Small business offices are often as cramped for space as they are tight on cash, which makes multifunction printers particularly attractive. In this first edition of Tech Review, I’ll be looking at the Epson WorkForce 635 all-in-one, a new device that bundles fax, copying, and scanning capabilities with very high-speed ink jet printing, all in one package.
The WorkForce 635 is a handsome machine, with its black body, piano black accents, and color LCD front panel. It’s also not too large for such a versatile device, and should fit nicely on a desk or small shelf.
Instructions on the LCD and the bundled software CD walk you through the setup process, and the WorkForce 635 was up and running on my wireless network in minutes. (Wired network or USB connection options are also available.) The device supports either Windows XP and later or Mac OS X 10.4.11 and later.
I was pleased with the output on my test prints. Blacks were crisp and dark, and color fidelity was very good, even when printing on plain paper in an economy mode. Also, kudos to Epson for shipping this device with a set of four full, high-capacity ink cartridges, instead of the half-full cartridges that some manufacturers provide.
I was particularly impressed by the high-quality photo output mode, which was better than I expected for a business-class device, although it still won’t match professional-grade photo prints.
One downside, however, is that while the paper tray can hold 250 sheets, there’s just the one tray for every size of paper, and no single-sheet feeder. The tray can’t detect what size paper is loaded, either, so you’ll want to double check before you use the one-touch photo printing feature.
The biggest selling point of the WorkForce 635 is speed. Epson claims it’s the “world’s fastest all-in-one,” and while I can’t verify that, I can confirm this is one zippy little printer. Black text output was as fast as some higher-end laser printers, and even full-page color output was respectably quick. In tests at standard resolution, it averaged about 10 pages per minute (ppm) for black text and closer to 4 ppm for complex, full-color documents mixing text and graphics.
The device can also print on both sides of the paper in automatic full-duplex mode, which is somewhat unusual for an ink jet printer, but it prints a little slower that way. Printing a complex, full-color document with a mix of graphs and text in full duplex mode at standard quality averaged about 3 pages per minute.
The WorkForce 635 can also scan double-sided originals from the document feeder, though in my tests I often saw images bleeding through from the other side of the page. Overall the scanner works well, and I was impressed by Epson’s full-featured scanner software. Epson also bundles the ABBYY Fine Reader Sprint optical character recognition (OCR) software, which allows you to scan directly into Microsoft Office or PDF documents.
On the other hand, I was disappointed that you can only initiate a scan from the device’s front panel and send the results to your PC if the WorkForce 635 is connected directly to the computer via USB. This seems like an unfortunate oversight for a networked printer.
Epson’s lightweight, plastic construction, typical for this class of device, makes the WorkForce 635 poorly suited for high-traffic, high-volume environments. But if you’re in the market for a very fast, versatile device for an individual or small workgroup, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better all-in-one. The WorkForce 635 is shipping now, with a suggested retail price of $229.99.