Here we are a year and a half (or so) after Epson first released its consumer- and small-office-grade EcoTank “supertank” printers in the United States, It’s a product introduction that, if you believe what the Japanese electronics giant tells us, has met with huge success.
While we complained for years about inkjet-printer makers selling ink for exorbitant per-page prices (and like to think that we did our bit to spur change), when EcoTank printers came out, we wondered whether U.S. consumers would recognize the benefit of paying more for the printer up front to save on the ongoing cost of ink. EcoTank printers, like the Expression ET-2550 EcoTank All-in-One, after all, are priced at four or five times more than their non-“supertanker” counterparts.
If what Epson told us about EcoTank printer sales is accurate (and we have no reason to believe that it’s not), consumers indeed have embraced this new way to buy printers. The release of the $279.99 Expression ET-2600 EcoTank All-in-One (today’s review model) and its $20-more-expensive ET-2650 EcoTank sibling marks round two in what we have recently dubbed the “big ink” wars. (Both are upgrades to the Expression ET-2550.) Epson, by expanding the EcoTank product line, has co-signed this pay-more-now-to-pay-less-later approach to selling printers, while Brother, with its INKvestment product line, came onboard a while back. And Canon recently joined the fray with its new MegaTank Pixma G-series machines. It’s clear: This battle of the ink bottle is on.
Instead of using standard ink cartridges, Epson’s EcoTank printers, like Canon’s MegaTank machines, deploy relatively large reservoirs that you fill with ink from bottles. (Brother’s INKvestment products continue to use cartridges.) In either case, the idea is the same: lower running costs, higher initial purchase prices.
Which brings us back to the Expression ET-2600. As mentioned, Epson offers two Expression ET-2600-series models. The difference between them: The Expression ET-2650 comes with a slot for printing from SD cards, and it supports Wi-Fi Direct (a peer-to-peer protocol that allows you to print from and scan to mobile devices without a network). If you need either of these features, spending the additional $20 for the Expression ET-2650 seems like a no-brainer to us.
Aside from rock-bottom running costs, what the Expression ET-2600 and ET-2650 have going for them is excellent print quality; we’ll discuss that in more detail in the Output Quality section later on. In fact, graphics and photo quality are exceptional, with only one caveat: The Expression ET-2600, like its predecessor, can’t print borderless documents or photos. We’ll look at why that’s important, also, later on.
As we’ve said about other EcoTank (and Canon MegaTank) models, don’t let the price fool you. This is above all else a low-volume, entry-level printer priced to save you money on the ongoing per-page price of ink. And from that perspective, it works. It prints well and costs very little to use, and it provides the ability to scan and copy, also on a low-volume basis. If that’s all you need, the Expression ET-2600 should serve you well.
While devices that extend your Wi-Fi signal to eliminate dead zones in your home or office abound, you won’t find many that double as home security hubs. But that’s exactly what you get with Zmodo’s $49.95 Beam Alert. By itself, Beam Alert is just one more way to make your home network and Internet connection accessible in the back bedroom or upstairs, but with the addition of the company’s multiple accessories—door and window sensors, motion and smoke detectors, video cameras, gas and carbon monoxide detectors, and alarms—you can turn your wireless network and smartphone into a home security system.
If all you need is simple Wi-Fi extension, it’s easy to find less-expensive solutions, such as Netgear’s AC750 Wi-Fi Range Extender. And yes, there are devices, such as D-Link’s Wi-Fi Audio Extender, that do more than merely extend your wireless signal. There’s also several wireless security solutions, including Stack Lights BeOn bulbs and the iSmartAlarm. However, Beam Alert is the only combined Wi-Fi extender and security system we know of. When you think about it, though, the matchup makes a lot of sense.
While there are plenty of innovative wireless pointing devices available, few are as light, compact, interesting, and mobile as Microsoft’s Arch Touch Bluetooth Mouse. It’s designed primarily as an accessory for the company’s Surface Book PCs (it’s the same light-gray color), but since it’s a standard pointing device, it also works with most laptops or tablets running a recent version of Windows (and some MacBooks) that support Bluetooth. The Arc Touch mouse is, when turned off, ultra-thin, making it easy to slip in to your pocket or some other tight spot.
The Arc Touch mouse is unique in design. Even so, just about any other small wireless “travel” pointing device, such as Logitech’s M535 Bluetooth Mouse ($39.99) or Microsoft’s own Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 ($29.99), is a direct competitor. You can pick up the Arc Touch mouse for about $40, which is a bit high for a small mouse like this, especially considering that you can buy the EasyGlide Wireless 3-button Travel Mouse, and several others, for as little as $20. That said, you’ll have trouble finding a mobile mouse as easy to carry around with you than the slim and petite Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse, and like most Microsoft peripherals, it’s well-built, durable, and somewhat elegant.
Essentially a faster version of the Brother PDS-5000 we reviewed recently, the $1,399.99 Brother PDS-6000 High-Speed Color Desktop Scanner is a fast and accurate sheet-feed document scanner for high-volume use in small and medium-size offices and workgroups. Speed-wise, it’s rated slightly higher than its less expensive sibling and that model’s comparably priced competitor, the Editors’ Choice HP ScanJet Enterprise Flow 7000. In testing, it did manage to scan faster and save to image PDF a little quicker than both the PDS-5000 and ScanJet 7000, but not enough to warrant the PDS-6000’s $500 price difference. Besides, when saving to the more useful searchable PDF format, it fell well behind the ScanJet 7000 and other competitors. Even so, if raw imaging speed is what you’re looking for, the PDS-6000 hardware is among the fastest we’ve recently seen in this class.
A high-volume sheet-fed document scanner designed for heavy workloads in medium-to-large offices and workgroups, the $899.99 Brother PDS-5000 High-Speed Color Desktop Scanner is fast and accurate. But compared with the similarly priced Editors’ Choice HP ScanJet Enterprise 7000 s3 Sheet-Feed Scanner, it comes up somewhat short in performance and features. In testing, the PDS-5000 wasn’t quite as fast at saving to searchable PDF, nor as accurate, as the ScanJet, and the Brother model’s software bundle isn’t as well-rounded. The PDS-5000 does have a higher capacity automatic document feeder (ADF), though, and it’s more than quick and accurate enough to make it a serious contender for use in medium-to-heavy scanning environments.
A recent addition to the ScanJet family, the ScanJet Pro 2000 s1 Sheet-feed Scanner ($299.99) is a capable low-volume document scanner comparable in capacity and features to the Editors’ Choice Canon imageFormula DR-C225, as well as the adept Brother ADS-2000e. The ScanJet 2000 is fast for the price, and its optical character recognition (OCR) accuracy is about average. It comes with a comprehensive software bundle consisting of top-drawer OCR and document and business card management programs, making it an exceptional value. In testing, it fell behind some competitors when saving to searchable PDF, but not enough to keep us from recommending it as a strong, inexpensive choice for small and micro offices and workgroups, or as a personal document scanner.
There’s portable, and then there’s portable. With the $149 IRIScan Anywhere 5 WiFi manual sheet-feed document scanner, all you need to take with you is the scanner itself. No cables, laptop, tablet, or smartphone are required. The difference between it and its competitors, the Editors’ Choice Visioneer RoadWarrior X3 and Canon imageFormula P-215II Scan-tini Personal Document Scanner, is that the Anywhere 5 runs on a rechargeable battery and scans to a MiniSD card. In scans quickly and accurately, but short battery life and the inability to scan directly to its bundled software mean it falls just short of an Editors’ Choice nod.
There’s no shortage of mobile keyboards in the world. Some, such as EC Technology’s Bluetooth Ultra-Slim Keyboard and the Jorno Keyboard, fold in thirds. Others, including VisionTek’s Waterproof Bluetooth Mini Keyboard and today’s review unit, Microsoft’s Universal Foldable Keyboard, fold in half. Nearly all are water resistant to some degree, and most of them support all three of the standard tablet and smartphone operating systems: Android, iOS, and Windows.
Akin to its Surface 3 and Surface 3 Pro Type Cover keyboard sibling, Microsoft’s mobile keyboard is light, compact, and easy to use. And like most Microsoft keyboards (and other peripherals), it’s well-designed and well-built, if somewhat expensive. If you shop around, you can find it for around $70. You can pick up the VisionTek model for as little as $20, though, and the iClever BK03 Ultra Slim Mini Bluetooth Keyboard, yet another competitor, sells for about $36. At nearly two-thirds of a C-note, do you get what you pay for?
At the risk of dating ourselves, not only do we remember when the highest-capacity hard drive you could buy was 10 megabytes (10MB), but some of us here at Computer Shopper actually owned machines with this piddling amount of storage in them. (A few of us go all the way back to when PCs had no hard drives at all, but instead stored the operating system and data on floppy disks that held less than a megabyte. Ah. Those were the days…) If you have that kind of perspective on the industry, you know that it’s remarkable not only that storage devices holding as much as 8 terabytes (8TB) exist, but also that you can buy them for less than $250.
As we wrote this in mid-March 2017, the subject of today’s review, the 8TB WD My Book, was on sale on Western Digital’s Web site for $229.99. That comes out to less than 3 cents per gigabyte (GB). Considering that at one time you would have paid as much as $10 per megabyte (or more)…well, then. In those days, though, you really couldn’t store and edit massive videos and photos on your personal computer, and computer games, such as they were, took up very little disk space. Even so, for many years we had to police what we stored on our PCs to control the capacity being used. Every few months or so, we’d have to prune data and program files to make room for others—all the while taking great care not to delete anything important, such as critical system or program files that kept our computers and applications running.
Not anymore. Nowadays, in this terabyte age, most of us download and install just about anything we want without much thought toward how much space it eats up. Take it from those of us who spent years operating from a mindset that computer storage was at a premium: A multi-terabyte drive, and the ability to save what and whenever you want, really does provide convenience and freedom.
Which brings us back to the product we’re reviewing. This new My Book is a multi-generational iteration of a product that has been around since 2006, with the first actual terabyte (1TB) version of the My Book showing up in late 2007. These days, Western Digital sells four versions of My Book, starting with a 3TB model for $100. You can also buy, in addition to the 8TB version, 4TB and 6TB My Books. The larger the drive, of course, the higher the overall price—but the lower the per-gigabyte cost.
Inexpensive storage is not unique to WD’s My Books. Seagate, one of the other big, established names in consumer data storage, offers the 8TB version of the Seagate Backup Plus Hub for about the same price. The primary reason this type of storage is so inexpensive is that spinning hard drives have reached a comfortable plateau. Top drive capacities still advance at a steady march, but the external desktop drive itself is, at the core, yesteryear’s technology. The drives are a bit bulky, and they contain moving parts, meaning they’ll never approach the speeds of today’s flash-memory-based drives.
Plus, desktop-style models (like the two mentioned here) employ big, cost-efficient 3.5-inch drives inside, the kind meant for desktop PCs or servers, and thus require an external power source. That’s in contrast to portable drives that use 2.5-inch mechanisms inside, the type used in laptops. Portable drives draw their power over the same USB connection that sends data back and forth between the storage device and the computing device.
All of these concerns—bulky size, external power, slower speeds—make desktop drives like this one less about portable storage than so-called near-line storage, a bulk repository for keeping your data at hand, but not by the fastest and costliest means. The WD My Book (and its competitors) are meant to stay put most of the time, and while they’re slow compared to flash solutions, that low cost per gigabyte is attractive for storing massive amounts of data cost-effectively.
If that’s what you’re looking for, we recommend the WD My Book (8TB), though Seagate’s offerings at this capacity are strong, too.
It’s been a while since we’ve reviewed an OKI Data stand-alone (that is, print-only) color printer. The most recent was the wide-format-capable OKI C831n back in March of 2014. Like the subject of our review here today, this was also a laser-class printer.
We call these machines “laser-class” because, though they look and act like laser printers, they use light-emitting-diode (LED) arrays, rather than actual lasers, to etch page images onto the printer drum, which the toner in turn adheres to. It’s a small technical distinction, but we make it because in places, printers like these are referred to by their proper name: LED printers. Today’s review subject, the $789-list OKI C612n, is indeed an LED-based machine.
For a while there, most of the major laser-printer manufacturers—Dell (really Samsung, behind the scenes), HP, OKI, Canon, Brother—deployed LEDs in some of their laser-class machines. Why? Because LED arrays are cheaper to manufacture, and they’re smaller, allowing printer makers to make less-expensive, smaller, and lighter machines. Nowadays, we don’t see as many LED-based printers as we once did, but OKI still deploys them in a significant portion of its product line.
In addition to being less costly and smaller (since they have fewer moving parts), LED arrays can also be more reliable than their laser counterparts. On the other hand, laser-based mechanisms are typically more precise; they have only one light source, so every pixel gets the same amount of illumination, making for a higher degree of consistency. LED arrays have thousands of LEDs, and, as a result, illumination can and does vary among them. In addition, the number of LEDs in an array determines the printer’s resolution, where most laser printers support more than one dots-per-inch setting.
Does this mean that laser output is inherently superior to LED prints? It’s not that simple. Let’s say that it can be, depending on the consistency of the LEDs across the array, and to an extent that can depend on how well it’s built. What we will say is that we’ve seen some LED-array-based printers, such as the OKI C831n mentioned above, that churn out some darn good-looking prints. So, like in so many things in life, the answer to our question is: It depends.
Which brings us back to the OKI C612dn. Currently, OKI offers two C612-series machines: the model we’re reviewing, the OKI C612dn, and the $649-list OKI C612n. The “d” stands for “duplex,” or automatic two-sided printing. In other words, to get auto-duplexing from a C612 model, you’ll have to fork out an additional $140 (or thereabouts, depending on the street prices of the printers that day). Apart from the duplexing distinction, these two printers are essentially the same.
Compared to some laser printers reviewed recently, such as the $999-list Dell Color Smart Printer S5840Cdn and the $800-MSRP HP LaserJet Enterprise M553dn, the OKI C612dn’s output is slightly subpar. And compared to that pricier Dell competitor, the running costs (the per-page cost of toner) is a little high. (For a detailed description of print quality, see the Output Quality section near the end of this review; for running costs, refer to the Cost Per Page section.) On the other hand, another benefit (aside from smaller machines) of LED-based printers is that they use significantly less power than their laser-based counterparts.
That said, whether the OKI C612dn is right for you really depends on what you’re looking for. The truth is that we’d feel much better about recommending this OKI model were its running costs a little lower. If you print thousands of pages each month, a fraction of a cent for each page can make a big difference in the ongoing cost of ownership. Other than that issue, though, the OKI C612dn is a highly capable laser printer with better-than-passable output for most business scenarios.