600 x 600-dpi resolution will provide perfect text. For graphics, the perfect office machine offers 1200 x 1200 dpi, although resolution this high doesn’t usually make much of a difference when printing text.

automatic paper selection

The perfect office machine is a smart one, which can identify the correct paper size whenever you’re making a copy or sending a fax. Whether it’s the standard 8 1/2 x 11-inch document or a 8 1/2 x 14 or 11 x 17, the perfect office machine senses this and outputs your copies, prints, or fax on the appropriate size paper.

generous paper capacity

There should be no scrimping when it comes to paper capacity on the perfect office machine, even for low-volume applications. That’s because low-capacity paper drawers are an inconvenience, leading to “paper out” notifications and frequent replenishing. Paper capacities are relative and depend on the type of machine, so we’re not going to quote any specific paper capacities on the high end or the low end. However, like memory, many machines allow you to add extra paper drawers to increase the capacity.

small footprint

The perfect office machine doesn’t take up a lot of floor or desktop space, no matter whether it’s a midvolume copier, a workgroup printer, or a stand-alone fax machine. Fortunately, most manufacturers are keeping this in mind when designing their machines, so finding a device that fits this criterion shouldn’t be difficult.

front access

Often a given for most office machines these days, the perfect machine allows you to load paper from the front, rather than the side, and to clear paper jams by opening the front panel.

the right set of features

The perfect office machine offers the right set of features for the kind of work performed in your office. Although many machines are created equal, you may find some variation in the types of features offered. Be sure to do your homework to figure out what you need, and don’t rely exclusively on the sales rep to tell you what you need. Ultimately, the features included on the perfect office machine are ones you use rather than an array of seldom-used or never-used features.

low operating costs

The perfect office machine, particularly if it’s a copier or copier/printer, offers an all-inclusive cost-per-copy plan, which includes parts, supplies (toner and developer), and labor, although some dealers are hesitant about including toner in the equation. Here’s where you need to do your homework to find out what you’re paying for each copy, print, or fax. Again, computing cost per copy on a copier or copier/printer is more complex than on a printer or fax machine, and a miscalculation by you or the dealer can end up costing one of you big time over the life of the machine.


You get what you pay for, and you pay more for quality. You name the cliche, and it’s true when referring to office equipment. The trouble is, cliches are also false when referring to office equipment. That’s because there’s greater parity than ever before when it comes to competing brands in the office equipment market. The difference, ultimately, is in the service and support organizations behind the products. So, when comparing machines, don’t just focus on the price. Take a close look at the organization from which you’re considering purchasing the equipment. Indeed, the perfect office machine is offered at a fair price, but at a price that also provides the service and support to ensure your perfect office machine will be up and running when you need it.

quest for perfection

Can one go out into the world and find the perfect office machine to meet all these criteria? Probably not, but it’s possible to come close. After all, nobody’s perfect, including office machines. But as long as you come close to perfect, you’ll be fine.

Good luck in your quest for near perfection.

Scott Cullen (, a contributing editor for OfficeSolutions, writes frequently an office technologies and issues.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Quality Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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