With all-in-one printer vendors competing to offer the most functionality at the lowest price, consumers are left with a difficult shopping decision to make. In a recent review, to the $99 Lexmark Impact S305 scored favorably with us, but we felt cheated by the missing fax function. Epson picks up Lexmark’s slack with the introduction of their $120 WorkForce 310, a true all-in-one device that can print, fax, copy, and scan with output speeds that crush the competition. The printer can use improvement in photo output quality and benefit from a wireless connection, but its inexpensive cost of ownership and rapid print speeds make the WorkForce 310 a fully capable business printer and well worthy of our recommendation.
Design and features
The Epson WorkForce 310’s design marries an elegant wave shape with a solid control panel in the center that gives you one-touch access to the most popular settings. Most of the printer is swathed in a matte black finish with small touches of a faux-carbon black plastic weaved throughout the external case. We took issue with the barren control panel on the Lexmark Impact S305, but Epson suffers no issues here; the two-line LCD displays all relevant print information as well as individual job progress, cartridge-installation directions, and detailed instructions on how to fix a paper jam. The unit can store up to 60 speed-dial numbers for outgoing faxes and you get five empty buttons on the panel to start you off. There’s also the standard array of buttons for print modes, menus, and a large directional pad for scrolling through the screens.
The WorkForce 310 also benefits from a 30-sheet automatic document feeder on its top that automatically picks up individual sheets from a stack in the tray. Any multifunction or all-in-one printer for business use should include an ADF, although this feature also was missing from the Lexmark. At the same time, keep in mind that ADFs always add significant bulk to the printer. The Epson WorkForce 310 measures a workable 1.8 inches wide by 21.3 inches deep by 11.9 inches tall, but users with limited space might want to for a more compact printer. When you’re not copying or faxing stacks of paper, you can store up to 100 sheets of plain 20 pound white paper in the input tray that folds out of a rear panel, and all outbound prints get corralled by an extendable on the bottom lip of the printer.
The side of the WorkForce 310 houses the connectivity ports you need to pair it with your home or work computer. IT Pros and business shoppers will find the Ethernet and USB ports sufficient for network connections, but it’s important to note the lack of wireless access. We suspect that this omission won’t really concern business professionals, but a Wi-Fi print server does add appeal to consumers who don’t want to deal with another cable on the back of their computer.
Just above the control panel, you’ll find two hinged bays that expose the 1,200 by 2,400 dpi scanner glass and ink cartridge repository. Its scanning functions let you save an image in three ways: to a specific file folder, as a PDF document in a folder, or as an attachment in an outgoing e-mail message. The included NewSoft Presto Page Manager software helps to organize your scanned images, but the Optical Character Recognition left us with numerous spelling mistakes and character confusions.
Unlike many budget printers that leave you with only two small ink tanks that produce a limited spectrum of color, the Epson WorkForce 310 offers a unique five-ink cartridge bay: one for each of the separated black, cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges in addition to an extra slot for one more black tank. The extra black cartridge is useful for when you need a backup, but it’s worth noting that the printer will not operate without the additional cartridge installed.
To factor the most cost-efficient price per page, we’re using Epson’s XL black and color cartridges that cost $20 and $17, respectively. In accordance with Epson’s posted ink cartridge yields, we determined the cost of printing to be an affordable 2.5 cents per page of black ink and 3.2 cents per color. Again, the catch is that you’ll wind up spending double to purchase two black ink cartridges at a time.
To its credit, the cost of the extra black cartridge isn’t such a big deal when you consider the incredible output speed of this Epson printer. After coming away from the Lexmark Impact S305’s impressive 7.31 pages of text per minute, we were blown away by Epson’s 13.11 pages per minute, more than double the speed of competitive devices from HP, Canon, and Kodak. Oddly enough, the rest of our test documents (photos, graphics, presentation, and snapshots) offered standard speeds, if not a bit on the slow side. However, businesses that mostly print plain text documents will certainly see productivity gains with this device.
Though we weren’t as thrilled with the WorkForce 310’s overall print quality, it’s certainly better than what you’d get from a public photo kiosk. The internal driver settings let you choose between Photo or Best Photo mode, but keep in mind that you’ll wait significantly longer for the finished product with Best Photo. Text quality offers a similar choice between simple Text and a more complex Text and Image mode. We noticed subtle differences between the two, but not nearly enough in our snapshot photos and graphics documents to warrant the use of extra ink. We’re satisfied with the printer’s capability to reproduce colors and fine text lines, but many of the color blends in our snapshots obviously suffer from color blocks and an undersaturated haze. Bright colors in prints don’t seem to pop as much as they should, which is usually the case with business-oriented printers.