The ESP 5250 is Kodak’s latest upgrade to last year’s ESP 5 all-in-one printer, which should be obvious from the almost identical design. Aside from looks, the printer does make improvements to print quality and, most notably, its output speed. However, the printer still isn’t perfect–it’s missing an auto-document feeder and suffers from paper feed errors that aren’t acceptable for a $170 device. If you’re on a tight budget, we recommend taking a look at the $150 Epson Stylus NX515 that provides better performance and a sleeker design.

Design and features
Not unlike an unstylish friend dragged to a daytime talk show, the entire line of Kodak printers is in desperate need of a makeover. We expected the 5250 to sport a brilliantly hip design upgrade from the ESP5, but we’re disappointed to report that the thing looks almost exactly the same as the others: all matte black and dark glossy with orange accents and a perforated scanner cover. The design retains its compact package at 16.6 inches wide by 11.8 inches deep by 6.9 inches tall, and we aren’t knocking Kodak for streamlining its printers’ aesthetics, but the familiar look certainly won’t have ESP 5 users knocking down doors to upgrade.

The majority of people won’t have a problem navigating through the menus on the pop-up 2.4-inch LCD screen (a step down from the ESP 5′s 3-incher) thanks to the layout of the hard buttons just to the right of the scanner lid on top of the device. Kodak simplified everything you need into a vertical strip of controls starting with the power button up top, followed by a four-way directional pad, a pair of zoom buttons, a photo rotate shortcut, and a cancel button at the bottom with a larger “Start” key rounding out the cockpit. The rest of the printer is almost bare except for the hinged scanner bay and a small media card reader underneath the control panel that supports SD, MemoryStick, and MMC; Kodak is remiss to omit the USB port we saw on the ESP 5 that worked for simple photo transfers in lieu of a standard media card.

When you raise the cover to reveal the ink bay, a thin plastic arm pops up and braces the cover, similar to the hood of a car. The mechanism requires two hands to close, an overall poor choice in design. It’s almost guaranteed to break over time and we’re not sure why Kodak didn’t just use a standard spring-mounted lid. Also, the cover on top of the scanner bed folds on a fixed hinge that doesn’t reach over thicker items like large books. Kodak separated the ink into two cartridges: one for black and one for five different base colors. The Kodak Web site reports 10 cents per color photo, a decent price for the average inkjet printer. In addition, Kodak sells three different printing bundles that include black and color ink cartridges as well as several types of paper.

We’re unsure why Kodak decided to shrink the LCD down to 2.4 inches from the ESP 5′s 3, but its general functions remain the same and the vibrant colors are still easy to read. The options aren’t as sophisticated as those of the HP Photosmart C8180, but they’re fine for the average photo enthusiast. We’re also happy to see that the home screen has a shortcut to copy a document or a photo–we usually see this option at least two or three clicks into the menu.

The 5250 employs one paper tray that handles input feeds and also corrals outgoing prints. It can accommodate up to 100 sheets of paper in a variety of sizes, but at this price we would have liked to see two separate trays for output organization and perhaps even a separate tray for 4×6 photo paper so users don’t have to deal with taking out paper every time they want to swap media. We also encountered paper jams on par with our ESP 5 experience, except this time the paper input tray had trouble picking up photo paper. We specified the 3×5 setting in the driver options, but the printer kept rejecting the paper and spitting out an empty sheet. After some help from Kodak, we realized that the width adjuster inside the paper input tray needs to be cinched up tight against the paper or the media sensor will assume it’s a wider piece of paper and spit it out due to a paper mismatch. The 5250 only acted fussy with photo paper and did well with normal 8.5×11 inch media, but we can only imagine the headaches that will torture photo enthusiasts experiencing this error.

The printer ships with a single installation disc for Mac OS X and Windows XP/Vista and includes the Kodak All-in-One “Home Center” software. The Home Center acts as a hub for the copy, print, and scan functions. The copy feature is easy to navigate and offers a unique collage copy that copies several pictures in the same orientation as the originals. The scanning center is a little too simplified and lacks an option to scan directly to a .PDF or an e-mail; both are almost an industry standard, and we’re disappointed to see that Kodak let these two equally crucial features fall by the wayside. Luckily, there are far more options in the print center. In the initial set up, the software can be set to automatically scan your computer for photos and is actually very easy to navigate, like an iPhoto for Dummies.

Once you’ve chosen the photos to print, the software offers the opportunity to edit each individual picture with a variety of one-touch enhancements, including color sharpening, red eye reduction, color restoration, and Kodak’s “Perfect Touch” technology that combines all three in one button. You can also alter the severity of each adjustment under the settings menu. The software also lets you perform a custom facial retouch that analyzes portraits and fixes skin blemishes and discoloration accordingly. The result doesn’t always work as well as a custom Photoshop edit, but the learning curve is much shorter and meant for the average user wanting to clean up their images with little to no hassle.

The ESP 5250 forgoes Bluetooth connectivity and offers 802.11 b/g wireless connectivity out of the box. While many vendors require complicated menus and empty fields to connect, Kodak’s set up is centralized on the device itself with the built-in Wi-Fi wizard. This handy program guides you through the SSID connection process and pairs your printer with any computer hooked up through a router. We were able to start printing wirelessly in less than 10 minutes, a testament to the 5250′s easy-to-use graphical interface.

Performance
Unlike the ESP 5, the Kodak 5250 registered consistently quick performance in all four of our output speed benchmarks. We compared it to several other all-in-ones in a similar sub-$200 price range, and it printed almost a page faster than the competition in a majority of the tests. Unfortunately, it still falls short next to the cheaper Epson Stylus NX515 that printed 13.81 pages of text per minute compared with the Kodak’s 4.89 pages per minute. Don’t get us wrong, the ESP 5250 isn’t slow, the Epson is just blindingly fast for budget all-in-ones. It’s worth noting that the rest of the sample scores aren’t very widespread, and we doubt you’ll notice a significant difference in speed over a long period of time. It’s safe to say that the Kodak finishes prints at a respectable pace.

We have to give credit to Kodak for continuing to improve on overall image quality with each ESP. The ESP 5 produced much more pleasing images than the ESP 3, and the 5250 also does it a bit better than the ESP 3. Color text documents at the “normal” default setting are just about flawless with laser-quality precision. The full color snapshot photos we printed directly from our media card retain the subtle details captured by our camera, including sharp lines and smooth shadows and color blends. The skin tones in our portrait shots are well-produced as well with even separation and a rich color palette. Families and home users who want to breathe life into their digital images will be impressed with the output quality of Kodak’s ESP 5250.

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