We remember, about four or five years ago, when the first Epson Small-in-One printers appeared on the market. Then as now, their key selling point was, of course, size: You could buy an all-in-one (AIO) machine with a very small footprint that printed, copied, and scanned, and tuck it on the corner of your desk. The Expression Home Small-in-Ones have been a mainstay for many years, like the Expression Home XP-410 Small-in-One we reviewed back in 2013, a distant predecessor to the $99.99-MSRP Expression Home XP-440 Small-in-One we are reviewing here today.
The XP-440 is the one on the right; the XP-410 is on the left. Making a few tweaks to a product, up-ticking the name, and releasing it as a new product is common practice among printer makers. Not only does releasing slightly iterated machines with incrementally higher model numbers, year after year, keep the products themselves fresh to an extent (generating new reviews, like this one!), but it also gives us technology journalists something to do. We’re not complaining.
Like the first XP-400 series model, the XP-440 delivers top-notch quality across all of its prime functions. It churns out stellar prints, especially photos, and it scans quite well. This is, however, an entry-level, low-volume AIO printer designed for home and family use. It’s meant for environments that will demand only light usage, and that’s evidenced by its lack of an automatic document feeder (ADF) for sending multipage documents to the scanner without user intervention. That omission is expected in this price range, but it severely limits your scanning capabilities.
Like most other entry-level AIOs of its class, this one, like its predecessors, costs a lot to use, in terms of the per-page price of ink. That’s always a critical issue for us. Historically, we’ve always recommended expensive-to-use machines like this one with the caveat that, because of the running cost, they are practical for only minimal use (say, no more than a few hundred prints or copies per month). Our beef is that the buyers of these entry-level AIOs who actually use their printers day to day end up getting taxed, and heavily, for doing so.
Nowadays, though, with the advent of “supertank” printers like Epson’s own EcoTank models and Canon’s MegaTank AIOs (such as the Epson Expression ET-3600 and Canon Pixma G3200), users have more choices. If you need to print hundreds of pages on your entry-level AIO, you can opt to pay more for the printer itself, with the aim being to pay less for the ink to keep it going. If, on the other hand, you need a printer but will use it little, you can spend less than $100 on a small AIO like the XP-440, in exchange for higher per-page ink costs over its life. If you print only a few pages each month, then the cost of ink is less important. Hence, our perspective on the cost per page typically seen in low-cost entry-level AIOs like this one has changed with the times.
That said, the Epson Expression XP-440’s running costs are, as you’ll see in the Cost Per Page section later on, quite high. Even so, if all you need is to print and make copies on a small scale, the XP-440 is designed to do just that, and it does it quite well.
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.
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.
With its Business Smart series of multifunction printers (MFPs), Brother continues its tradition of offering highly useful business machines that are competitive values, as demonstrated with the wide-format-capable Brother MFC-J6535DW we reviewed recently. (We define “wide-format” here as tabloid printing, to 11×17-inch stock.) That Brother is fast, prints well overall, and, as one of the company’s INKvestment machines, delivers reasonable running costs, especially compared to some tabloid-capable competitors, such as the HP Officejet Pro 7740 Wide-Format All-in-One. (INKvestment models feature high-yield, low-cost ink tanks.) In addition, the MFC-J6535DW not only prints tabloid-size pages, but it can also scan and copy them, as can the Officejet Pro 7740.
Today’s review unit, the $249.99-list Brother MFC-J5830DW, though, cannot do that. It prints tabloid-size pages, but it can only scan, copy, and fax pages up to legal-size, or 8.5×14 inches. Also an INKvestment model, it lists for a little less (about $30) than the larger Brother MFC-J6535DW, but a little more (about $50) than the Officejet Pro 7740. INKvestment printers, along the same rough lines as Epson’s EcoTank and Canon’s MegaTank families of printer, sell for more on the front end, when you purchase them, but keeping them fed with ink costs significantly less, both by the cartridge (in Brother’s case, anyway; the others we mentioned use refillable reservoirs) and on a per-page basis. As we’ll discuss later on, both the MFC-J6535DW and the MFC-J5830DW cost significantly less to use than HP’s Officejet Pro 7740.
On the other hand, the HP model prints better overall, which, depending on what you print, may or may not matter much. Also, if you don’t need a printer that can scan and copy wide-format pages, an advantage of the MFC-J5830DW over the MFC-J6535DW (in addition to price) is that the former is smaller and lighter. That can be important in small offices and workgroups short on space.
A key disadvantage of the MFC-J5830DW, though, is that its automatic document feeder (ADF) can’t scan or copy both sides of two-sided originals without your having to turn them over manually, nor can it print two-sided wide-format documents. The step-up MFC-J6535DW doesn’t have an auto-duplexing scanner, either, but HP’s Officejet Pro 7740 does. We’ll look a little closer at why this feature is important in the section coming up next.
Our bottom line is that the HP Officejet 7740 is more versatile, and it prints graphics and images a little better, but the MFC-J5830DW is much cheaper to use. You should choose the latter (or the MFC-J6535DW, should you need to scan and copy wide-format pages) if you need to print more than a few hundred pages each month, and if you don’t need pristine graphics and images. This is not to say that this Brother model doesn’t print well enough for business applications. It’s really a matter of what features you need and whether running costs outweigh overall print quality. Wherever you land on that spectrum, the Brother MFC-J5830DW is more than adequate for most small-business environments, but we caution you to consider your needs carefully, as the MFC-J6535DW provides better scanning and copying options.
HP started the present-day ink wars a few years back with its Instant Ink subscription service, which was designed to provide users of specific HP printers with a way to buy modest monthly allotments of ink without going into hock. Epson fired back in a big way with its EcoTank family of all-in-one (AIO) machines (a very different approach, but also a new way of looking at ink), to which Brother, in turn, responded with its INKvestment products. It was just a question of time before inkjet biggie Canon joined the battle, too.
Canon’s MegaTank G-series printers are the first fruits of its own new approach to delivering ink. What started as a simple concept—lower running costs on inkjet printers—has evolved into a whole new way to buy printers. Today’s review unit, Canon’s $269.99-list Pixma G2200 MegaTank All-in-One, is one of the latest to join the race, along with three other G-series models, including the Canon Pixma G4200 Wireless All-in-One we reviewed recently. HP may have started all this, but that company’s Instant Ink service is nothing like what the other three inkjet makers we mentioned above have done. The Brother, Canon, and Epson approaches aren’t subscription-based, but their idea is to sell inkjet printers with much of the profit front-loaded into the price of the printer, rather than selling the machine at a loss and then charging an ongoing premium for the ink.
While their concept is the same, all three companies haven’t approached it in quite the same way. Epson’s EcoTank and Canon’s MegaTank products, for instance, draw their ink from reservoirs that you fill from high-yield bottles, while Brother’s INKvestment machines continue to deploy conventional ink cartridges—high-yield cartridges with low per-page costs, but cartridges just the same—with multiple sets of them bundled with certain models of their printers. In any case, the core idea is consistent: You pay more (sometimes a lot more) for the printers themselves, and less for the ink to keep them running.
Canon’s first round of G-series machines comprises a stand-alone (printer-only, non-AIO) model, the Pixma G1200 MegaTank, and three AIOs: today’s review unit, the Pixma G2200; the Pixma G3200 Wireless MegaTank All-in-One; and the flagship model, the Pixma G4200 Wireless All-in-One…
As we pointed out in our review of the Pixma G4200, even though the G series all use the same print engines and come with the same amount of ink, there’s a huge difference in the feature sets among these four printers. The first two (notice that their names don’t include “Wireless”) don’t have Wi-Fi or support for mobile devices, and the Pixma G4200 is the only one with an automatic document feeder (ADF) for passing multiple-page documents to the scanner. And, of course, the least-expensive, print-only Pixma G1200 doesn’t even have a scanner. Even so, as we’ll dig into in the Output Quality section near the end of this review, text and print quality is exceptional. In addition, the Pixma G2200 and its siblings deliver some of the lowest running costs in not only the inkjet-printer market, but among all consumer and small-business printers we know of. (Only Epson’s comparable EcoTank models are in the same class, in that aspect.)
The Pixma G2200 model, looking past the ink costs, is an interesting model, given how it is fitted out. At a $270 list price, the G2200 is the least-expensive “supertanker”-style AIO we know of (the Epson Expression ET-2550 EcoTank All-in-One lists for $10 more), but it and its stand-alone sibling, the Pixma G1200, are two of the very few inkjet printers available these days that don’t support networking and printing from mobile devices. The only way to use them is via a single PC over a direct-wired USB connection.
But hey, if that’s all you need, what this and other G-series models have going for them (other than their exceptionally low running costs) is superb print quality on all fronts: text, graphics, and especially photos. In fact, if you print a lot of images, MegaTank (and perhaps Epson EcoTank) printers might be your best choice. That’s not to say that there aren’t any advantages to five- and six-ink photo-centric machines (the Canon Pixma TS9020’s gray ink tank helps churn out superior gray-scale images, for example), but the Pixma G2200’s photo quality for most scenarios is well beyond acceptable. Given the cost of ink between G-series and TS-series Pixmas (Canon’s consumer-grade photo AIO printers), for frequent photo jobs the Pixma G2200 can save you some serious ink bucks.
It may seem pedestrian in these days of smartphones and VR, but having the ability to print photographs from your desktop—on demand—without spending a fortune on the equipment is truly one of the many marvels of the 21st century. Granted, it’s usually cheaper to take your files to Costco or the nearest drug store, but that’s not nearly as convenient, nor is the quality as good as you can get from home—as long as you use the right equipment. That factor brings us to the topic of today’s review, Canon’s $179.99-MSRP Pixma TS8020 Wireless all-in-one photo printer.
Part of a four-model rollout of the imaging giant’s new Pixma TS series (which replaces the photo-centric Pixma “MG” line), the Pixma TS8020 is a six-ink all-in-one (AIO) photo printer. (We also just looked at the one-step-up Pixma TS9020; hit the link for a review.) As we’ve said in many an MG Pixma review, including that of the Canon Pixma MG7720, few consumer-grade photo printers churn out photos and artwork as well as a six-ink Pixma, and the Pixma TS8020 is no exception. But, as we’ll get into later on, like most photo printers (especially those that deploy six inks), few printers cost as much to use on a per-page ink basis. The Pixma TS8020’s cost of ink is high for an AIO in this price range, but that’s also the case with competing photo-centric models, such as the $299.99-list Epson Expression Photo XP-860 Small-in-One, another six-ink model.
At $20 less than the flagship Pixma TS9020, with the step down the Pixma TS8020 makes you give up very little in terms of print quality, capacity, and features. The more expensive model, for instance, has a slightly larger touch-screen control panel, and it supports Ethernet networking, which the Pixma TS8020 does not. By comparison, the two lower-price TS Pixmas, the Pixma TS6020 and TS5020 ($149.99 MSRP and $99.99 MSRP, respectively), use only five inks, and the Pixma TS6020 has no SD memory-card slot, while the other three do. In addition, the TS5020 comes sans the second paper tray at the rear of the chassis that the other three models have. The line is a mix-and-match of features you may or may not need; you just have to shop it carefully.
Pricing complicates matters, as well. As we were writing this, all but the Pixma TS8020 were discounted on Canon’s site off their list prices, as follows: The Pixma TS9020 was at $179.99 (the same price as the TS8020), the TS6020 was at $99.99, and the TS5020, $79.99. This could change day to day, but at the moment there was little reason to opt for the TS8020 over the TS9020 unless you were to find it cheaper elsewhere. So shop around.
You’ll see some other differences among the four new TS Pixmas (we’ll have most or all of them reviewed in the coming weeks), but one of the biggest is the deployment of six inks versus five, which, as you’d imagine, affects print quality. The missing ink tank in question is “photo gray,” which helps primarily when printing gray-scale images. (We’ll talk more about ink cartridges in the Cost Per Page section later on.)
Normally, we’d say that if you don’t need Ethernet, save yourself $20 by choosing the Pixma TS8020, but as long as Canon is charging the same amount for both the TS9020 and the TS8020, that’s a moot point. Besides, the higher-end model’s larger touch screen (5 inches versus 4.3 inches) is a little nicer and a little easier to use. Otherwise, the differences between the two are minor.
As we said about the Pixma TS9020 and its Pixma MG7720 predecessor, for the price, it’s hard to beat the TS8020’s output, with both photos and documents. That said, the high cost per page and lack of an automatic document feeder (ADF) for sending the scanner multipage documents mean you should not mistake it for an office machine or even a volume-minded workhorse for home. But if an under-$200 photo printer with the convenience of now-and-then document printing and a scanner are what you need (and you don’t need that Ethernet jack), the Pixma TS8020 is a fine, able choice.
For years now, we’ve been reviewing slightly different iterations of the same “MG”-family Pixmas from Canon. (The MG family is, or was, Canon’s consumer line of photo-centric Pixma printers.) Like most printer makers, each year Canon simply added a feature or two, up-ticked the number in the printer’s name (say, from Pixma MG7620 to Pixma MG7720), and then offered it as a new, or more precisely, an “updated” product.
Even though this is common practice among the printer set, reviewing more or less the same printer over and over can get monotonous. We’re happy to report that those days are, at least temporarily, over, where Canon’s Pixma MG-series photo printers are concerned.
Enter the imaging giant’s new Pixma TS series, the MG series’ replacement. The first round of TS Pixmas consists of four all-in-one (AIO) print/scan/copy models. From the least expensive, with the shortest list of features, to the most expensive and feature-rich, the new TS series AIOs are the Pixma TS5020 Wireless ($99.99 MSRP), the Pixma TS6020 Wireless ($149.99 MSRP), the Pixma TS8020 Wireless ($179.99), and the topic of this review, the flagship Pixma TS9020 Wireless. (Computer Shopper will be reviewing most or all of these models in the coming weeks.) The Pixma TS9020 lists for $199.99, though as we were writing this, we found it at Canon U.S.A. and various Canon resellers for $179.99.
The differences in features among the new models include smaller LCDs and paper capacities as you slide down the list. Today’s test unit, the top-dog Pixma TS9020, for example, has a 5-inch touch screen, while the Pixma TS8020’s display is 4.3 inches. This top-of-the-line model supports Ethernet and Near-Field Communication (NFC), but some of the less-expensive AIOs in the series do not. (Of the lot, only the Pixma TS9020 has Ethernet, and both the Pixma TS9020 and TS8020 support NFC.) The three top models have two paper trays, while the Pixma TS5020 has just one—you get the idea. The bottom line in all this is that the Pixma TS9020 is the best-equipped of the four.
While the MG series Pixmas had their issues (no printer is perfect, to be sure), they printed some of the best-looking photos among consumer photo printers. That was especially true of the six-ink Canon Pixma MG7720, the model that the Pixma TS9020 replaces. The Pixma TS9020, like that earlier model, uses six ink cartridges—the same six cartridges, in fact, which unfortunately translates to the same high per-page running costs. As we’ll get into later on, it’s not unusual for consumer-grade photo printers (or any grade of photo printer, for that matter) to have a high cost per page (CPP). Even so, this Pixma’s per-page ink cost carries over and diminishes its value as a document printer, especially if you print more than a couple of hundred document pages per month and are hoping to use this printer as a dual-purpose photo/text workhorse.
Even though the Pixma TS9020 is somewhat expensive to use with all kinds of output, it does offer the best of both worlds from a quality perspective, in that it prints high-quality documents and photos. In keeping with the light-use concept, though, like the MG-series Pixmas none of the models in this new series comes with an automatic document feeder (ADF). Not being able to send multipage documents to the scanner without user intervention will make this a key omission for some home and small offices.
In the end, we have to make the same general statement about this printer that we have about more than a few MG Pixmas in the past. We like the Pixma TS9020 as a photo printer, but the ability to print documents and perform limited scanning and copying should be considered add-ons, conveniences. If you need these features regularly, you’ll want to consider another photo-centric AIO, such as the Epson Expression Photo XP-860 Small-in-One or one of Epson’s other consumer photo AIOs. If printing photos is your primary concern, though, and you need quality prints, you can’t go wrong with the Pixma TS9020, so long as you can stomach the cost of its ink.
Years from now, we’ll look back at the current era in inkjet printers, and call these times The “Big Ink” Years. Supplying bulk ink with your printer, or making it available in bulk, is definitely the in thing.
It took a while, but inkjet giant Canon finally responded to rival Epson’s “supertanker” EcoTank inkjet printers, and to a lesser degree, to Brother’s INKvestment models. These are two inkjet-printer lines with different ways of delivering bulk ink. The difference between the Epson and Brother approaches is that Epson’s EcoTank printers take their ink from relatively large reservoirs that you fill from bottles (or snap in as sealed bags), while Brother’s INKvestment models use ink cartridges that are inexpensive on a per-page basis, sometimes bundled in multiples with the printer.
The idea is that you pay more (often significantly more) for the printer up front, but the per-page running costs are much lower. From a printer-business standpoint, you lock in more of your profit with the purchase of the printer outright. That’s the idea with both the Brother and Epson approaches. And now with Canon’s G-series MegaTank machines, like the $399.99-list Pixma G4200 Wireless MegaTank All-in-One Printer we’re looking at today, another big inkjet name joins the trend.
When the printer manufacturer makes much of its profit from the sale of the machine itself, rather than on the subsequent sale of ink, you as a buyer need to be sure that the ostensibly lower ongoing cost of operation makes that initial purchase sensible. Like many of Epson’s EcoTank printers, Canon’s MegaTank machines deploy the filling-the-reservoirs-from-bottles method, as opposed to Brother’s inexpensive-cartridge approach. Brother, with its approach, is able to offer two versions of its INKvestment products, dubbed XL and non-XL. The less-expensive non-XL machines, such as the Brother MFC-J985DW, come with only one set of four ink tanks, and the relatively high-yield replacement cartridges come at a low per-page price. The more-costly XL models (the Brother MFC-J985DW XL$249.99 at Amazon, for instance), come with multiple sets of cartridges in the box, and the further replacement tanks are priced for competitively low running costs.
The bottles of ink that come with the EcoTank and MegaTank printers could last you up to a year, or even more, depending on what and how much you print. Epson, in fact, claims that its WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank All-in-One$491.27 at Amazon (an AIO with a feature set similar to that of the Pixma G4200) and other EcoTank models come with two years’ worth of ink for the typical user of that model of printer, good for thousands of pages. In a similar vein, Canon claims that the Pixma G4200 and the other three G-series models ship with enough ink to print 6,000 monochrome pages or 7,000 color pages. As we’ll get into later on, these are document pages with a low percentage of overall ink coverage, not full-coverage photographs or pages laden with graphics.
The first round of Canon’s MegaTank machines consists of one stand-alone, print-only non-AIO model, the Pixma G1200 MegaTank, and three AIOs: the Pixma G2200 MegaTank All-in-One, the Pixma G3200 Wireless MegaTank All-in-One, and the flagship model we’re reviewng here, the Pixma G4200.
While they all use the same print engines and come with the same amount of ink, the differences in the feature sets among these four printers are major. The first two, for example, don’t offer Wi-Fi network connectivity or support for mobile devices, while the Pixma G4200 we are looking at here is the only one of the four with an automatic document feeder (ADF) for passing multipage documents to the scanner. And, of course, the least-expensive, non-AIO Pixma G1200 doesn’t even have a scanner. Even so, as we’ll get into near the end of this review, the Pixma G4200’s text and print quality is exceptional, and the G4200 (and its siblings) deliver some of the lowest running costs on the inkjet-printer market.
That last item is a key thing. For a low-volume printer designed for home offices, excellent print quality and low running costs are really the bottom line for us—so long as the machine has a reasonable feature set, too. The inclusion of an ADF on a bulk-ink model at this price is a huge plus. To get an ADF from an Epson EcoTank model, you’ll have to march up the Epson line to the $500 WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank All-in-One model we mentioned earlier. Granted, that printer comes with more ink, but not enough to make up a $100 price difference.
That Epson model, too, is more geared toward small businesses, small offices, or workgroups, as the name implies. What we really like about the Pixma G4200 and the lessers in its line, though, is that they print photos very close in quality to Canon’s new photo-centric Pixma TS9020 and Pixma TS8020 models. But the ink costs a lot less, making the Pixma G4200 an exceptional choice for homes or home offices—and an Editors’ Choice pick.
Unlike Epson’s EcoTank models, which come with large ink reservoirs or saddlebags coupled to the sides of the chassis, or HP’s Instant Ink subscription service (or Canon’s soon-to-be-reviewed MegaTank Pixmas, also with built-in ink tanks of their own), INKvestment printers simply supply you with bundles of relatively high-capacity ink cartridges at low prices. Like Epson EcoTank and Canon MegaTank printers, though, to compensate for the manufacturers’ loss of income from ink sales, you pay more for the printer itself up front.
With INKvestment, how much more you pay for the printer depends on which version of the specific printer you choose. Take today’s review machine, the Brother MFC-J6535DW. It’s a small-business-minded inkjet that can handle tabloid-size (11×17-inch) paper and scan media. You can buy an MFC-J6535DW “XL” version of the product for a list price of $549.99, or the non-XL version (the model we’re reviewing here) for a $279.99 MSRP. Why that $270 difference?
With the MFC-J6535DW XL, you get five sets of relatively high-volume ink cartridges (that’s 20 total cartridges) that Brother claims should last you two years, while with the non-XL version you get only one set (four cartridges). Note that we say “relatively high-volume” because nowadays some printers, such as the HP PageWide Pro MFP 577dw, support cartridges that yield up to 17,000 pages. Brother’s ink tanks are only a fraction of that size.
As we’ll discuss later on, which version of this printer you should choose depends on your print and copy volume. In most cases, if you can afford the initial $550 outlay, the MFC-J6535DW XL will save you money in the long run, compared to non-INKvestment Brother inkjets and several other competing printers. With either version, you’ll realize some of the lowest per-page running costs in the business.
That said, while they’re certainly important, per-page ink costs are not the only consideration when buying a printer. Output quality matters, too, and the MFC-J6535DW prints well enough for most business applications. But its so-so graphics and image output could limit those possibilities for pickier home-office and small-office users. Also, the MFC-J6535DW’s automatic document feeder doesn’t support auto-duplexing—that is, automatic two-sided scanning for making copies or digital files.
One special perk of this printer, though, does involve duplexing of a different kind. The MFC-J6535DW does support not just printing but duplex printing of tabloid-size pages, and it can scan pages up to that size, too. And, as with most printers these days, you get a bushel of mobile- and cloud-connectivity options.
Also in the bundle is a two-year limited warranty. Brother printers are traditionally pretty hardy when it comes to build quality and longevity. That, combined with its highly competitive cost per page (CPP), makes the MFC-J6535DW and the ink-stacked MFC-J6535DW XL both good values. Which one you should choose, again, depends on how much you mean to print and copy, and what you can afford.