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Epson's new 'EcoTank' printers sound great, but ...

Epson's new 'EcoTank' printers sound great, but ...

Until Epson actually delivers the new 'EcoTank' printers, there's no way to tell how they'll actually perform.

By now, you know that many printer manufacturers sell you cheap printers and then make you buy expensive ink cartridges, right? So at first glance, Epson's recent announcement that it will soon sell printers with refillable ink wells seems like a great, money-saving idea. Not so fast.

Many new products launch along with extravagant promises, only to fall far short when they land in the hands of consumers. Since we haven't seen Epson's new line of inkjet printers -- they go on sale in September -- there's no way to know how they will actually perform. But here are some points to consider before buying one.

The new "EcoTank" printers start at $379. Epson sells a low-end inkjet printer for $60, and you can buy a Hewlett-Packard wireless, all-in-one printer for $70 at Best Buy.

Epson's claims vs. reality

Epson says that even its cheapest EcoTank holds enough ink in its reservoirs to print 4,000 black and 6,500 color pages before it needs a refill. If true, that is obviously impressive. Over the years, though, many tech publications I worked for, or followed as a reader, tested printers in attempts to measure quality and efficiency. Very frequently, the results in the testing lab were markedly different than the results the manufacturers claimed.

To be clear, I'm not saying Epson's claims are false. We simply don't know, and I'm somewhat appalled at the decidedly uncritical -- and by necessity, uninformed -- articles I've seen about the EcoTank. One of the many sad results of the collapse of print technology magazines is the near-elimination of serious product testing.

That said, I suspect consumers who print lots of photos may be well served by EcoTank. Small businesses that produce endless documents, receipts and invoices might also find Epson's new printers to be decent investments. And in general, Epson makes quality printers.

Do the math on EcoTank

Most of us don't print very often these days. I probably use three black ink cartridges a year in my HP all-in-one. At OfficeDepot, those cartridges sell for $29, and they're supposed to yield 500 pages. With sales tax and shipping, that costs around $100 a year. And I'll throw in an extra $23 for a single tri-color cartridge.

The math on that one is simple. It will take me at least three years to spend as much on ink as I would if I buy the low-end EcoTank printer. Then I'd start saving some money, but my Epson printer would be three years old. It's impossible to estimate how much life it would have after that.

How good is the print quality of the new line? Who knows?

Here's some advice: When the printers debut later this year, keep an eye out for real reviews by reputable tech or business publications, and see what Epson actually delivers.

I'm skeptical, obviously, but I really hope Epson hits a home run. The give-away-the-razor, get-rich-selling-the blade model of home printing is obnoxious, and it's about time a major manufacturer challenges it.

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