Epson WorkForce 600 Review - Page 2

By Eric Grevstad | Posted January 06, 2009

Nor do you need your PC to select JPEG images to print from a memory card, whether by browsing and picking them on the LCD or printing an index or thumbnail sheet on which you mark your chosen images, then run the sheet through the scanner. An Auto Correct feature offers to optimize brightness, contrast, and saturation, while you crop photos via a menu option previewed on the display.

Fax addicts will find everything but a handset, with a speed-dial list of up to 60 numbers, a group-dial list of up to 30 individuals or speed-dial lists, and enough onboard memory to hold 180 faxes.

Lest we forget amongst all these other features, the WorkForce 600 is a printer. Epson's software driver provides a full range of options ranging from N-up and poster printing to watermarks and on-the-fly photo tweaking and red-eye fixing while printing. You'll also find one or two more speed-versus-quality modes than usual: not only Text mode for plain word processing but Text and Image for documents with illustrations or PDFs or PowerPoints, and both Photo and Best Photo modes (select either and a pop-up urges you to use photo paper instead of the plain stuff).

Welcome to the Fast Lane

Epson says the 600 can crank out 38 pages per minute in draft mode, slowing by a relatively small percentage to 27 and 19 ppm for "laser quality" black and color output, respectively. Our real-world tests fell short of those advertised speeds, which didn't surprise us -- it's the immutable law of inkjet printers.

What did surprise us is that we've never seen such a negligible difference in speed or throughput between draft and normal printouts -- nor such a gigantic difference in quality between them.

The Epson's draft-mode output is awful. Sure, it's quick -- it printed our one-page business letter with spot-color company logo in 8 seconds and a five-page, all-text Microsoft Word document in 23 seconds. But it's faint, wobbly, pale, barely readable at 8-point size, with embarrassingly bad graphics.

So what happens when you go one step higher, to what the driver calls Text mode? Well, the 600's output is positively transformed -- not quite laser-like on plain paper, but with dark, well-defined text, perfectly legible at 6 points and readable at 4 points. Graphics were clear, with smooth gradients and only a little trace of banding in most solid-color areas.

But what's really laser-like is its speed. The one-page letter took only one second longer in Text than it did in Draft, while the five-page text file arrived in the exact same 23 seconds and a 20-page version took 1 minute and 32 seconds. The ISO 24712 document used to test printers' ink cartridge yield -- a five-page mix of text, charts, and test patterns -- took 59 seconds. Our colorful 55-page PDF document printed in 8 minutes and 15 seconds, although some of its solid-color graphs suffered from banding.

After those eye-opening results, the next rung on the quality-level ladder -- Text and Image -- was less dazzling. True, its output was slightly darker and crisper on plain paper, but except for the most important client presentations we don't think it's worth the drop in throughput: The business letter took 26 seconds and the ISO document and 55-page PDF more than doubled their wait times, to about two and a half and 20 minutes, respectively.

We couldn't see a lot of difference between Photo and Best Photo mode, either. The latter proved a tiny bit sharper, but both were about as good as four-color (as opposed to artistic six- or more-color) inkjet printing gets, with only slight grainy areas or plasticky flesh tones. Using Photo mode on glossy paper, 8 by 10-inch prints took about a minute and a half and borderless 4 by 6-inch pics about a minute and a quarter apiece. Best Photo mode roughly doubled those times.

Torque Steer?

So what's the one glitch we mentioned earlier? It has to do with paper feeding. While the 30-page automatic document feeder works well, we sometimes had snags with the 600's Lexmark-style vertical input tray at the rear, particularly when we inserted the rated maximum of 100 sheets: Some of the front-most pages slipped an inch or so below the skinny shelf that's supposed to hold paper.

We didn't see the result at first, but on closer inspection printouts showed a small skew -- printed pages were the tiniest bit crooked, with, say, the left margin on one page increasing by an eighth of an inch from top to bottom. It was noticeable on letter-size borderless photos, with tiny blank areas in opposite corners, and on one of the Epson's control-panel extras: printing graph or lined paper for later pen or pencil use.

This may have been a unique fault of our test unit -- we've read several other (lesser -- Ed.) sites' reviews of the 600 but none mention a skew. Careful paper loading prevented it, or at least shrank it to almost imperceptible size, but we're just mentioning it for the record. For that matter, we should mention that registered owners of the Epson enjoy a two- instead of the usual one-year warranty.

One quibble aside, the WorkForce 600 is a winner. Among inkjet all-in-ones, it's the best mix of bargain price and high performance we've seen.

Adapted from Hardwarecentral.com.

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