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Anker automates the calibration and quality settings of 3D printing so that you can print objects as easily as you would a sheet of paper in just a few clicks. Nut Hex A2
The highly mechanical world of 3D printers hasn’t traditionally been welcoming to beginners. Most kits require you to assemble dozens of complex pieces which creates a time-consuming initial setup. And once you finally build a 3D printer it requires the knowhow for manually leveling a print bed, bonding layers, and navigating computer programs to find the right balance of settings for each print. This is why the plug and play nature of the new AnkerMake M5 3D Printer is significant—the system snaps together in a two-piece design while its onboard software automates the most grueling parts of the process. Meanwhile the companion AnkerMake computer and phone apps make it easy to wirelessly send an object to the printer and kick off jobs within just a few taps.
Anker’s M5 clears the calibration and software hurdles of the traditional 3D printing experience, standing to help enthusiasts of any level easily print out original or downloaded object files at a consistently high quality. At $799, the machine promises serious value; an easy-to use interface, some of the fastest print speeds of 3D printers under $1,000 (250mm/sec using PLA+ filament which is 5 times faster than the 50mm/sec recommended average), and a built-in HD camera for live monitoring as well as timelapse captures. We’ve spent the past week running the gamut of test prints from tools to action figures to gauge the printer’s performance under constant workloads and see if it delivers on its claims.
While entry-level 3D printers exist (like the fully assembled Toybox 3D Printer from our most recent Gadget Awards), their smaller capacities and slower speeds make it hard to produce multiple prints for prototyping or creating pieces of gear with more than one part. The M5’s large 9.3 x 9.3 x 9.8-inch print bed gives you plenty of room to work with. Putting the machine together is easy; lift the 25-pound box onto a desk, remove a plastic plate from the bottom of the base platform, and bolt in the gantry arms using the included key wrench. All of the electronic wiring is neatly tucked away in and routed along the inside of the body which leads to a harness that plugs directly into each motor with a click. After snapping the plastic plate back into place, all that’s left to do is screw on the filament roll holder. We had this 3D printer’s hardware ready to roll in 15 minutes—a far cry from how long it would take to put together a completely disassembled 3D printer.
This standout ease of use carries into the software experience. As soon as you power on the M5, instructions pop up on the machine’s 4.3-inch color touchscreen, guiding you to app downloads as well as familiarizing you with the onboard auto-level system. You then tap a button to kick off this automated calibration process, which moves the nozzle across the printing bed using a 49-point grid. The nozzle touches down on each individual point to measure how much pressure it feels to adjusts how level it is. Leveling takes just ten minutes and touches each space to accurately straighten out the bed and center the nozzle for even prints. There are no physical dials, knobs, or levers for you to to adjust—all actions are streamlined and take place through this touch interface.
The main menu condenses your button choices to just four options: preheat, controls, settings, and print. While the preheat and print buttons are self-explanatory, the controls button houses an option for manual axis adjustments in increments of 0.1, 1, and 10 millimeters. The settings tab contains your Wi-Fi connection information, a toggle switch for temperature measurement units between degrees Fahrenheit and Celsius, as well as a button to check for software upgrades. In our week with the printer, we rarely touched the preheat button, since the system preheats itself upon starting a new print job. Both the nozzle and print bed reached their target temperatures of 436 and 130 degrees F within 2 minutes and 28 seconds on average (measured from a cold start with a surface temperature of 68 degrees F). That’s a third of the 7 minute 30 second median preheat time of comparable 3D printers.
The M5 comes preloaded with two test objects: a model toy boat and AutoDesk’s 3D Printer test shape, which helps gauge dimensional accuracy, resolution, and alignment. If you want to print models other people have designed, you’ll need to download their 3D object files, which come in either OBJ or STL format from a website like Thingiverse. To design your own printable object, you’ll need to download a free design program like Fusion360 and export your creation as a 3D file. No matter where you get your 3D model from, you will need to import it into the included AnkerMake Slicer computer software. After importing an existing model into this app, you hit the green “slice” button to convert it into a G-code file format that’s readable by the printer. You can then move this onto a USB-C flash drive and plug that directly into the printer or send it wirelessly to the printer via Wi-Fi. Admittedly, the lack of an SD card reader or even a USB-A port is inconvenient if you prefer to work locally using physical storage like a traditional flash drive. You’ll need to purchase a separate USB-C flash drive (we recommend this SanDisk model) if this is how you like to print your files. To the printer’s credit, we’ve yet to encounter any wireless disconnects despite being on the fringe of our office’s Wi-Fi network that averages around just 12 Mbps on a good day.
From the AnkerMake app, you can see each individual layer and linetype of an object, along with how many grams of filament and the amount of time it will take to print based on its default speed of 250mm/sec. By default, the program opens into a “simple” mode where you have control over just the three adjustments: layer height (thickness), infill percentage (density), and scale, which impacts speed and quality. A dropdown menu lets you select a more advanced “expert mode” for fine-tuning dozens of complex aspects like line width, wall height, and nozzle travel. This granular level of control gives you the ability to tinker around with a prototype to get the best possible result. If you’re a beginner, you can grow with the M5 printer if you choose to dive even deeper into the hobby, while existing 3D printer owners may want to give the M5 a look for its faster print speeds.
The M5 comes with PLA+ filament out of the box but can also use ABS, PETG, and TPU materials. Before creating our prints, we locked the printer to its default settings of a 0.2mm layer height and 20 percent infill then set our testing parameters for accuracy, speed, and quality. To gauge scale accuracy, we used a ruler to measure prints and compared the results to the dimension targets within the AnkerMake software. Next, we used a stopwatch to find actual print times then compared them to the software’s estimated time (based on the 250mm/sec speed) to gauge how close the M5 comes to this figure and how often there were deviations. Lastly, we used a rating scale ranging from 1 to 5 to assign each print a score on quality and integrity while looking for loose strings, bridging between gaps, and unevenness in structures.
The M5 Speeds Past Other Printers
We kicked off our print testing with the toy boat and the AutoDesk test model that came installed on the printer. The ship came out smoothly textured with sharp, reinforced edges at the bow and sides for an impressively rigid shape. Smaller details like cutouts for the door, captains window, and horn all appeared neatly carved out complete with moldings. Moving on to the more complex AutoDesk Test model showed just how sharp the M5 can get, with crisp measurement marks running alongside the base as well as accurate spacing for cylinders that could be punched out. Needle points along the top of this structure gave a good showing of the printer’s control, flexing without snapping. Both prints hovered at the 4.5/5 quality test mark—there was some light bridging between the top gap of the AutoDesk model and some loose strings on the underside of an overhang on the boat. But overall, the render quality is impressive, especially so for the short amount of time it takes to print. Both of these items were also durable enough to withstand repeated drops from a height of 5 feet without breaking.
We logged nearly 24 hours of active print time over the course of three work days as we printed tool parts like these bolt grips, an Allen key wrench handle, and action figures back to back. Despite a demanding workload, the M5 mostly maintained its speed, though larger objects did have significant deviations from their initial estimated time—anywhere from 30 seconds and 3 minutes. At the default settings (layer height of 0.2mm and 20 percent infill), each print job came out at a consistently high quality with distinct textures in the smallest details like the ribbing of a molding on a window. During prints, we were able to leave the M5 in our lab and check on it remotely through the AnkerMake phone app. While this gives you a real-time countdown on your projects, it also lets you grab photo, video, and drop in for a live view remotely. After each job is completed, the M5 shows how much time was saved with the print versus lower speeds as well as stores a time lapse of the print on the cloud.
To challenge the printer, we queued up jointed and interlocking multi-part figures, like the slug above. These complex designs required different levels of filament in hard to reach locations. For the M5 these jobs were as easy as printing a demo cube. Despite the slug’s textured ribbing it finished around the same time as similarly-sized prints. Meanwhile it’s lankier body is just as durable with the ability to wiggle, be pulled in half, and pose in various angles. In all our time using the M5, we didn’t run into a single failed print. Now, if you want to save on time or enhance the quality of a print, you can make adjustments to the layer height (a lower size means more detail) or infill (higher percentage translates to better durability).
The photo below best illustrates the differences tweaking these settings lead to. We reproduced the same calibration cube in the lowest layer height size of 0.1mm (slowest speed, best quality), the default 0.2mm, and highest option 0.4mm (fastest speed, low quality). Setting the height to the lowest option of 0.1mm took the longest time to print at 27 minutes and 42 seconds, but provided the richest amount of detail on the left cube where the Z is more pronounced and the texture is the smoothest. Meanwhile, the base level in the center of the lineup is sharp enough for everyday prints and took just over 14 minutes to print. The cube on the right uses the higher layer to sacrifice overall sharpness for faster print speeds of just 9 minutes and 14 seconds, best seen in the blurrier letter Z and less defined edges. So, while you can expect a solid print without changing a thing from the default settings, keep in mind that you can easily prioritize speed or quality with a click from AnkerMake’s simple mode.
There are many things this 3D printer gets right, but sound isn’t one of them. Sitting on a desk in our open office, the M5 quickly became distracting, as it makes a grinding noise when working on finer details like raised lips or grooves in textures on small objects. For the most part, it sounds like a printer constantly going back and forth, so you won’t want this sitting on or near your desk.
On the software front, the AnkerMake phone app will likely be a convenient way for most people to pick an object and print it. Unfortunately, we can’t speak to this just yet as we were provided a review unit ahead of the December release, so some software features aren’t fully developed. For example, clicking on the phone app’s discovery tab that says “Coming Soon” but we assume you’ll be able to browse designs to print. For now, you can use the important aspects of the app for real-time notifications, a live feed, and control over axis levels (in 0.1, 1, and 10mm increments). At the end of each project, the HD camera automatically creates a time lapse.
Anker’s 3D printing debut is the first printer that truly almost anyone can just pick up and start using. It can get loud like other printers, but the built-in camera system makes it possible to leave it in another room and keep an eye on progress through the desktop or mobile app. While the M5 is sure to inspire some competition, the $799 price will be challenging to keep up with. If you’ve ever been curious about 3D printing, this is the perfect entry. And if you find your existing 3D printer too slow, the M5 is likely worth upgrading to for the 250mm/sec average print speed and high level of detail.
Hunter Fenollol, our resident expert of all things consumer tech, from smart home to VR gaming headsets, has years of knowledge creating product explainers, in-depth reviews, and buying guides to help you get the most from the latest electronics. Throughout college, he covered and reviewed the latest gadget releases for sites like Tom’s Guide, Laptop Magazine, and CNN Underscored. If he’s not elbow-deep in the latest hardware, you can find Hunter at one of Long Island’s many beaches, in Manhattan, or gambling away his paycheck.
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