It’s tech review, it’s Dave:
We all know that everything is on-line nowadays. It’s quick and convenient to do pretty much anything because it’s all there available for you on the internet. Banking, booking hotels, shopping and all your accounts. They’re all there at the click of a button or the tap of a screen. The downside of this is that no one sends you anything through the post any more (or if they do they do it for an extra charge!). All your statements are on-line and any tickets or gate passes you need are emailed to you. That means you need a printer now more than ever before.
Of course there’s always one available at the local library, but good luck trying to find your library card at 16:30 on a Sunday afternoon when your flight leaves in two hours and you realise you haven’t printed your boarding passes yet!
In the past there were two different approaches to printers. You either bought an expensive printer and got your ink cheap(ish) or you bought a cheap printer and paid through the nose for your ink. Recently however the home printing paradigm has changed. ‘Eco’ printers are all the rage. These are printers where you refill the ink yourself from bottles to reduce waste. Putting aside my scepticism about how much waste this actually saves (you’re still throwing away four plastic bottles every time you refill it after all) these printers work exactly as you’d expect but the cost is comparable with buying cartridges. Approx £20 – £30 for each refill. We had an Epson one for a long while that we got as a review and it did it’s job admirably. It was quite an expensive one though.
HP have a different idea though. They think refilling your own ink is for chumps and have created a printer that uses normal cartridges but through the magic of the internet means you never run out of ink! It’s called Instant Ink. To try this idea out they sent us a new HP Instant Ink ready printer and an equivalent Epson eco-tank printer. These are fairly cheap as printers go. The HP one is £60 and the Epson is £100. HP also set me up with a load of tests to put these printers through their paces. It’s like a science experiment! So once I donned my white lab coat (I always keep one handy) I set about testing these printers.
Getting Set Up
HP had suggested a variety of tests but the first one was setting them up. I started with the Epson EcoTank. The box is well packed with sturdy foam. The instructions were easy to follow and actually filling the ink tanks isn’t hard. You take the bottle of ink and snap off the top, turn it over and squeeze it into the tank. On the Magenta and Yellow inks things went smoothly. However I did manage to get ink all over my hands with both the Cyan and Black inks. It seemed as though there was more ink in these bottles which meant that as you got to the end of the bottle you were at the top of the tank. Meaning you end up with ink in the tank touching the top of the bottle. This then runs down the bottle and all over your hands as you finish your filling operations. Gloves might be an idea if you ever try it. It took me about 20 mins from opening the box to finishing the filling. This included about 5 minutes hand scrubbing time! Once you’ve done that you have to let the ink ‘charge’ which took about 15 mins.
The Epson is a nice looking unit. It’s all black shiny plastic. I particularly liked the fact it has a transport lock which stops the ink from coming out of the tank during, you guessed it, transport. Next you have to set it up on your network. I struggled here. The recommended way resulted in 20 mins of failure. I swapped to WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), it’s available on most newish routers and basically allows you to pair a device to your router with the touch of a button. This worked immediately which was good as I wasn’t particularly looking forward to repacking the thing to send it back! After you’re connected to the network it does a quick check for any firmware updates and installs them. Finally you have the choice to install the additional software which allows you to scan and such. Worth having in my opinon, so I installed that too. In total set up took me over an hour including the messing around and hand cleaning, which isn’t great but you only have to do it once.
Next was the HP. Again well packed with good instructions. However with the HP you are instructed to turn it on far earlier in the set-up process than with the Epson. This is because the HP comes with a small touch screen on the front. This provides little animations of your next steps which was a help and is a nice touch. As I mentioned above the HP uses cartridges so there’s no mess from pouring ink and there was no charging either. In total it took me 16 minutes to set up the printer, including installing software and connecting to the network. Once the printer is on and you’ve put some paper in it, it prints a test page of lines and characters. This is then used to set up the alignment of the scanner. Neat idea. I particularly like the fact the paper is fed in from the front of the printer below where the printed sheets are dispensed. So you can get the unit right up to the wall. There’s also a second tray for photo paper in 4 x 6″ size so you don’t have to change the paper to print a picture. Handy.
Onto the printing tests (If you can’t be bothered to read about the specifics of the tests then by all means jump ahead to the conclusion where I’ll sum it all up, but if you’d like to know all the details then please read on you curious critter you.) The first was a quality test and involved printing a single page recipe, in both draft and normal quality on standard paper. The HP was noticeably quicker to print and did so with a far higher quality. The Epson showed banded lines across the picture on the recipe. No such lines on the HP in either draft or normal quality. I’m a suspicious chap so I wondered if the paper that HP had supplied was designed to work better with HP printers. To test this supposition I got some of our really cheap paper and printed the same test on both printers. Once again the HP reigned supreme as the Epson showed the banded lines across the page again.
The second quality test was on a longer eight page document. A brochure for a very nice looking house this time. Again printed in both draft and normal settings. As before the HP was the quickest and printed at a far higher quality than the Epson. There really isn’t much of a comparison to be made if I’m honest. The draft quality on the HP is better than the normal quality on the Epson. A thing to note is that the HP prints the last page of the document first. Meaning when the document is finished printing it is in the correct order from the get go. The Epson doesn’t do this which means you have to reorder the document once it’s finished. It’s not the biggest issue in the world but if you were printing a very large document it means unnecessary work.
Our third test is a speed test and the first time I got to see the printing of a photo. The picture in question was a combination of six smaller pictures. The printer quality was to be at the highest setting. On the Epson, printing a picture on the premium paper means manually changing the paper and adjusting the paper guides. On the HP you just have to change the paper drawer in software which is less of a faff. The Epson took 74 seconds to print the picture. Which isn’t the end of the world for the occasional picture. However there are some noticeable peculiarities in the finished article. The highlights are really blown out giving an odd look to the pictures. The picture of the baby on the bottom left looks positively demonic. Not ideal for sending to proud Grandparents! The HP on the other hand, took 47 seconds to print this picture on the highest quality setting, which is noticeably quicker. The real story is the quality though. This picture on the premium paper was excellent. Nearly as good as a picture you’d get back from a professional printers. Top notch. As before there is no comparison in the quality stakes.
Next in our suite of tests was a series of smudge tests. The first was a dry smudge. Here you print on standard paper in the normal quality setting, a picture of big blocky colours so you’re really putting some ink down, and as soon as it came out of the printer you try to rub it off with your fingers. Long story short neither printer smudged at all. Sounds like a draw to me. The second was a wet smudge. In this you print off another picture on the premium picture paper on the highest quality settings and then try and smudge it with a wet tissue. In this regards the Epson actually won. With the ink on the Epson going nowhere while the blacks on the HP smudged quite readily. If I’m honest I used a wet wipe instead of a wet tissue as they were to hand (they always are in our house) and I didn’t see it would make much difference but maybe it did? Who knows. Regardless it was the HP which smudged and the Epson wins one. The next was the water test. Similar to the last one but in this you actually spill/pour water onto the pic and ‘clean it up’ with a paper towel. I actually used the specified equipment for this one. Again the Epson didn’t smudge but the HP did. Col has since spoken to someone from HP and they were very surprised that there printer failed these tests but they did so it’s in here!
The last of my tests was a Fade test. No the printers don’t do trendy men’s hair cuts! (No I don’t know what he’s talking about either . . . ) Although that would be seriously cool. In this you again print a good quality pic on the premium paper and then leave them on the window sill with half the pic covered with paper to see if it fades in direct sunlight. I left ours for about 3 weeks as the sun can be a bit scarce in Manchester sometimes. I promise that in that time there has been some sun. After all that, neither had faded. It was a bit of a let down really after waiting. Another draw then.
The all important cost conversation
The last thing to talk about is costs. As I said above the HP is nearly half the price of the Epson. The only other variable you’ve got is your ink costs. That’s where things get a little more complicated. The cheapest I found the Epson ink for on-line was £19. That’s for proper Epson ink. You can find supposedly compatible inks a bit cheaper but that’s your call. The official figures for page yield is 6500 pages per ink cartridge. However I’d believe that more if the ink tanks in the Epson weren’t between a 1/6th and an 1/8th empty after the printing tests. I haven’t printed a thousand pages here. The pictures take plenty of ink but not a thousand pages worth. So if you do the sums, 6500 x 4 = 26000 pages. £19/26000 = 0.0073 pence per page. Sounds amazing. However with this, admittedly unusual printing load, the 22 pages I’ve printed have cost approx £2.37. That’s 10.8 pence per page. It still won’t break the bank but it’s not in the same realm as the official numbers.
With the HP you are offered subscription tiers. The cheapest tier, and the one we will be using for this example, is £1.99 a month. That gives you 50 printed pages per month. Black and white or colour. You are allowed roll over any unused pages from month to month into your allowance up to the amount you get per month. So in this tier you’d be allowed to roll over 50 pages. This would give you up to 650 pages a year for £23.88. That’s 3.67 pence per page. Which is a lot more than the official figures for the Epson, but a lot less than what my perceived usage is suggesting. Of course that assumes you’re going to use your allowance in full for the year. You may well not. In which case your price per page will rise. You can change your tier from month to month if you wish. So if you knew you wanted to do a load of printing you could jump up a tier for a month then drop back down. Unfortunately if you go over your allowance you have to pay extra at an inflated rate. On this tier then the extra pages cost £1 per 15 pages, or 6.67 pence per page. The next tier up is £3.49 per month and gets you 100 pages. So you’d have to do some sums to work out if going over your allowance was more cost effective than jumping up a tier.
So, in my opinion the convenience you gain in not having to order ink you lose in having to track your usage to get the best deal. Swings and roundabouts I’m afraid.
HP claim you make up to a 70% saving on ink using their Instant Ink service. For the lowest tier it claims a£78 saving against standard sized HP cartridges. I’ve found HP cartridges for the Envy 5540 online for £23.54 which is practically the cost of a years subscription. So if you use more than one set of cartridges for 650 pages you’re making a saving. I think it’s a fairly safe bet that if you use your allowance to the fullest you’ll be saving money. What isn’t so certain is if, like us, you print infrequently you’d be better off just buying a cartridge when you needed one? That’s a question I can’t answer now. It needs a test of a far longer variety.
In terms of printing quality and speed the HP wins by a country mile. It’s easier and quicker to set up plus you wont risk getting ink on your clothes, hands, face, furniture and possibly children while filling the tanks! In my opinion it looks better sat in your house,the matt finish shows the dust less (A major plus in our house at the minute!), and it’s about the same size as the Epson.
The only place the Epson beat out the HP was in wet smudge tests, but given how poor the quality of pictures were on the Epson I wouldn’t keep them. Smudge free or not!
For us, we’re going to be keeping the HP and using the lowest tier of the Instant Ink subscription for a year to see how it fares. If we use more than one set of cartridges in a year then we’ll be winning. It’s a long term science experiment in the hopes of money saving! Right up my alley then.