Has Epson hit the bull's-eye? The Stylus Photo PX710W multi-function inkjet printer looks great, races through pages, has an impressive set of features and costs a mere £170 if you're happy to shop around. Add in the integrated Wi-Fi and direct CD printing, and it looks like Epson has a winner on its hands.
Of all the printers we've tested lately, the PX710W garnered the greatest number of coos. Its sleek black case looks even better in person than in pictures, and the low profile means you can easily slip it under or onto a shelf if you're happy not to lift the lid of the scanner too high. It prints, it copies and it scans, looking nothing less than luscious all the time.
It boasts some impressive specs, too. It connects by Ethernet, Wi-Fi or USB and sports six individual inks, supplementing the regular cyan, magenta, yellow and black with half-strength cyan and magenta. The photo results, as you'd expect, are first-class.
In photo prints, skin tones are realistic, blacks are deep and primary colours vibrant. The PX710W's broad gamut brought out the detail in our test photos' shadows and gave us super-smooth transitions between areas of slow tonal variance, such as the shift in the atmospherics of a cloudless sky. The half-tone was so fine that, with the naked eye, it was impossible to see the dots that made up the output, even at very close inspection, giving the impression, on Epson's own photo paper, that the results were exposed photos rather than printed pictures. Quality of this level produced at A4 in 2 minutes and 14 seconds from a standing start is impressive indeed.
The results were similarly impressive when we switched to printing business graphics on plain office paper. Our stepped greyscale test of 21 tones with 5 per cent variance per step, ranging from white to black, proved child's play for the PX710W. At the 'photo' and 'text and images' settings, each step was clearly differentiated from its neighbours. It was only when we switched to draft quality, when the test completed in a breakneck 9.1 seconds per page, that they started to run into each other.
The small print
Both serif and sans-serif text is clearly legible at font sizes down to 2 points when printed in black on a white background, and down to 8 points when printed in white characters on a black background.
Black text on a coloured background poses no problems. On low-grade office paper, we could have excused some feathering as the black seeped into the yellow, magenta and cyan backgrounds, but there was no need. The upshot is a cost saving: the PX710W's performance on photocopy media is so good that you can shun dedicated inkjet media if you're producing handouts for a presentation or report.
The driver has only two practical settings for text printing, which equate to standard and draft settings, supplemented by the aforementioned 'text and images' option. When set to standard, our ten-page plain-text test completed in 1 minute and 28 seconds, for a throughput of 6.8 pages per minute, or just under 9 seconds per page. The results were good but not excellent on photocopy paper. They were sharp and well-formed, but slightly too grey to rival the output of a laser printer.
Switching to draft quality, it was obvious that we'd taken a short cut, but, at 3.7 seconds per page (16.2 pages per minute), we're willing to cut the PX710W some slack and reserve this mode for quick proofing, printing directions and personal use. It's not the mode you'd use when begging for a loan.
Rivals could learn a thing or two from the PX710W's build quality, which is hard to fault, with a robust paper tray that disappears inside the body, laser-printer style, and a large colour screen on the control panel. Even the buttons have a tactile fascination -- they're large, dimpled and have the kind of travel that would feel great if they were part of a standard keyboard.
If the worst we can say about the Epson Stylus Photo PX710W is that its draft-mode text is grainy and grey, you can be pretty sure you're onto a winner. Its looks endeared it to us when we opened the box, and its performance lived up to our high expectations. If you demand that your peripherals' appearance is as good as their performance, this is the printer to choose.
Edited by Charles Kloet