Epson WorkForce 600 Review

Glossy black or piano black has become a chic color for everything from cell phones to car dashboards — and now for all-in-one inkjet printers, judging by the handsome Epson WorkForce 600.

The tony black top panel, flatbed scanner lid, and front-mounted memory-card reader offset the unit’s matte black case and show off a lavish tilt control panel with plus-sized instead of tiny buttons and a ditto (2.5-inch) color LCD for menu options and photo previews.

The top model in a new Epson small-business and home-office line dubbed WorkForce, the 600 also attracts attention with a $200 price — currently instant-rebated and retail-discounted to $150. That relatively humble sum lets you check off almost everything on a multifunction printer shopper’s shopping list: fax as well as print/copy/scan capability; the above-mentioned flash-card slots and LCD for photo printing; an automatic document feeder to handle multipage copying or faxing jobs.

You’ll also find both Ethernet and WiFi as well as USB 2.0 connectivity, so a small office can share or a solo user can switch between desktop and laptop. The only missing item is automatic duplex (double-sided) printing.

And you may not mind that much once you see the Epson in action: While the page-per-minute numbers on the box are exaggerated, the claim about about laser-quality text at twice the speed of competitive models is for the most part accurate. The 600 is one of the fastest inkjets we’ve tested, with some of the sharpest default-quality or everyday-mode output we’ve seen.

We were also impressed that Epson sells a black ink cartridge for the WorkForce that’s rated for a spectacular 830-odd pages, promising less frequent cartridge-swapping. With the company pricing that cartridge at $28.50 and 300-page cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges at $12.35 apiece, our calculator forecasts 3.4 cents per black and white and 15.4 cents per color page — the latter is pretty average, but the former is thriftier than many other inkjets.

(Unfortunately, the starter cartridges supplied in the box don’t last as long as advertised; Epson insists they’re full instead of half-empty as many evil printer manufacturers’ in-box ink and toner cartridges are, but explains that they lose some of their ink during initial setup and priming.)

If it sounds like the WorkForce 600 made a favorable impression on us, it did indeed — except for one quirk that sharp-eyed owners or their clients might catch. More on that in a minute.

Epson WorkForce 600
Among inkjet all-in-ones, the Epson WorkForce 600 offers the best mix of bargain price and high performance that we’ve seen.

Basic Black

At 18 pounds, the Epson feels sturdier than many of the bargain-priced all-in-ones that have seen duty on the Labs, Weather, & Sports Desk. With its rear-mounted vertical input and front output catch trays extended, it takes about 18 by 22 inches of desk space and stands about a foot high.

Setup involves lifting the scanner unit and reaching into slightly cramped confines to push four business-card-sized cartridges into their slots — black (twice as thick as the others), magenta, yellow, and cyan — and closing the latch that holds them in place.

A separate instruction manual speeds network setup; making an 802.11b/g connection requires linking the printer and your PC via Ethernet temporarily before going wireless. We used the USB 2.0 interface for our testing (no, Virginia, there is no USB cable in the box).

Epson provides ABBYY FineReader OCR software for scanning paper documents into editable text (the 2,400-dpi flatbed scanner has its own scan-to-PDF capability), plus ArcSoft Print Creations for making cards, calendars, and the like. The latter is an oddly family- or consumer-oriented choice for this office productivity hub — we’re used to seeing all-in-ones bundled with document management, photo editing, or other more potent applications.

The Epson’s roaring paper intake and whipping-back-and-forth printhead were so loud they made us jump when we printed our first few pages in draft or high-speed mode. Thankfully, normal- and best-quality modes and photo printing were quieter, though the WorkForce isn’t a printer you’ll want to put next to your phone.

PC-Free Productivity

The 600’s controls are so straightforward that we found ourselves poking the 2.5-inch LCD as if it were a touch screen once or twice. It isn’t (not in this price range, anyway), but a little patience and keeping an eye on the menu prompts that appear at the bottom of the display will let you accomplish just about anything.

It’s not unusual — actually, it’s closer to mandatory these days — to see a multifunction device offer walk-up copying, letting you push a few buttons to specify number of copies (max 99), brightness or density, and zoom or fit-to-page as you would with a standalone photocopier, even if your PC’s switched off or not connected to the device.

The Epson can not only do that, but provide PC-free scanning of documents or photo prints to a memory card — the front-mounted slots handle CF, SD/SDHC, MMC, MS/MS Pro, and xD formats — or USB flash drive for later transfer to a PC. In a particularly handy trick, the WorkForce can serve as a data backup device, copying photos from your camera’s memory card to a USB flash drive or optical drive.

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