For $100 (as of 10/05/2012), the Epson Expression Home XP-400 Small-in-One color inkjet multifunction printer (MFP) delivers a lot of bang for the buck. The controls are top-notch and intuitive, the unit doesn’t take up much space, and the output is quite nice. It’s even relatively quick. The inks are just what you’d expect from an MFP priced thusly: expensive, but acceptable for low-volume printing given its other strengths. If you want cheaper inks, however, look to slightly higher-priced competitors such as the HP Photosmart 5520 or the Brother MFC-625DW.
The flip-up control panel on the XP-400 is, perhaps surprisingly for an MFP this inexpensive, quite easy to use. The combination of a 2.5-inch LCD displaying large icons and well thought-out menus, and a surrounding touch panel with contextually lit controls (they only appear when required), is very easy to use. Wi-Fi setup was easy, as was setup via USB. The Epson Scan software is the company’s venerable and capable program, though this model has no optical character recognition.
The XP-400’s paper handling features are fine for low-volume PC users, but it has no Mac support for manual duplexing (automated printing of every other page with dialogs that show you how to flip and re-insert the paper), as there is for Windows. The rear vertical input feed will hold 100 sheets of paper, which travels a relatively straight path to the 35-sheet front output tray. The scanner is single-shot, with no automatic document feeder, but the lid telescopes approximately half an inch to accommodate magazines and the like. The scanner platen is A4/letter-sized.
For the price, the XP-400 is surprisingly fast. At the default settings, the XP-400 prints monochrome pages at 6.5 per minute (ppm) on the PC and 6.4 ppm on the Mac. Snapshot-sized photos printed to plain paper emerge at just over 4 ppm, and to glossy paper at about 0.8 ppm. Monochrome copies arrive at 5.5 ppm, well above average for a consumer-grade MFP. If you really need to get a look at something in a hurry, you can use draft mode, which is legible, if not fun to look at. The tested copy speed of 5.5 ppm is very good, but scans on the Mac are slow.
Standard and best-quality output from the XP-400 is quite nice, though we did notice some defects in text–especially with larger fonts. The defects don’t jump out at you, but we did see dropouts and some jaggies upon close inspection. Color graphics are rendered agreeably on both plain and glossy paper, with what we usually describe as a slightly cool color palette.
Our grayscale photo printed quite dark, though without the purplish or green cast we sometimes see. That’s a good thing, as the grayscale option, which usually produces a lighter image in true grays, was disabled in the dialog. Epson says it does this on purpose with premium paper, though there was no explanation as to why. If you print lots of grayscale photos, you’d be well advised to tweak the advanced settings for lighter images and save them as one of the shortcuts available on the first tab in the printer dialog.
The XP-400’s inks are a better deal in their XL cartridges, but that’s not saying much. The 500-page, $30 XL black works out to 5.8 cents per page (cpp), while the $17, 450-page cyan, magenta, and yellow XL cartridges are 3.8 cpp each. That’s an above-average 17.1 cents for a four-color page. In the smaller standard capacities, black is a whopping 7.4 cpp, and each color 5.4 cpp. Spending 23.6 cents for a four-color page is pricey even in the entry-level category. If you don’t print much, however, a cheap printer with pricey inks can still be a good deal.
Despite the pricey ink, the Epson Expression Home XP-400 Small-in-One could be a useful home office or dorm-room printer for low-volume users. Its small footprint and versatile placement (thanks to the Wi-Fi) are major assets when space is at a premium. Overall performance and output quality leave little to be desired.
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