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-- by Jim Forbes
If a picture is worth a thousand words, Epson just shipped an encyclopedia's worth. Its new Stylus Color 800 ink jet printer could set a standard for both color and monochrome ink jet printing for just $449.
A little larger than some ink jet printers, the Stylus Color 800 weighs 14.3 pounds and, with its paper feeder guide and receiver tray extended, measures 12.4 by 18.7 by 24 inches. The friction mechanism for feeding paper from the top and ejecting it into the bottom mounted tray reliably handled a variety of paper weights, including envelopes.
The Stylus Color 800 produces jaw-dropping photorealistic output, with performance surpassing even its closest competitors (printers in the Hewlett-Packard 800 family and the Canon 4000 family). Using a wide print head and piezoelectric technology for pinpoint control, this newly designed printer precisely shoots ink drops at the paper, resulting in crisp monochrome or color images. It also allows the printer to achieve a superfine 1440x720-dots-per-inch resolution.
The combination of 128 nozzles for black ink and 64 nozzles for each of the three primary colors, along with the use of two motors to control the paper and the print head, not only help this device print quality documents-they also make it one of the fastest ink jet printers available.
The Stylus Color 800 uses two ink cartridges, each with a $29.95 suggested retail price. Epson's estimated life for the color cartridge is 300 letter-sized pages (at 5 percent coverage for each of its three basic colors), or about 10 cents per page at low resolution. If you plan to use the Stylus Color 800's superfine mode frequently, it's a good idea to keep a spare color cartridge on hand.
The estimated life for the black cartridge is 900 pages at 360dpi and 5 percent coverage of a single sheet of paper, costing approximately 3.3 cents per page for monochrome printing.
However, costs differ depending on the job. During tests, we printed 18 pages of a 1.03MB Photoshop image in the superfine mode on Epson's High Quality Glossy Paper (approximately 65 cents per sheet) and used almost 40 percent of the ink in the color cartridge. The average cost per page for this test was about $1.22.
The printer's output in superfine mode, however, justifies the cost per page-the results are outstanding, with some of the most brilliant colors ever seen from a desktop printer and a degree of photorealism not available from other ink jet printers currently on the market. The inks dry on contact with the media, a feature that will be appreciated by anyone printing a color photograph using an ink jet printer.
You'll also like the fast throughput. Epson rates the printer's output at 8 pages per minute monochrome and 7ppm color. In real-world tests, the Stylus Color 800 clocked 3.8ppm for a 20-page monochrome document printed at 360dpi. A three-page document of mixed text and graphics, printed at 720dpi (fine mode), took 3.25 minutes. A color photo printed at 720dpi required just 1.66 minutes; the Stylus Color rendered the same photo at 1440dpi in 4.5 minutes.
One operation required a bit of a wait: The Stylus 800 needed an average 2.5 minutes' warm-up time after a lengthy idle period.
The printer's CD-ROM-based software driver, while not particularly intuitive, allows you to develop and save custom colors, manipulate the position and characteristics of an image or document, and quickly switch modes. The driver also includes icons that estimate remaining ink supply in the two cartridges, a necessary feature when printing ink-intensive documents. Extensive help files accompany the software. The Stylus Color 800 is also smart enough to stop printing a multi-paged document when an ink cartridge runs dry.
The Stylus Color 800's relatively quiet paper feed mechanism is solid. This printer accepts most common media, including card stock, envelopes, T-shirt transfer material and a wide variety of paper sizes; the feed tray can handle up to 10 envelopes. If you are going to use the printer to produce color foils, they need to be fed one at a time.
With corporate and SOHO users in mind, Epson's optional internal Ethernet card lets you connect the Stylus Color 800 to an EthernetTalk, TCP/IP or Novell network. The printer also provides ports for both parallel and high-speed serial connections, with a 32Kb input buffer. Epson protects your investment with a two-year warranty and toll-free technical support.
Epson's Stylus Color 800 not only has the resolution to accommodate virtually all desktop color printing needs, it also makes it possible to easily generate photo-realistic images. This printer's versatility, as well as its power and reliability, make it a welcome addition to our WinList.