Epson WorkForce 520: Fast and Cheap, but Text Quality Is Disappointing
At a Glance
The Epson WorkForce 520 color inkjet multifunction printer (with print, scan, copy, and fax functions) deserves credit for breaking two inkjet stereotypes. It is not slow--in fact, it's blazing fast. Its inks are not expensive, either--they're impressively cheap, as is the machine's purchase price ($130 as of July 30, 2010). Unfortunately, it was unable to kick one habit, producing mediocre text quality on plain paper. Compared with the similarly priced HP Officejet 4500 Wireless All-In-One (which costs about the same), however, the WorkForce 520 is the better deal.
We found the WorkForce 520 generally easy to set up and work with. Driver setup went quickly, and the unit's standard Wi-Fi is convenient (USB and ethernet also come standard). The two-line monochrome LCD and its interface are straightforward but feel primitive. The other controls and buttons are nicely arranged.
The WorkForce 520's features are geared to low-volume use. It offers merely a single, 100-sheet vertical rear feeder. It has no automatic duplexing (the function is manual on the PC and nonexistent on the Mac). For scanning, it provides a 30-sheet automatic document feeder and a letter-size flatbed scanner that telescopes for thicker objects.
On the PC, the WorkForce 520 broke records, printing plain-text pages at 12.6 pages per minute and copies at 7.3 ppm. On the Mac, its 10.3-ppm text speed outpaced recent competitors nearly twofold; scanning speeds were also impressive. On both platforms, photo and graphics print speeds were average.
Small businesses live on plain paper, however, and that's where the WorkForce 520 falls short. On plain-paper tests at the default settings, text showed fuzzy or wavy edges and random droplet splatter--typical inkjet shortcomings. When we set the driver to 'Fine' quality (and slower speed), the text still exhibited artifacts, but you wouldn't be embarrassed to show it to a client. Photos also suffered on plain paper, but on Epson's own photo paper they smoothed out considerably and had a cheery palette. Color scanning was similarly hobbled, with the results coming out foggy and slightly faded.
Other than speed, the WorkForce 520's best attribute is its cheap ink. The standard-size black costs $15.19 and lasts 550 pages--a modest 2.8 cents per page. Each color costs $11.38 and lasts 335 pages, or 3.4 cents per color, per page. The high-yield cartridges drop costs minimally to 2.4 cents for black (the 740-page cartridge costs $18.04) and 3.2 cents per color, per page (each 480-page cartridge costs $15.19). Their primary advantage is postponing the day when you must change them.
Inkjet multifunction printers that cost as little as the Epson WorkForce 520 always have trade-offs. In this model's case, you get fast output and cheap consumables--but you lose some print quality.