Packing a number of PC-less features and an easy-to-use interface, the Canon PIXMA MP610 multifunction is definitely suitable for families. This midrange multifunction is the little brother of Canon's flagship PIXMA MP970. If price is a factor, the MP610 is certainly worthwhile considering.
Connectivity isn't a strong suit of the MP610: it only has a single USB 2.0 port and a media card reader, which is compatible with SD, MMC, MemoryStick and CompactFlash. However, the MP610 has a number of other features to compensate, including an auto duplex unit for double-sided printing, a 2.5in LCD screen for viewing and editing photos, direct CD/DVD printing, and two paper trays with a combined 300 sheet paper capacity. There isn't an automatic document feeder, but given that this model is designed for home use, it isn't really needed.
As with the PIXMA MP970, the MP610's menu interface is easy enough for anyone to use. Menu items are accessed through the multifunction's Easy Scroll Wheel, with quick access buttons for paper tray selection, the home screen and photocopy functions. The multifunction can print straight from memory cards and scan to a computer by initiating the process from the multifunction. The MP610 lacks the 35mm film negative scanning of the MP970, but this is a feature mainly of interest to photo enthusiasts.
The MP610 does away with the light magenta and cyan cartridges, using only five inks, as opposed to the MP970's seven. This impacts on colour quality somewhat, but it also cuts down on consumable costs and makes the MP610 cheaper in the long run. At 16.7c/page, this multifunction's consumable costs are excellent, second only to HP's Officejet Pro L7380 laser-replacement multifunction.
Speed isn't a priority in the PIXMA range of multifunctions, but the MP610 still does a pretty good job. It managed to print standard text documents at 17.1 pages per minute using draft quality and 10ppm using normal quality. Draft quality text documents with graphical elements will print at 9.4ppm; they will print at 6ppm using normal quality.
Although these aren't the fastest speeds we've seen, they are fast enough for printing school work and typical printing needs around the home. Photo printing speeds were surprisingly fast. It took only 8sec to print a standard 4x6in photo, and 27sec to print a full A4 photo at normal quality.
Despite the use of fewer cartridges, quality is outstanding. Text is clear and crisp at all quality levels, and colour was consistent and accurate on the graphics we printed. Our test text documents were fantastic. Photo printing did reveal some of the flaws in the multifunction. Yellows aren't as vibrant as those produced by the PIXMA MP970, and blacks aren't as realistic, so the resulting photos were slightly oversaturated.
These issues aren't related to not using light cyan or magenta ink, so it's probably the use of a lower quality print head. Photo enthusiasts dealing with darker photos might want to spend a little extra for the quality increase, but for everyone else the MP610 is all you'll need.
The multifunction performs well when printing on CDs and DVDs. It produces clear and vibrant results with balanced colour. The media you print on will make a big difference: if you're after great CD printing results, it's best to choose media with a slight gloss in order to bring out vibrant colour.
Perhaps the MP610's strongest feature is its scanning quality. We scanned the same image in both the MP970 and the MP610 at 600dpi and compared them. Surprisingly, the MP610 provided a much better image, with better balanced colour and realistic flesh tones. The MP970's image is slightly oversaturated in comparison. Both multifunctions are capable of the same scanning resolution — and probably even use the same scanning mechanism — but the difference in image processing showed a stark contrast between the two, in favour of the cheaper model.