The Epson Stylus NX515 All-in-One printer represents a sweet spot for vendors. The $150 price tag seems to be just the amount of money folks are willing to spend on a printer for intermittent use, either at work or in the home. However, just because the machine might not get used every day doesn't mean that it shouldn't function flawlessly and retain its value over time. After putting the Stylus NX515 through our usual benchmark and quality tests, we have no problem recommending it to shoppers for its quick printing speeds, pleasing output quality, and a host of valuable features not typically included for less than $200.
Design and features
The sleek design of the Epson Stylus NX515 certainly sets it apart from other all-in-ones. We like the carbon-weave pattern that runs across the entire hood of the control panel. The grainy texture makes it easy to lift up and protects the lid from unsightly fingerprints as well. Like most printers, the finish is black, which leaves the printer with a subtle elegance that should fit comfortably into any office aesthetic. The output tray and the rear-loading paper feed both fold flat into the device, which measures 17.7 inches wide, 21.3 inches deep, and 11.7 inches tall--about the average size for today's printers. The printer is also compact and easy to store, since the depth and height shrink down more than 5 inches with the trays retracted.
The buttons on the control panel are all laid out in an intuitive strip on the left side of the machine. Starting from that top, you can see the large 2.5-inch tilting LCD screen that only takes up approximately 80 percent of the display, leaving an elegant black border around the edges. Below that, there's a series of buttons including a power switch, four shortcut function buttons for copy, memory card access, photo, and scan, as well as a directional pad for menu navigation and four more buttons for setup, display/crop, stop, and start. We usually require a 10-minute learning curve to digest all of the buttons on a printer, but we were up and running on the NX515 very quickly--a testament to the intuitive layout on the control panel.
The top half of the print juts out over the bottom output tray, creating a handle that lifts up to reveal the small four-ink cartridge bay inside. Down below, Epson leaves a small indentation for access to the extendable output tray. One small complaint here is that all but the base output tray are made out of a flimsy plastic that bends and shutters to the touch, and we worry about the physical integrity after prolonged use. The same goes for the retracting input tray on the back of the device. We do, however, applaud Epson for separating the input and output trays instead of combining them both into a confusing multipurpose drawer at the bottom.
For people who want to print directly from a digital camera or memory card, Epson includes a media card reader and PictBridge compatible USB port in the bottom-left corner next to the output tray, with slots for xD, SD, and MemoryStick Pro, as well as a longer slot for CompactFlash cards. The corresponding button on the top of the control panel acts as a shortcut button for copying and printing directly from one of these external cards.
Epson offers three ways to link the printer up to a computer: direct using USB 2.0, wired Ethernet, and 802.11b/g cord-free Wi-Fi. All of the drivers you need to install the printer using a wired connection come on the driver disc, which also includes a network set-up utility that guides you through the process of establishing a Wi-Fi connection.
Like many other printers on the market, the Epson's setup first asks you to keep the USB 2.0 cord plugged into a computer while it creates an ad-hoc connection to your wireless router. After you establish a connection, you're free to remove the cable and continue printing wirelessly using a PC or a Mac. You can also set up network utilities and preferences through the menu on the control panel of the NX515 itself, but we found the driver setup requires fewer manual operations.
We were also impressed with the abundance of user controls within the driver itself. For example, you can choose between several preset quality modes including Draft, Text, Text and Image, Photo, and Best Photo. Unfortunately, you can't assign shortcuts for your own preset standards. However, there's plenty of room for scene correction (people, landscape, night scene, sepia, gray), paper type, easy fixes (red eye, autofix, quiet mode), as well as a pop-up status monitor that shows ink levels, print progress by page (not many companies include the pagination progress), and a handy event manager for copy and scan modes. Epson also makes it easy to check up on the ink cartridges inside, with information on specific production dates (to monitor expired ink), manufacturer, type, and cartridge code for quick refills.