Over the years, there have been arguments back and forth as to which printing technology is better – inkjet or laser. Until recently, the consensus has been that laser printing was faster and more economical, while inkjet technology usually produces better photo quality prints. For the most part, inkjet printing is still more expensive than laser on a cost-per-page basis, due to the capacity and expense of ink cartridges. Still, inkjet printers and all-in-ones (AIO) like the Epson Expression Premium XP-800 Small-in-One ($249) provide a great compromise for home or small business users.
Features and design
The XP-800 is one of the top-of-the-line models in Epson’s Expression line. The Expression line is fairly new and, as features and output quality continue to improve, is slowly replacing Epson’s Artisan series of printers/AIOs. It uses a five-cartridge system, with a Photo Black cartridge supplementing the standard Black cartridge. (Epson has another model, the Photo XP-850, which is even more tightly tailored to printing photos, using a six-color ink system that eliminates the Photo Black cartridge but add Light Cyan and Light Magenta.) The XP-800 uses Epson’s 273-series cartridges, which are available in standard and XL capacities. Epson estimates that the standard color cartridges will print about 300 pages and the standard black cartridge will yield about 250 pages. The XL cartridges will yield somewhere around 650 pages per color cartridge and about 500 pages for the XL black cartridge. As with all inkjet printer yield figures, Epson’s are just estimates, and are obtained using the ISO Yield Test protocol; in reality, ink yield is going to depend on what it is you’re printing.
Lifting the XP-800’s packaging for the first time, you may be surprised by how heavy it is. Many of today’s inkjet printers and AIOs are somewhat flimsy and lightweight. Out of the box and devoid of the restraining packaging, the XP-800 weighs in at a hefty 21.5 pounds. Considering how small a footprint the XP-800 has (17.2 x 23.5 x 8.1 inches when printing) Epson has packed a lot of printer and scanner into a compact package.
When powered down, the XP-800 is unimposing. The large 3.5-inch color touchpad is flat against the side of the printer and unnoticeable until the unit is powered up, when the touchpad tilts to make it easier to read and use. Also located on the front is a USB jack (you can use this with a cable to print directly from many cameras), and slots for several types of memory cards located behind a swing-away door above the USB port.
Another interesting feature is the output tray. This is located in the front of the unit, below the touchpad, and automatically extends when you send a print to the unit. When you power the XP-800 off, you have to manually push the output tray back in if you want to fold the touchpad panel down.
The XP-800 contains an integrated 30-sheet automatic document feed (ADF) for scanning, copying, or faxing; lift the lid to perform these functions as a single page on the glass platen. It’s interesting to note that both the ADF and the printer itself have integral duplexers so you can scan, copy, fax, or print two-sided pages.
What’s in the box
Epson provides a pretty standard offering with the XP-800 packaging. There’s the unit itself with the standard packing inserts and taped that have to be removed before setting up the printer. Five starter ink cartridges are provided (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black, and Photo Black), a quick-start guide, and a CD containing the installation software and utilities for the fax, Epson Scan, Epson PrintCD, and ABBYY FineReader OCR software. A phone cable is included so you can plug the XP-800 into a standard RJ-11 telephone jack to use the AIO as a fax machine, but no USB or Ethernet cable is included.
One annoyance is that a lot of the information you can really use to get the most out of the XP-800 is in the huge 342-page user’s guide, but this guide is not provided on the installation disc – you have to go to Epson’s website and view it online or as a PDF download.
Performance and use
We hit an initial speed bump in setting up the XP-800. In our first attempt, using an Acer Aspire V7 laptop running Windows 8, we failed to notice that the install disc did not list Windows 8 among the supported operating systems, resulting in an install crash. We erased whatever had been installed and tried again with a download from Epson’s support site that was updated with a Windows 8 driver, but this crashed repeatedly as well. There was evidently something left over from the first failed attempt that was preventing a successful install with the updated software.
If you want the best possible output for an important report, one of Epson’s specialty papers is the way to go.
We’re used to vendors being a bit “optimistic” about performance, but that was not the case with Epson. Epson claims a speed of about 11 pages per minute (PPM) in color when using the ISO (International Standards Organization) test protocol, which requires that testing be performed with the driver in default mode. On the XP-800, this setting is for “Text,” rather than the fastest speed setting, which is “Draft”. In draft mode, the XP-800 was considerably faster, approaching 20 PPM. When we tested in the default “Text” mode, we achieved just about 13 PPM, which is still a bit faster than Epson claims.
The XP-800 has very good paper-handling capability, though with a 100-page maximum the standard paper tray could be larger. A second paper path is available for photo paper, and a rear feed lets you print on heavy stock. A CD/DVD tray is provided for printing on discs. While not everyone actually bothers to print CDs and DVDs, it’s there if desired.
The XP-800 also provides a standalone fax capability, something that is available in some, but not all, AIOs. It worked exactly like a standalone fax. With the 30-sheet duplexing ADF you can send multipage faxes, and copying multipage documents is as easy as loading the ADF and inputting the number of copies that you want on the touchpad. Copy speed is acceptable unless you are printing very high-resolution pages, which slows down things considerably. There is a maximum of 99 copies available, and with a paper drawer capacity of only 100 sheets, making 99 copies of larger multipage documents means filling the paper drawer several times. If you need a large number of color copies, you are better off going to a copy shop.
Using the media recommended by Epson for highest quality printing, the XP-800 produced fairly good output quality. This degraded somewhat when printing the same test files on high-quality Hammermill Premium Inkjet and Laser paper, with images that were noticeably darker than those produced on the recommended media using the default settings for photo quality and plain paper.
Photos printed on Epson Premium Matte photo paper, however, were very good, though the skin tones and other reds were slightly off when compared to the reference print we use for testing. In our testing we found that turning on automatic color correction had a large effect on improving skin tones.
Epson boasts about the XP-800’s print quality, and it is not completely unfounded. To get the best the printer is able to give, you are going to have to tweak the driver settings and choose the best paper for the job. Standard all-purpose paper is fine for general printing, but if you want the best possible output for an important presentation, one of Epson’s specialty papers is the way to go.
Overall, Epson’s Premium XP-800 offers a lot of capability in a small form factor. Print quality is good, especially if you use one of Epson’s specialty papers, although you may need to tweak some settings to get the best results. Features like the ADF, touchscreen, and duplex printing/copying – coupled with better-than-stated performance – adds value to the package.
- Good print quality and performance
- Large 3.5 color touchpad
- Comprehensive connectivity including wireless, Ethernet, and USB
- Duplex printing and copying
- Small-capacity paper tray
- Useful user’s manual isn’t included
- Tweaking of paper and driver settings necessary for high-quality output