The Epson WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank is a new inkjet printer that eliminates the need for ink cartridges. Instead, it comes with an assortment of pour-in ink bottles that purportedly last for up to two years. We put it to the test to find out whether a cartridge-free printer can deliver on speed and print quality. Read on for the full review.
I don't like printers. I don't own one and I seldom use the one at work since I prefer to have everything in digital format. I had a few in the past that infuriated me to no end, especially since they always ran out of ink at the worst possible times and it would cost a fortune to buy replacement ink cartridges. So when I heard the Epson WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank multifunction printer doesn't use cartridges, it immediately piqued my interest.
There was this one time when my family's home printer ran out of ink. My dad took me to the local Dick Smith to buy a replacement cartridge. We came home with a brand new printer instead. It was cheaper to buy a new printer than it was to replace the ink cartridge. Even as a kid, I knew there was something very wrong with that picture.
Since moving out of home, I have not owned a printer. If I want to print something I'd do it at work or head to the nearest OfficeWorks where someone would do it for me. Actually, I have a convenient store near my place that will do black and white printouts for 10c per page.
While I personally don't feel the need to own a clunky printing device that require expensive consumables to function, businesses often need to print out documents and invoices on a daily basis. The Epson WorkForce ET-4550 is targeted squarely at the home office user and it takes out one of the biggest gripes many printer owners have, which is cartridge replacement. The ET-4550 doesn't use it. Instead, it has high capacity ink tanks and you get two years' worth of ink in the box. According to Epson, that's going to give you 11,000 pages in black and 8500 pages in colour.
So has Epson has replaced one evil with another so that when the ink runs dry you will have to sell your firstborn child to buy exorbitantly expensive replacement ink? Actually, the colour ink bottles cost $16.99 each while the large black ink one sells for $24.99. Not bad. Not bad at all.
So all of this sounds great in theory. But what's it really like when you use the WorkForce ET-4550?
Let's go through the setup. To test just how user friendly the process is, I made a conscious decision to just wing it. Before you all lose your bananas and chastise me for not looking at the manual, I just want to say that setting up a printer should be a plug and play experience. Also, the double-sided setup manual made me want to rip out my eyes:
So I took the unit out of the box and went ahead with filling up the tanks. I gingerly poured the red, blue, yellow and black in into their respective tanks. Simple enough, except I still ended up getting some red on me:
It's never going to be as clean as just popping out a cartridge and swapping it out with a new one. But if getting rid of those ungodly printer cartridges means I'll have to occasionally get my hands dirty, then so be it.
Afterwards, I plugged the WorkForce ET-4550 and it came to life, prompting me to input details like time and date on its 2.2-inch monocolour LCD screen. Navigating through the settings was a breeze with the printer's directional buttons and numerical keypad. Just when I thought I was on a roll, I got this message: "See the setup manual to complete the initial ink charging."
Turns out I had to fumble about with the manual just to be told that I needed to hold down the "OK" button for three seconds. It couldn't have told me that through the LCD screen?
I then moved on to setting up the Wi-Fi on the unit for wireless printing. Epson boasts that the ET-4550 is capable of wireless printing from smartphones, tablets and computers. This could be done by using AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, Morpria or Epson Connect. I thought it'd be a quick process. Sadly, it was not so.
First off, the printer failed to detect the wireless connection in the office, which I fixed with the good old "turn it on and off again" method. Once that was out of the way, I tried to use Google Cloud Print. When that didn't work, I tried using Epson Connect services.
Three pieces of software and one can of Coke later, I still hadn’t printed anything. But alas, after signing up a new account with Epson Connect, I was ready to take the ET-4550 for a test run. The setup process from start to finish, with a few technical hiccups along the way, took about an hour.
I tested the ET-4550's colour printing capabilities with a photo of my cat:
Time to print: Two minutes and 22 seconds.
The printer was a bit sluggish spitting this picture out but the image quality isn't bad for the standard quality setting. If you look closely you'll see distinctive bands that run across the page horizontally where the printer had to pause before moving on to laying the ink down for the next section. Colour reproduction was pretty decent although some of the picture's details came out a tad blurry. Bear in mind this was done on normal printing paper. If you use photo paper it would make a huge difference.
Now onto a colour print with the high quality setting switched on:
Time to print: 2 minutes and 32 seconds
The bands that littered the standard print were gone and the image looked sharper overall. I was quite impressed with this printout given that it came from a small inkjet printer.
Now for what really matters to business users: how fast can the printer print out word documents?
Pretty damn fast, actually.
One full page black and white print took about seven seconds. A ten-page document took one minute and 17 seconds. One thing I would like to call out is the black and white prints from the ET-4550 are reasonably water resistant. I rubbed a wet tea bag all over them and there was minimum fading and the words were still perfectly legible.
You can also send emails for the ET-4550 to print through a dedicated email address with Epson Connect. It's very handy feature although it doesn't automatically print out attachments.
While the Epson WorkForce ET-4550 hasn't made me want to introduce a printer back into my home, it is a solid printer for stay-at-home workers and small businesses. Despite retailing at $699, removing cartridges and replacing them with long lasting refillable ink is definitely a huge drawcard and will yield huge savings in the long run. The setup process could be more straight forward, but the print quality is good and if you're mainly going to use it for printing out word documents and the occasional coloured photo, then this printer is definitely one to consider.