Not long ago, multifunction printers were the scourge of the industry. The dictum that being a jack-of-all-trades makes you the master of none applied all too well.
Nowadays, though, I'd wholeheartedly recommend most all-in-one printers. And the $400 Epson Stylus Photo RX700 would be high on the list, alongside some HP Photosmart and Canon Pixma models. If you're looking for a good home-office printer that doubles as a do-it-yourself photo lab, the RX700 is for you.
IT'S A SNAP. You'll be able to print color or black-and-white documents, including charts and other graphics, at a respectable 18-20 pages a minute. That's not blazing fast, but you won't find yourself glancing at your watch much either. The unit offers two paper trays, one on the front bottom that holds 150 legal-sized sheets, and one on the back holding 120 photo or plain-document sheets, obviating the hassle of switching between photo paper and documents.
The RX700 truly shines for photo enthusiasts who want the instant gratification of printing out their own images. You can pull up images directly from a camera using the PictBridge technology found on most higher-end printers, or from a built-in photo memory card reader. A bright, clear 2.5 inch display and simple, intuitive menu system lets you peruse those images without a PC present.
The RX700 scans 35mm film and slides, as well as images off an 8.5 inch by 11.5 inch flatbed scanner, with a nice optical resolution of 3,200 pixels per inch. It also offers the fairly unique feature of printing images directly onto specially coated optical CDs and DVDs.
TECH ON TAP. Despite all the features, the RX700 is surprisingly easy to use. Buttons are marked clearly for a particular function, including "memory card," "slide/negatives," "copy" and "scan."
The one problem I encountered in a month of testing was an odd scanning error on the display that popped up after I scanned in an old photo to retouch it (another neat future is the Adobe PhotoShop-like ability to restore color to faded prints and slides without having to go back to the PC). Even after finally breaking down and reading the documentation, I couldn't find a solution and was forced to use e-mail support. In less than an hour, though, I got a reply that walked me through resetting the scanner, which took less than a minute.
Prints looked bright and ready to put into a frame or scrapbook. The unit prints 4x6, 5x7, 8x10, and 8.5x11 at up to 5760 by 1440 dpi, with most photos churned out in under 90 seconds. The ability to retouch photos old and new creates a world of possibilities for photo enthusiasts -- and could take up hours of your time if you've got a big library just sitting in shoeboxes awaiting a deft touch.
INK IN A WINK. The RX700 won't win any points for great styling. At nearly 30 pounds, it was surprisingly difficult to get out of the box and even harder to figure out where to put it. That's because it measures a relatively large 9.3 inches high x 16.4 inches wide by 17.7 inches deep. Other peeves: There's no fax capability or networking functions offered by rival printers at similar prices.
One nifty bit of design, though: Slots for the machine's six-color ink cartridges. Rather than make you walk through the cumbersome process of opening various trays to add new cartridges, two slots on the front let you install and replace ink in a snap.
While the absence of some options found on other all-in-ones may knock the RX700 down a peg, it still sets the gold standard for printers.