Epson Workforce ET-4550 Review: Disappointing as a business printer


epson_4550I was pretty excited to hear about the new EcoTank line of printers.  Conceptually, the idea is pay more upfront for printing quantity, and not be pay through the nose endlessly for ink refills.  The 4550 is billed as being “loaded and ready” for up to two years of ink, is positioned as “for business”.  Conceptually, a very appealing concept, given those of us hearing how HP ink costs in the thousands of dollars per gallon.  So let’s applaud Epson’s entry on innovation lines alone, trying to disrupt the status quo: paying cheaply for the printer and getting milked on the ink.

More of a Throwback than an innovation

Almost instantly when unpacking the very lightweight printer, I felt the early adopter remorse — this product isn’t battle tested yet.  The process of filling the ink reminds me of the toner models in the 80s (yes, I have first hand experience) — messy.

hermetically_sealed_inkHeavily sealed packages of ink and a warning to use covering, not to mention shipping the product with it’s own plastic bag should concern those looking for a low-friction printing experience.  We’ve traded off the economics of paying for ink in advance for high spill potenial.  “Snap the bottle tip off, then remove the bottle cap.  Carefully remove the protective seal…and close the bottle cap tightly”.  Why the protective Tylenol cap?  Do they think we’re going to drink the stuff, and worried someone will poison us?  Carefully, don’t spill the ink!

I should have paid attention to the advice to wear rubber gloves, but really, does setting up a printer require hand condoms?

ink_oopsMagenta ink, even after washing, makes it look as though I’m bleeding.  The anxiety was super high.  Sure, we’re only doing it once a year or so (two years of ink, apparently, is two sets of bottles).  And if you put the ink in the wrong slot, you’re printer is essentially ruined.  This is not 2015 idiot proofed.  Once you pull all the ink in, there is a 20 minute priming cycle.  If the printer concept catches on, I’m sure later releases will take this feedback into account.  Thus the price of rushing in.

Lots of cut Corners

Biggest gripe so far is the LCD screen — it’s puny, and it’s black and white, and given it’s 2015, there seems little reason to cut corners here.  It’s only day one, but it really has impacted overall usability.  Even short messages scroll.  Data entry was helped a little by having the alpha pad (only really there for faxing) handy, but when typing in the wifi access code, it wasn’t immediately apparent that the cursor keys cycled between lower case letters, upper case letters, and digits.  And the lack of a backspace key meant one fat finger and you had to start over.

dinky_screenSo after finally getting through all this, it’s time to load the paper, and the tray is pretty flimsy, awkward, and, to quote Woody Allen, “Such small portions!” The paper tray holds 150 plain pages, and the output tray is listed as providing 30 pages.  That doesn’t seem to me like it can keep up with the duty cycles for a business printer.  It was awkward to move around the slider to get letter sized paper loaded.  And it felt as though I wasn’t going to be able to make too many adjustments before the thing broke.


flimsy_shallow_paper_trayNow, after getting it loaded, I could finally do some printing!


My Mac found the printer easily

The unit comes with a driver disk for Windows, which luckily I didn’t need, and by checking into System Preferences, my Mac found and set up the printer easily.  I only ran one print job through, the ink looked a little wet, but I thought the overall print quality was acceptably sharp and crisp for this print class.  My concern is how much it could keep up with the pace.

Page feeder

Not so easy to use the printer as a copier.  I loaded a 7 page document (tri-folded, as it came from a standard business envelope), and tried to run a quick black and white copy.  It wasn’t very intuitive how to accomplish this, and I fumbled through the copy menu on the tiny screen before I finally got the copy to start.  I was hoping for an easy “copy” button, but not so, and the seven pages wouldn’t go through the feeder at all, in spite of multiple attempts to get them straightened out.  The bane of my existence seems to be Product managers instructing Software developers on what seems like a good idea, rather than doing some product testing on what people would naturally want, which 99% of the time seems like “I need a copy right now”!

I eventually reduced the size down to 2 pages, which did go through, and gave me an excellent copy (darker and crisper than the original!).  But part of the motivating in a business class printer is multipage copies, scans, and faxes, without having to go to the Kinkos or stitching pages together in some app, and I’m not super confident the tiny sheet feeder is going to cut it.  I did get a 2 page scan done from my Mac successfully, but I know I’m going to need to scan longer docs.


I hope the concept sells enough and Epson makes some product changes, but I regret rushing out and buying the first one off the line.  I’m sure I’ll get some positive use out of the machine, but it’s not ready for prime time, certainly not as a business printer.


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