COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

Is new Epson WorkForce WF-3540 best printer yet?

Epson introduced its new line of home and business ink-jet printers this past month, and I’ve been trying the top-of-the-line WorkForce WF-3540. It’s an all-in-one printer, fax and scanner that connects through a wired USB connection, over an Ethernet network or over Wi-Fi. Using Wi-Fi, it can wirelessly print documents from your iPad and iPhone using Apple’s AirPrint and from Android devices using Google Cloud Print. I used the printer in its Wi-Fi mode with a MacBook Air 13-inch and iPhone.

The first thing you’ll notice about it is that it’s taller than most ink-jets, about a foot high. It’s boxy in shape rather than low and sleek, but there’s a good reason for that. The printer has two large pullout paper drawers on the front that can each hold 250 sheets of paper. That’s a big improvement over many printers that barely hold 50 sheets, and is particularly important with wireless printers when the printer need not be nearby.

The front loading input and output design means it takes up less space than other printers. There’s an optional rear feed tray, but it doesn’t protrude beyond the back wall of the printer. As a result the printer takes up less room and can be pushed up against a wall.

The printer is loaded with features that add to its capabilities and ease of use. It has an advanced automatic document feeder that can copy, scan or print both single- and double-sided, up to 30 pages at one time. I used it to scan a stack of pages and copied a 15-page report. While document feeders and paper handling can often be erratic, I experienced no paper jams or feed problems, and the mechanism was quieter than most.

The 3540’s interface consists of a 3.5-inch color touch display surrounded by a half-dozen additional touch buttons on a black panel that light up as needed. The touch display is responsive to gestures, such as swiping up and down to access a list of options. While it worked OK, don’t expect the smoothness of an iPhone.

On the left front of the printer are three slots for SD memory cards and a USB thumb drive. That allows you to load photo images from your camera into your computer via the printer or to scan documents from the printer to the cards. You can also print directly from the images on the memory card, avoiding the computer altogether.

Other standouts of the printer are its speed and quiet operation. Black-and-white text prints in about five seconds, and full-color images on photo paper took about one minute. Quality of both text and photos is excellent.

The printer uses four separate cartridges that are easy to load from the front: cyan, yellow, magenta and black. The highest-capacity cartridges are labeled 127XL. Epson rates the printing capability of the Black XL at just under 1,000 pages, and the color cartridges at just under 800 pages. Of course this assumes you are printing documents, such as email and Web pages, not photos. The cartridges cost $57 for a set of the three colors (or $21 purchased individually), and the black costs $30. That puts its cost per page on the low end of ink-jet printers.

In my two weeks of use, the printer worked fine. Setup was particularly simple. While the printer shipped with a DVD, it was easier to download the software online because my primary computer has no DVD drive and I accessed the latest updates. Epson asked for some basic personal information during the registration process, but unlike the Microsoft Surface I tested last week, it allowed me to bypass the form without preventing me from using the product.

Overall I found this to be one of the best printers I’ve used because of its simple interface, easy setup and breadth of features. It printed quickly and quietly, and had a huge paper capacity. Most importantly the results were excellent, although rarely do you find a printer these days that does not do an adequate job with printing documents and Web pages.

If there’s one gripe I have, it’s one that is common to all printers. Retailers have badgered the print companies, including Epson, Hewlett-Packard and Canon, to leave out the $3 USB cable so they can try and sell you one for $20.

In spite of all of its features, the Epson WorkForce WF-3540 is affordably priced at $200 list and about $150 street price.


Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer" published by Financial Times Press and available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other booksellers. He has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others; holds 30 patents; and is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Baker can be heard on KOGO AM the first Sunday of each month. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor. Baker's blog is blog.philipgbaker.com, and his website is philipgbaker.com.

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