The fax is a useful machine, but its end product is rather horrible. Faxes fade and curl, are hard to annotate and file, and look tatty. On cheaper machines, they come out in one long roll, which must be cut into sheets.

Plain paper faxes, based on the same ink-jet or laser technology as computer printers, are falling in price. They overcome many of the hassles of faxing, as they use standard copier paper.

Some manufacturers have realised that as a fax machine is so similar to a printer, it might as well have full computer connections. Brother's latest laser fax, the 5000P, has an optional Windows interface, providing scanning and laser printing. Costing £999 (RRP ex-VAT), it is cheap for a laser fax; the interface adds £110 to the price. It is also home-user friendly, as it can share a phone line with an answering machine.

The Brother is particularly impressive as a printer, given its maximum resolution of 200 dots per inch; most laser printers offer 300. It can also send and receive faxes directly from Windows, saving time and paper. If the PC is switched off, documents will automatically be received by the fax in the normal manner.

Its weak point is scanning. With 32 shades of grey, it can handle line art or photographs for a photocopied document, but little more. As a stand- alone fax, the Brother offers useful time-saving features, such as delaying transmissions until off-peak call periods, and faxing from memory, so the user need not wait for the fax to be sent before retrieving the original. It also has built-in reduction and enlargement, which allows it to double as a copier.

The Brother also appeals aesthetically. There are cost savings over buying separate devices, but for anyone with limited space and a hatred of spaghetti cabling, the all-in-one-box approach is very attractive. The Brother has just three wires: one for the mains power, one for the phone line and one to connect to the computer.