“This printer delivers a lot of bang for the buck, but we'd trade some of its fancier features for better print quality.”
- Built-in Ethernet and Wi-Fi; integrated scanner with exceptional photo-restoration features; attractive industrial design.
- Exposed paper tray will accumulate dust; can't print on CDs; poor document-printing performance.
Calling the Epson Stylus NX515 an all-in-one is a bit of stretch, considering it doesn’t include a fax machine. On the other hand, not everyone wants or needs to send and receive faxes, and eliminating that feature while retaining a flatbed scanner brings the price of this pretty and relatively capable printer down to just $150. As such, the machine is certainly recommendable, albeit only for certain tasks. Read on for more details on whether or not it fits your needs.
Features and Design
The Stylus NX515’s industrial design echoes that of our current favorite printer, the Artisan 800 , which does include a fax machine—and a whole bunch of other great features you won’t find in its cheaper cousin. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a $150 printer to deliver the same performance as a $300 printer, so we won’t make too many comparisons. However, printer shoppers should also be aware that Epson is offering a $70 instant rebate on the Artisan 800, which significantly shrinks the price delta between it and the printer we’re reviewing now.
The Stylus NX515 has strong feature set for its price range, including a memory card slot, PictBridge support, and a 2.5-inch LCD for printing digital photos without a PC. It also includes wired and wireless Ethernet networking support, when you do want to use a computer. The card slot supports CompactFlash, Memory Stick, SD, xD, and most of the other common flash-memory architectures, but the printer will recognize only JPEG files.
The integrated flatbed scanner offers maximum optical resolution of 2,400 dpi with 48-bit color depth (24-bit output), and you can use it with or without the assistance of a PC. You are limited to working with a maximum print size of 5×7 inches in this mode, however, and all you can do is crop images and use Epson’s fabulous automatic color-restoration software. Using a PC and a program such as Photoshop gives you much more flexibility when acquiring photos from the scanner, but Epson tool does an amazing job on faded and discolored snapshots (and anyone who shot film in the 1970s has a shoebox or three full of those).
The Stylus NX515 lacks the Artisan 800’s fancy touch-screen user interface, but the intuitive button arrangement and the well-designed on-screen user interface render the printer very easy to use even without a PC. The cheaper printer is much easier to configure for wireless networking, too. The Artisan 800 must be hard-wired to your network before you can configure it for wireless networking; the Stylus NX515’s installation wizard walks you through the process without ever needing a Cat-5 cable. But you’ll still need to run your network in mixed 802.11g/n mode in order to establish a wireless connection; now that 802.11n IP cameras are on the market, we much prefer running a pure “N” network. There is no Bluetooth support.
We dinged the Artisan 800 for its relatively poor performance printing documents, but the Stylus NX515 is much worse, even though we used good-quality bond paper designed for inkjet printers. The printer is plenty fast, with a rated black-ink speed of 36 pages per minute, but close inspection revealed not only jagged edges on every letter, but tiny horizontal bands of white where the print head didn’t deposit any ink at all. We’d hesitate to entrust the production of our resume to this printer.
The Stylus NX515 does a much better job producing photographic prints—as long as you don’t compare them too closely to what more expensive printers can do. We recently slapped around HP’s Photosmart Premium All-in-One C309a for producing somewhat grainy and faded photographs, but that device produced art-gallery work compared to the Stylus NX515’s output.
Part of the problem might be with the ink: The Stylus NX515 uses Epson’s older (and cheaper) Durabrite Ultra ink. This pigment-based ink comes in a four-cartridge palette of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The Artisan 800 (and many of the printers in Epson’s Stylus Photo line) uses the dye-based Claria ink. Dye-based inks tend to exhibit a wide color gamut, and the Artisan 800 boasts two additional shades, to boot: Light cyan and light magenta. The Stylus NX515’s prints proved to be grainier, too. We attribute this shortcoming to the size of the ink droplets the printer produces: Where the Artisan 800 produce droplets measuring 1.5 picoliters, the smallest droplet the NX515 can spray measures 2.0 picoliters.
The Stylus NX515 is a good printer for producing photos and arts-and-crafts projects. As such, we have no problem giving up faxing capabilities at this price range—especially since the integrated scanner is so good—but let’s be honest as well. In the end, we’re very disappointed with its capacity for printing documents.
- Good price/performance ratio
- Integrated scanner/copier
- Excellent photo-restoration performance
- Built-in networking
- Free software for producing greeting cards and calendars
- Photographic prints exhibit too much grain and not enough dynamic range
- Printed documents look even worse
- Can’t print on CDs
- Best suited for specific uses
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