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April 10, 2008

Epson Stylus Photo RX680 Multifunction Printer

My days of complaining about the limitations of multifunction printers are over. Used to be you had to give up so much functionality in one or more of the functions, it just wasn't worth the space and money savings to have one. But that was then and this is now.

I have consistently preferred Epson printers over the years and the RX680 (List $199, $129 discounted) gives me no reason to change that preference. I have been living with this unit for over a month and can report that it is an excellent machine, worthy of your hard earned cash. It is not perfect, but it is the best multifunction printer I've ever reviewed.

The RX680 combines a superb six-color photo printer, a 1200-dpi flatbed scanner, a color/monochrome copier, a CD/DVD media printer, and a camera memory card reader into one space-saving black and silver box. There are several competing devices that this description would fit, but the Epson distinguishes itself in several key ways.

By having two paper trays so you can load photo paper and plain paper and easily switch between them. This is a real time saver and I would not want to be without this feature. Speaking of paper handling, the RX680 can be easily fitted with a roll-fed paper mechanism for printing panoramas or for high-volume photo printing.

The built-in LCD display is extremely handy when using the card reader or attaching your camera directly to the USB port. The user interface is about as good as it can possibly be considering the limited space. I found it easy to figure out without even a glance at the manual.

There are two aspects of this machine that could use a spot of improvement. Number one is, as usual with consumer-grade inkjet printers, is ink consumption and the cost of feeding the beast. The six cartridges are easy to find but drain pretty fast when you print photos or even simple business graphic pages. They are also prone to manufacturing problems. Out of three complete sets (18 cartridges) sent to me as part of my reviewer's kit, two cartridges (a Cyan and a Black) were DOA and the printer rejected them outrght. And these carts don't come cheap. It's tempting to use one of the many ink refilling services but this could void your warranty yadda yadda yadda. Proceed at your own risk if you go this route -- the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.

The other aspect of the RX680 that could use a little improvement is the software. The scanner and printer status utilities are fine and do what they are supposed to do without a lot of fuss. Scanner control is minimal by default unless you opt for the Advanced menus, in which case you have all the fine-tuning most users will ever need. The printer status utility is functional and businesslike. Do not install the bundled PhotoImpression software, a low-grade port from Windows that is just embarrassing. There are so many other tools out there for free or almost free that you have no reason to use this pig. The Epson Print CD disk printing app is a teeny bit clunky but serviceable. Making fine corrections to your disk printing designs is harder than it should be but it does produce gorgeous disks and it is free, so try it before you trade up to something better like the excellent Disc Cover from BeLight Software.

One thing you will definitely appreciate is this machine is the speed. Everything, from simple text printing to complex photo printing to hi-res scanning, is satisfyingly fast. Paper handling is reliable, too. I've never had a single misfeed in several hundred pages. I don't think I can make that claim about any other printer in my experience -- including several previous Epson multifunction models.

The RX680 is an evolved imaging tool, far and away the best I've seen. This product's two minor drawbacks could be eliminated with a free software rev and a 50% price reduction on Epson-branded ink carts. Will it happen? Doubt it, but even if it doesn't this is still my editor's choice. If you've been on the multifunction fence, come on down and buy an RX680.

~David MacNeill

Epson Stylus Photo RX680 at Epson.com

Posted by dtm at April 10, 2008 08:23 PM