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Epson WorkForce 600

Epson's WorkForce 600 color inkjet multifunction printer has one amazing talent: blazing speed (for an inkjet). Unfortunately, everything else about this machine is just average--and the ink is expensive. The WorkForce 600 is very fast compared with the competition. In our tests, it set a record of 18.2 pages per minute (ppm) printing text (Epson's spec: 27 ppm). The next-fastest machine is in the 11-ppm range. Its graphics-printing pace of 5 ppm (Epson's spec: 19 ppm) is also one of the faster times we've seen to date. With USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi connectivity--plus slots for CF, MS, SD, xD, and PictBridge-compatible media--this machine seems ready for anything.

One look at the paper handling, however, and you know it isn't so. The rear input tray holds just 100 sheets; the output tray, 50. In our unit, the pieces' telescoping panels moved roughly and felt cheap. The 30-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF), whose neat design unfolds when you need it and melts into the scanner's lid when you don't, also felt cheesy. Automatic duplexing would seem a natural fit, but the WorkForce 600 offers only a manual procedure with on-screen prompts.

Print quality varies. On plain paper, black text samples looked fairly crisp, but color graphics suffered from graininess; even simple line art looked rough. Photos printed on Epson's own paper had a pinkish cast that flattered fleshtones but made some landscapes look funny.

What's not funny are the ink costs. The standard-size inks that come with the printer are very expensive to replace: black costs US$17 and lasts 230 pages, or a sky-high 7.4 cents per page. Cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges cost $12.34, and each lasts 310 pages--also pricey at 4 cents per color, per page. The high-yield inks aren't much better. With the extra-high-capacity tank, only for black, you finally get a reasonable 3.4 cents per page.

The control panel could be simpler. A button labeled 'Home' has icons for the four major functions crowded onto it. You have to press the button repeatedly to cycle through each function, but that's not obvious: the first thing I tried was to press the corner where each function's icon was located, thinking that would take me directly to it.

Also, the 2.5-inch color LCD has too many buttons associated with it: four-way arrows, a plus and a minus sign, and Back and OK buttons. Small on-screen cues guide you, but backing out is not always clear. The WorkForce 600's documentation lacks an overview of how the control panel works, which doesn't help.

If speed were everything, the WorkForce 600 would win hands-down. But that's just one part of the package, and the machine's drawbacks--such as high ink replacement costs--drag down its rating.