Canon's PIXMA MP480 offers a good compromise between quality and price. It certainly isn't the fastest of printers, but its consistency and print quality are well worth the few extra dollars it costs over competitors.
The MP480 follows Canon's basic design conventions, with a two-tone black and grey design. Paper input is via a rear paper tray; the absence of a front cassette helps minimise the printer's footprint. Unfortunately, the paper support on the rear paper tray often takes some force to extend and the inner cover suffers from similar design issues, requiring an awkward two hand motion to close due to its rigid hinge.
The controls give the user access to basic multifunction settings, copy options and a direct photo print menu. Given the space available on the flip-up control panel, the LCD display is annoyingly small and makes photo selection a cumbersome process. Nevertheless, for the most part the interface is easy to navigate.
The MP480 won't impress when it comes to speed. Standard text documents will print at an average of 8.6 pages per minute in draft quality, with the first page out in 11.7sec. Surprisingly, bumping the quality up to normal doesn't affect speed much: the unit printed documents at 7.4ppm using this setting. Normal quality documents are significantly darker and easier to read compared to draft quality ones.
Unfortunately, colour documents don't share the same consistency when it comes to speed. Although draft documents print at a somewhat acceptable 6.3ppm, normal quality documents with graphics slowed to 2.9ppm. Photo printing speeds aren't terrible, however, with a standard 4x6in photo printing in 34sec and an A4 photo in 1min 25sec.
At its best, the MP480 does a reasonable job with print quality. Text is dark, making it readable but a little too inaccurate and blurred for professional use. Using its combined colour ink cartridge the MP480 can print colours that are vibrant if a little too bright.
With photos, colours are largely vibrant but blacks are not as deep as we would have liked. There is no evidence of banding or gradient problems, which is quite a feat for a unit at this price point. For family photos and school work the MP480 will do a good job — especially considering its price — and its print quality is only surpassed by competitors that cost twice as much.
However, scanning quality leaves much to be desired. Though the MP480's maximum scanning resolution of 2400x4800 dots per inch is acceptable, scanning at this setting resulted in a loss of fine detail and inaccurate colours. The resulting images are often under-saturated, which has a particular impact on photos.
At 24.1c per page, the MP480 is somewhat costly to run, which might sway people in favour of more expensive multifunctions that have cheaper running costs.