Colour inkjet multifunction printers don't get much more basic than the Canon Pixma MX360. Priced at just £95 (as of 14 April 2011), it offers small doses of print, copy, scan and fax capabilities, but it has no Wi-Fi or ethernet, no media-card slots, and slowish performance.

A light-volume small or home office might not mind any of that - and perhaps not even the pricey inks - but the Epson WorkForce 520 provides better speed and economy for just a little more money.

The Pixma MX360 is easy to set up on both the PC and Mac. The control panel is logically laid out and includes scan-to-PC functionality. Unfortunately, while Canon does a nice job of organising the icons on the colour LCDs of its higher-end models, the same approach falters on the Pixma MX360's two-line monochrome display; the icons are too small and hard to decipher. The Canon Pixma MX420 has a somewhat snazzier design but is nearly identical otherwise.

Paper-handling features for the Pixma MX360 are minimal. To its credit, it does sport a 30-sheet automatic document feeder, as well as a letter/A4-size scanner bed. The ADF even pops open for easy clearing of any paper jams that might occur. The vertical rear paper feed holds 100 sheets of plain paper, an adequate amount. However, in a frustrating twist although you can scan two-sided from either platform, two-sided printing is manual only and completely unavailable on the Mac.

The Pixma MX360 is a below-average performer, though acceptable for home use. Text pages with a few simple, monochrome graphics printed at 5.6 pages per minute on both the PC and Mac. On the PC, a half-page photo printed at default settings on plain paper took about 26 seconds, or 2.3 ppm. The same photo printed at better settings on Canon's own glossy photo paper took 45 seconds (1.3 ppm). A high-resolution, full-page photo printed from the Mac limped out at the anemic rate of 0.3 ppm. Preview scans took about six seconds and a full scan required about 50 seconds at 600 dpi.

For the most part, PCWorld conducts performance tests and output-quality judging using a printer's default settings. The Pixma MX360 speeds up quite a bit when you switch to its 'Fast' mode, or draft mode, which also saves on ink.

The Pixma MX360's output quality varies. Monochrome printing is the most appealing: Text is crisp and sharp and grayscale is nicely rendered. Colour graphics printed on plain paper look overexposed, with a warm colour palette that tends toward pink. On Canon's own glossy paper, the effect isn't as noticeable, but details are still missing in the lighter areas of photos. You can adjust the colours somewhat using the settings under the Effects tab of the printer driver. Scans tended to appear a little dark, but monochrome and colour copies looked nice.

It may be cheap to buy but the Pixma MX360 is not particularly cheap to operate. A single cartridge delivers all three colours (cyan, magenta, and yellow) and costs $21 (£13) for a 244-page standard-yield unit and $27 for a 346-page high-yield unit. At 8.6 and 7.7 cents per page, that's decently priced colour at either capacity. Unfortunately, prices of $16 for a standard-yield black cartridge that delivers only 220 pages, and $22 for a high-yield black cartridge, sour the deal. Those prices work out to 7.26 cents per page (very expensive) and 5.5 cents per page (still expensive), respectively.

OUR VERDICT

For light use in a home office, the Canon Pixma MX360 could be a good buy. It delivers the basics for a low initial investment, with black ink costs only slowly eating into the deal over time.