As the holidays continue to creep closer, time is running out as far as rounding up gifts for friends and family is concerned. Every year you tell yourself that you’re going to take care of things with plenty of time to spare next time around, but for some reason things never go as planned and frantic last-minute shopping is inevitable. There are plenty of tech-related gift guides to be found around the interwebz but here at BGR, we’re going to do our best to pepper in a handful of solid recommendations over the coming weeks and as time permits we’ll even throw in a hands on review here and there.
To kick things off, we wanted to cover an essential piece of gear that is often overlooked come holiday-time: Printers. As digital as we are these days, the printer is still a key component to any computer setup. Even where home offices are concerned, many people use a free printer that accompanied some computer purchase several years back and for some that might be fine. As often as many people use their printers however, most don’t realize that a good quality printer can make a massive difference and these days it doesn’t even have to cost you an arm and a leg. The best options are definitely printers that offer a combination of versatility, print quality and all-in-one functionality, and your buddies at BGR have a gem picked out for you.
Epson announced the Artisan 700 and 800 all-in-one six-color inkjet printers back in August and this really is an impressive duo. We opted for the 700 for three main reasons: The 700 is 30% cheaper (although Epson is now offering a $50 instant rebate on the 800 model), a bit more compact and we pretty much don’t know anyone who still uses a fax machine. There are a few additional benefits to the 800 model beyond fax capabilities however – specifically automatic document feed (ADF) capability, twice the maximum hardware scan resolution (2400 dpi vs. 4800 dpi) and the ability to print personalized coloring book pages – so upgrading to the 800 is a must if those features appeal to you. The 800 is especially important if you make a lot of copies as manually inserting pages one at a time can get tiresome pretty quickly. Beyond the aforementioned functionality however, the 700 and 800 models are identical in terms of performance.
From design and form to function and print quality, we really haven’t come across a competitive offering in the same price range that can touch the Artisan 700. Pictures print quickly and Epson’s Ultra Hi-Definition ink literally pops off of photo paper. The quality of photo prints during our tests left precious little to be desired and really does leave similarly-priced printers we’ve tried in the dust. Printing speed when it comes to photos is beyond adequate, though it might not be the absolute fastest printer around. 4″ x 6″ photos took between 15 and 20 seconds to print during our tests and Epson’s specs state that simpler photos may print as quickly as 10 seconds. When it comes to printing documents on standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper, forget it. The Artisan 700 is blazing fast and while we didn’t time it in this respect, we don’t doubt Epson’s claim of 38 pages per minute at all.
In terms of hardware, the Artisan 700 is a beauty. It’s fantastically compact for a printer of its capability and sleek enough to compliment just about any high-end set up. In other words, you’ll be happy to set it up right on your desk as opposed to stuffing it away in a corner. The control panel has an adjustable locking tilt feature which is awesome when the printer is on a low surface and you’re standing in front of it. The 2.5″ LCD display makes menu and option visibility clear as day and it’s just big enough to display photo previews quite nicely. We also absolutely love the dual paper tray that allows standard printer paper to sit pretty while 4″ x 6″ photo paper, 5″ x 7″ photo paper or post cards can be loaded in the secondary tray above it. There is even a third tray for dedicated media that lets you load a CD or DVD and print directly on the label. Very cool.
As far as added functionality goes, we weren’t disappointed at all in this area either. The on-board card reader is a must-have on any printer, but the Artisan line also has some great integrated touch-up and basic photo editing capabilities as well. While we wouldn’t dream of relying on it for major jobs of course, it’s awesome for whipping a memory card out of a camera and making some fast and simple tweaks or crops prior to printing. The 2400 dpi scanner handled everything we threw at it from documents to photos new and old. The scanner mechanism is amazingly quiet and while the print quality isn’t quite as good as printing from a digital file of course, it’s still very impressive and loses very little when compared to the original photo. WiFi is rock solid and we’ve yet to have a single issue with connectivity loss as we’ve experienced with other wireless printers.
There are of course a few negatives but the only big one worth mentioning doesn’t even have to do with the physical printer itself – the software installation during the setup process. We installed the software that came with the printer on our MacBook and haven’t yet had a chance to try it on a PC, but the installation was way more painful than it had to be. As with all similar products, the Artisan printer CD comes with tons of things that you just don’t need if all you want to do is set up the printer and print. Some installers allow the user to select which components to install at the beginning of the installation process but no such luck here. It took us about 30 minutes to fight through the installation process and there weren’t even options to cancel out of some of the add-on installations. This definitely isn’t the biggest deal in the world and of course it’s a one-time thing, but it also impacts the user’s initial impression of the printer and it should be easy to remedy.
Beyond that, there were only a few other minor annoyances such as a relatively flimsy extending paper catcher that could definitely break if you’re clumsy, adjustable paper tray guides that could be much easier to move quickly and accurately, and internals that can get a bit loud at times while the unit is printing. It also would have been nice if the printer shipped with true Bluetooth capability as opposed to requiring an additional accessory. The available Bluetooth dongle is only $40 from Epson but we don’t see any reason why it couldn’t have been built with an internal Bluetooth radio.
All things considered, the Epson Artisan 700 is definitely the best and most versatile printer we’ve found in the $200 range and even beyond. At $200 with free shipping, this puppy is almost a steal – and now it’s available from some online retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon for as little as $150. For home offices, family use and even as a solid all-in-one printer for some small businesses, the story ends here. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or for a friend or family member this holiday season, definitely check out the Artisan duo. As an aside, Epson is currently running a holiday promotion that will offer a new 24-hour deal on each day leading up to Christmas.