My parents old all-in-one printer just crapped out so it’s time for a new one. They asked me to make a recommendation. I’m like “Sure, no problem.” I figure I know enough about this stuff to check a few out and find the right one for them.

Turns out I’m an idiot. And so is everyone else who’s looking for a printer like this. Well, we’re not really idiots, but we sure feel like it. Buying a printer remains the last confusing part of modern computing.

Do I choose the MP620 or the PIXMA MP480 or the C4580 or the MX700 or the J6480 or the P2055, or the MFC-8460N or the SCX-4500W.

I’m not suggesting that product names without numbers would have been any better, but in the grid above we have 21 printers within a $250 range (roughly). They are “all-in-one” and they all come from reputable brands. We have options from Canon, HP, HP, Brother, and Samsung.

And it’s not just that the prices are roughly the same and the brands are all respected and the model numbers aren’t helpful.

What makes this an even tougher choice is that the products look so different and yet so similar. They’re all either black, white, or grey. They’re all roughly the same size, They’re all roughly the same shape. But they still look so different.

If I’m looking at a shelf of peanut butter in the grocery story, I know that I can pretty much pick anyone and get basically the same thing. It’s a commodity. Plus peanut butter is cheap (measured by time and money). You don’t have to install anything, set anything up, etc. You buy it, spread it on your sandwich, and move on.

But printers are hundreds of dollars. Features are a combination of hard to understand, irrelevant, and must-have. While printers feel like they’ve become commodities, they really haven’t. This is why they are so confusing. They all pretty much do the same thing the same way, they’re probably all more than adequate, they all come from brands you can trust. Yet you still can’t make a decision.

Sounds like an industry awaiting a revolution. Which brand is going to be bold and introduce a product that can’t be ignored?

Oh, and in the meantime, anyone got a recommendation for an all-in-one color inkjet for Mac? Mostly text printing, some photo printing, a fair bit of photocopying, and rare faxing? Thanks!