Introducing The Epson Workforce 600

The very first color printer I ever purchased, many years back, was the original Epson Stylus Color. At the time, the Stylus Color was one of the most advanced color inkjet printers available for the PC, and its price--about $500 if I remember correctly--reflected that fact.

The landscape is completely different today, however. While the original Stylus Color offered only basic printing capabilities and connected via an ancient parallel cable, many of today's printers can connect via USB, Ethernet, or Wi-Fi, print quality has gotten exponentially better, and costs on the printers themselves have plummeted (ink is another story). In fact, it is not uncommon today to find multi-function, all-in-one printers that also offer scanning, copying, and faxing capabilities for about $100. That's a far cry from my original Stylus Color.

The Epson Workforce 600 is just such an all-in-one, but due to its extensive feature set and speed its price falls somewhere in the $150-175 range before mail in rebates (as of this writing, there is a $50 MIR available on the Workforce 600 which expires 1/10/09). The Workforce 600's specifications include Print, Copy, Scan, direct photo printing, and Fax capabilities, draft print speeds up to 38 ppm (black and color), laser quality text output, Wi-Fi and Ethernet networking, a built-in flash card reader and a 2.5-inch LCD. Maximum print resolution is 5760 x 1440 dpi with 3 droplet sizes, that can be as small as 2 picoliters. Copy speed is up to 38 cpm in black or color, and the scanner offers an optical resolution of 2400 x 2400 dpi, with a max interpolated resolution of 9600 x 9600.

The initial setup of the Epson Workforce 600 is fairly straightforward. Easy to follow instruction are included that explain how to install the ink cartridges, set the time and date, configure the network settings, and load paper. Once that's done, the printer initializes and its ready for use. I should note that Epson includes a full set of ink cartridges (there are four), sample papers, an Ethernet cable, and a phone cable, along with assorted documentation, with the printer. A USB cable is not included, however, so should you want to connect directly to the Workforce 600, a USB cable will have to be purchased separately.

Installation of the Epson Workforce 600 couldn't be any easier in my opinion. If you wire the printer directly to a PC or Ethernet switch, simply run the installation disc and follow the on-screen instructions and you'll be on your way in no time. If you want to connect wirelessly via the printer's built-in Wi-Fi function, first you'll have to input the necessary network access information (SSID, WEP/WPA password, etc.) using the front panel controls, but once connected, again just run the installation on the included disk and that's it. The installed scans the network or PC for the printer and automatically installs the necessary drivers and utilities.

The build quality of the Epson Workforce 600 is top notch. The unit itself is assembled from glossy and matte composite materials and it has a solid, sturdy feel. The built in LCD is bright and easy to read, the scanner lid is heavy with a smooth moving hinge, and the buttons and controls work very well. The heft of the unit alone gives an impression of high quality.

One of the Workforce 600's standout features is its speed. When printing draft-quality documents, this thing just flies. I was able to print a 12 page, text-filled word doc in under a minute, and draft quality photos (like those from a webpage, for example) print nearly as fast. The Workforce branding seems to be fitting, because this machine would be a great fit to a small office that does lots of draft-quality printing. The unit's built-in fax capabilities also worked well, but I didn't test these extensively as I haven't needed to fax anything in years--that's what e-mail and PDFs are for. The Workforce 600's scanning capabilities were particular impressive to me. Even with the printer connected via Wi-Fi, the scanner warms up almost immediately when the scanner application is launched, and its speed and quality were excellent.

Printing in high-quality modes and copying weren't quite as impressive though. The copier function worked very quickly and produced nice black copies using plain paper. Color copies, however, seemed somewhat grainy to my eyes. There were perfectly acceptable for archival copies, but I wouldn't consider them presentation quality. High-quality print modes were very good on premium inkjet paper, but not exceptional. Text was very crisp and photos looked great considering this is a four-color printer. But text output wasn't quite on par with a LaserJet I keep in the lab and the photos had a slightly soft appearance. Using Epson's photo paper produced much higher quality output.

The Epson Workforce 600 also features some cool built-in templates for direct printing of things like greeting cards using the card reader and personal photos, and flash media inserted into the integrated card reader can also be shared over a network for document collaboration, sharing files, etc.

Having lived with the Epson Workforce 600 for the last few weeks, I think its branding is very fitting. This all-in-one is a speedy workhouse with a top notch feature set.