With apologies to the philosopher Heraclitus (assuming he even said the original in the first place), the one thing that’s constant in tech is change? Somebody tell Dell.
In all the years we’ve been looking at laser-class printers, Dell’s machines have been the ones that have changed the least, and the most slowly, on the outside. Take, for example, 2011’s Dell 1355cnw, a multifunction color-laser-class printer that looks almost identical to the new Dell machine we’re reviewing here in 2015, Dell’s $329.99-list E525w Color Multifunction Printer. And, when we looked even further back, we found other Dell multifunction printers (MFPs) that looked an awful lot like that E525w.
Points for consistency, at least: The family resemblance in Dell’s line over the years has stayed clear and constant. In fact, as we’ll discuss in some detail, from an appearance and interface perspective, the E525w isn’t just long in the tooth. Compared to some of today’s more modern competitors, such as HP’s snappy-looking Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw, it’s like stepping back a decade or two in time in printer design.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. And the Dell E525w comes with two offsetting positives: (1) Despite its aging and somewhat ungainly design, the E525w delivers exceptionally good prints, for the kind of printer it is. And (2) a comparable machine 20 years ago would have cost four or five times as much. This model, with a $329 list price, is modestly priced enough, but at this writing Dell was selling it for $199.99 with free shipping, and some other sellers had it as low as $179.99.
Now that’s cheap. And yes, the E525w delivers excellent-looking output, including photos that are better looking than you might expect from a laser-class machine. The only problem? The cartridges…oh, those toner cartridges. The E525w prints at an exceptionally high cost per page (CPP), especially for the color output. It’s the same old printer story of charging a low price up front for the printer itself, only to make it up on the back end with a relatively high per-page price for consumables (in this case, toner).
This, of course, isn’t an unusual practice. It’s certainly common among printer makers in their entry-level and midrange machines. Aside from that all-too-frequent tactic, though, Dell did a whole bunch right in this printer. Besides printing top-notch output for a budget-level laser-class machine, the E525w comes with a decent mix of features. That includes, in a forward-looking fashion you wouldn’t expect from this printer’s backward-looking design, several ways to connect to most mobile devices, which we’ll cover in more detail momentarily.
Before moving on to the next section, though, we should point out that as a “laser-class” printer, the E525w isn’t technically a laser printer at all. Instead it’s a LED-array printer, in which a fixed strip of LEDs does the same (or similar) work that the laser apparatus does in a “true” laser printer, in that it charges the image drum appropriately to transfer toner to paper.
While LED-based machines operate inside somewhat differently from true laser-based ones (the former are often smaller and have fewer moving parts, for example), the machines themselves appear to operate identically from the outside. The print quality between LED and laser is about the same in most cases, too, and LED-based models tend to use less power—a win-win for all involved.
In any case, aside from a too-high CPP, as well as a few other, more minor grumbles, the E525w is a fine laser-class printer, with better-than-average print quality for the price. You won’t want to print loads of output on it—the consumables are just too pricey for that—but used in moderation, it should be good enough for many would-be MFP owners who have never owned a color laser before and will use it just for occasional output.
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The first question is, of course, what makes the S2810dn smart—compared to other single-function laser-class machines, that is? (First question or not, the answer is not so ground-shaking as to warrant disruption of the natural flow of this review.) Suffice it to say here that “smart” simply refers to an overall business-centric printer design consisting of several complimentary features, not some ground-breaking approach to entry-level laser design.
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Epson offers a range of Expression Small-in-One models, but the $99.99-list Expression Home XP-420 Small-in-One Printer is one of the smallest. It’s the direct descendant of the XP-410 Small-in-One, itself one of the most compact entry-level inkjet all-in-one (AIO) printers you could buy in its time. The thing is, despite the Small-in-One name, both of them are, for the most part, full-featured AIOs.
In this case, the XP-420 AIO can print, copy, and scan, but not fax; some much bigger AIO models don’t fax either, so that feature is not really a victim of this printer’s size. But perhaps the best news is that the XP-420 Small-in-One has been on the market a few months now, enough time for e-tailers to get their discounting hooks into it. When we wrote this at the tail end of August 2015, you could buy the Expression Home XP-420 from Epson (and many other online sellers) for $59.99, a full $40 less than the list price.
The Expression Home XP-420 is not the smallest Expression XP model Epson makes, but it’s close. The XP-300 series, which includes the XP-310 and its more recent replacement, the XP-320, are smaller still, but less capable in terms of volume and features than our XP-420 review unit.
As we’ve said about several other Small-in-Ones in previous reviews, you need to know these printers’ limitations. While these are capable compact printers, they have the same core issue as most competing models in this price range: a high per-page cost of operation, what we call the cost per page (CPP). And that relegates them to low-volume, occasional-use machines, which is fine if that’s what you’re looking for. If that’s the type of printer you need—one that sits around most of the time, waiting for you to use it—this one will fit the profile, and on the upside, $60 isn’t a lot to spend on it.
However, as you’ll see in the next section, the CPP is not the only thing about the XP-420 that makes it a low-volume model. The input and output trays are small and therefore hold only modest amounts of paper stock, and the scanner has no automatic document feeder (ADF) for processing multiple-page documents. You’ll have to place them onto the scanner’s platen glass manually, one at a time, and one side at a time.
As we said about the Expression Home XP-420’s predecessor, the XP-410, what this little AIO has going for it is excellent print quality and decent performance for the money. It’s hard to find much beyond that at so low a price. Granted, compared to the competition of its day, the Expression Home XP-410 was a little faster than the XP-420 is, but not by much.
What’s more interesting is how well the newer model holds up to its competitors, compared to the older one. It’s clear that Epson’s competitors haven’t been idle; two years after the introduction of the XP-410, the competition seems to have gotten stiffer. So while this is a surprisingly able printer for its price, the landscape has changed, which is likely also the reason we’ve seen the XP-420 discounted so far, so soon.
In any case, as we also said about the Expression Home XP-410, if a few hundred pages a month, at most, is all you need to print or copy, and you don’t do much multiple-page scanning, Epson’s XP-420 Small-in-One should get the job done.
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After working with a group of professionals recently who swore that laser-class output is superior to that of an inkjet printer, I’m reminded how uninformed much of the printer-buying public is about the current state of printer technology. The truth is that when it comes to overall vibrancy, brightness, and detail, most laser-class machines can’t come close to a good inkjet printer’s output.
Yet another myth that needs busting every now and then is that laser-class machines are faster and cheaper to use than inkjet models.
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Even so, both kinds of printers have their admirers and adherents. Many, many offices and businesses, such as auto-repair shops, insurance agencies, and title companies, don’t need to print in color—and indeed, will garner real savings by opting for old-school, strictly mono lasers. At the same time, many of these types of businesses, small or large, often need to make copies, scan documents and images, and at times even send or receive a fax or two. That’s where the multifunction angle comes in, and it’s where these kind of printers deliver their value.
Granted, many businesses purchase single-function print-only laser models because either (1) the printer is too busy to stop for scanning or making copies, or (2) when it does need to print, what it’s printing is too critical to wait for a long copy or fax job to complete. (After all, you don’t want to keep your customers waiting.) But for those users whodo need all of an MFP’s functionality—print, scan, copy, and perhaps the occasional fax—and can wait for the various operations, Dell has recently released a revised cadre of laser-class machines, including the topic of this review, the $219-MSRP E515dw Multifunction Monochrome Printer. (We call these “laser-class” printers because, technically, these printers don’t use lasers inside to draw your page image onto a print drum; they use an array of non-moving LEDs. From the outside, though, they’re mostly indistinguishable from lasers.)
For those home-based and small-office users who need their MFP to print and copy in color, Dell has also put out an entry-level, color-laser-class machine, the $329-MSRP E525w Color Multifunction Printer, which we have on hand and will be reviewing shortly. Overall, these multifunction machines are part of a group of five printers the company offered up in mid-2015 to refresh its line. The other three are another MFP, the E514dw Monochrome Laser Printer (essentially, the same as our review unit, but rated for slower speeds and with no fax function, for about $50 less), and two single-function models, the Smart Printer S2810dn and the E310dw, both of which we have reviewed. (Hit the links for the skinny on those.)
While all five printers in this group have relatively low out-of-pocket prices, their comparatively high per-page printing costs (which we’ll cover in some detail later on) relegates them to low-volume, occasional-use machines. That’s downright fine, so long as you know that going into the purchase, and that is indeed the kind of printer that you’re looking for.
The E515dw has a maximum monthly duty cycle of 10,000 pages, which is low for a laser-class machine in general. (“Duty cycle?” “LED printer?” See our primer, Buying a Printer: 20 Terms You Need to Know.) But if you plan on printing anywhere close to that amount, as we’ll get into in the Setup & Paper Handling section, this is not the right printer for that. In fact, because of the relatively high cost per page (CPP), we suggest you don’t opt for the E515dw if you plan to print more than a few hundred pages each month—say, 300 to 400. The more you print, the more you should consider a higher-volume model.
But if your print volume fits that 400-pages-max profile, and all you need is the occasional black-and-white document copied (or you don’t mind if your copies are converted to gray scale), this printer isn’t a bad deal at all. The list price may be $220, but we saw the E515dw selling as low as $179.99 at a few non-Dell outlets when we wrote this in mid-August 2015. And, as mentioned, if you don’t need the fax functionality (many people and small businesses don’t, nowadays), there’s always the E514dw. We spotted that slightly stripped-down model as low as $129.99, down from an MSRP of $179.99.
In any case, on the whole, we liked this little MFP LED printer—especially as a low-volume, occasional-use machine for a small office or workgroup, or perhaps a personal-laser companion on your desk. It delivers good value so long as you set your page-output volume expectations appropriately.
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Epson recently announced a new line of printers (new to North America, anyway) known as EcoTank. In most ways, these all-in-one (AIO) printers are much like their Epson Expression and WorkForce counterparts. For example, the topic of this review, the $499.99 MSRP WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank All-in-One Printer, is essentially the entry-level $129.99 MSRP WorkForce WF-2650, which strongly resembles the WF-2660 reviewed here a few months ago, with the EcoTank ink tanks attached to the right side.
The ET-4550 is one of five initial EcoTank offerings announced today. (For a description of the five models and a more detailed discussion of EcoTank in general,check out this About.com article.)
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The Printer / Scanner section of About.com has recognized Brother’s Business Smart series of multifunction printers for a number of reasons, often including relatively fast print speeds, overall print quality, a relatively low cost per page, or CPP, and support for wide-format (tabloid, or 11×17-inch) paper. However, the level of support each machine has for tabloid paper varies from model to model.
Laser printers are as staid as modern PC technology gets. We’ve been saying for some time now that, aside from tacking on the occasional new productivity and convenience feature, or increasing speeds a smidge on occasion, we haven’t seen any heavy-hitting improvements to the laser printer in ages.
If something is going to change in lasers, though, HP is as predictable a source for that innovation as printer makers come. And what the company has done is not so much change the printer, as much as its diet.
That would be the toner. HP’s recent toner reformulation, dubbed ColorSphere 3, is part of an overall toner-cartridge and print-engine revamp that it is calling “JetIntelligence.” According to HP, between the toner reformulation and logic built into both the “new Original HP Toner cartridges with JetIntelligence” and the printer, your LaserJet will use up to 53 percent less energy, take up to 40 percent less space, as well as wake up and print duplex (two-sided) pages faster.
In fact, in a recent press release, HP’s vice president and general manager of LaserJet hardware and technology, Tuan Tran, claimed, “Today’s announcement represents our most significant laser printing re-engineering since the introduction of the first LaserJet in 1984.”
The biggest thing to hit the laser in 30-plus years? That’s worth a closer look to see whether there’s heft or hype there. HP sent us one of these initial printers based on JetIntelligence and the new toner tech, the $429.99-MSRP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dwBest Price at Amazon. Again, many of the JetIntelligence benefits come from reformulated toner and reengineered cartridges, which we’ll discuss in some detail in the next section.
What we will say here, though, is that HP’s JetIntelligence promotional material makes a lot of the idea that you get significantly more prints per cartridge (33 percent more, according to its estimates), rather than more prints for your money. And this is a key distinction: While that may mean fewer toner-cartridge swap-outs over the life of the printer, the technology doesn’t necessarily mean more money in your pocket. While this is a great little printer, as you’ll see in our Setup & Paper Handling section later on, it is somewhat pricey to use, especially for color pages.
Hence, as we’ve said about many an entry-level and midrange printer, no matter how attractive and up-to-date it is, this model just doesn’t compute for environments with heavy print loads. HP does offer some uncharacteristically high-volume toner cartridges (up to about 2,400 pages) for a printer this size. But, again, the actual per-page cost of using the Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw is too high for all but small and home-based offices with print loads of, say, just a few hundred pages per month.
Again, we’ll discuss why this makes sense as a low-volume, personal color laser printer later on. In the meantime, though, know that the M277dw is a sharp little color laser all-in-one (AIO), well worth taking a good look at if you’re not trying to outfit a business that prints all day, every day. As we wrote this in early August 2015, HP was offering a $100 discount off the MSRP, trimming the price to $329, so this model could make good sense for environments that need modest numbers of color-fast prints.
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HP’s Envy line of printers have gone through a transition over the years, from somewhat high-end (price-wise) and elegant, if not all that practical. Over the past couple years, though, Envy printers have evolved in to sensible entry-level and midrange all-in-one (AIO) machines designed for home based and small offices, as my recent review of the Envy 5660 e-All-in-One Printer illustrates.
Today, though, we’re looking at the flagship Envy printer, the $199.99 Envy 7640 e-All-in-One Printer, which, by the way, I found for as low as $124.99 while writing this review.