The Gadget: The Epson Artisan 800 All-In-One with Wi-Fi and fax. On paper, it has all the signs of being the best AIO ever made, especially for people who want versatility but care deeply about fine photographic prints.
The Price: $300
The Verdict: So far, man is it awesome... for a printer/scanner/copier/fax machine, that is.
I know printers. Like intimately. For a few years, I'd get the newest ones and run a double-blind print quality test. I got bored because Epson would always win. HP accused me of letting personal taste get in the way of objectivity, to which I replied, "Call me back when you get the color blue figured out." (My phone has yet to ring.)
Anyway, when I heard about Epson's total revamp of its all-in-one, I was happy and scared. Epson might have been the champ at photo quality, but its printers weren't always the easiest to use. Besides, they were often slower than Canons or HPs. But the Artisan could have traded in print quality to improve speed (an old HP trick). And besides, the Artisan has Wi-Fi, a sure sign of future tech-support calls.
Happily, my fears turned out to be nonsense: Setting up the printer was easy (though I did follow directions carefully, which is not my standard MO). The wizard worked great on the Mac, and I easily added the printer's wireless profile and drivers to another Mac and a Vista PC afterward with the same install disc, all printing without a hiccup. You might say "Big whup!" but trust me, wireless networking set-ups often don't work as billed, especially across both Macs and PCs.
The new touchscreen interface is great, giving you plenty of soft options in plain English, rather than a few choices in terse one-word buttons. As you can see in the shots below, there are fixed contextual touch buttons in addition to the LCD, making the interface even more flexible. I especially like that the fax dial-pad is hidden away, so that if you use it, great, but if you don't, you won't feel like you're wasting part of your purchase. Speaking of fax, the 800 has a document sheet feeder built right in, crucial for multi-page faxes and useful for copying and scanning too.
The print quality was amazing, as I anticipated. What surprised me was how damn fast this bugger is. I could get a gorgeous borderless 4x6 in under 18 seconds, and of course it could manage larger sizes fairly speedily too, including the elusive 8x10. (HP once told me that 8x10, which it didn't support, wasn't in demand by photographers; Epson has always had an 8x10 option.)
The one thing you're still gonna hate about the printer is that each ink cartridge is still the size of a matchbook and damn if you won't burn through them all too fast. You get a second (BONUS!) black cartridge in the box, but all that tells me is that Epson is embarrassed about its ink addiction. Other printer makers will try harder to solve the ink-deficit problem—Kodak sells printers for more money and ink for less—but inevitably that solution comes at the cost of good hardware and high-quality prints. Go with Epson if you want the best pictures and, in this case, the best all around use, but remember that you will pay for that satisfaction in ink. [Epson]