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.
We did find ourselves pecking around for a creative software suite similar to HP's Photosmart Essential software that helps you edit and print out photos in preset templates like greeting cards and calendars. In a clear-cut case of sticking to an "all-business" philosophy, the Epson Stylus NX515 has no such software. Instead, Epson reduces much of the filler that business users don't need and simply delivers a productive, efficient machine. We can't fault it for failing to offer that extra software, so if you're uncomfortable editing photos yourself, we recommend looking into an HP printer for help along the way.
The Epson Stylus NX515 uses four individual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink cartridges under the hood that makes a more convincing cost-efficient argument than sub-$100 printers that require ink refills every month. In this case, Epson increases the value more by offering standard and high-capacity color cartridges, and even extra-high capacity black cartridges. Using the posted cartridge yields on the Epson Web site, we calculate a page of all black ink to cost 3.1 cents and a color page to cost 3.2 cents; printers typically keep costs at less than 3 cents per page, so both prices are slightly higher than average, but not unreasonable for a device at this price.
The cost per page becomes more forgivable when you factor in the performance ratings you see here. In our speed tests, the Stylus NX515 is about average when it comes to printing photos, but it sprints ahead of the competition with presentation output speed, color graphics speed, and especially text speed. To widen the margin further, the NX515 printed a staggering 13.81 pages per minute of plain text on 20-pound white paper. Meanwhile, the next fastest printers are the HP OfficeJet J6480 and the Canon Pixma MX330 that both registered only 5.54 pages per minute, which factors out to slightly more than eight pages per minute slower than the Epson. In fact, the Epson churned out more pages per minute (text, graphics, and presentations) than any other inkjet printer we've tested to date. Look no further than the Epson Stylus NX515 printer if you need hard copies of your documents in your hand yesterday.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Presentation speed (PPM)
|Photo speed (1 sheet)
|Color graphics speed (PPM)
|Text speed (PPM)
The printer also doesn't disappoint in terms of print quality. With so many driver options to choose from, Epson makes it easy to cater to your prints in the most efficient way possible. We tried to cycle through most of the options, including using Epson's Vivid colorspace as opposed to Adobe's RGB, but we found that Epson's preset setting produced the most pleasing and accurate images. By far, the most accurate samples came from black and colored text and graphics containing thick, black lines. Considering the cost of the printer and the consumables, we're comfortable saying that our print samples are some of the most evenly saturated, fully formed shapes we've seen in awhile. We're satisfied with the weight of thin and thick lines, and the readability is clear even down to the smallest fonts on normal white document paper. We're also equally happy with the photo quality that continues to live up to the Epson name. All the printouts display smooth quality and are free of graininess or blotchy facial tones. Again, we highly recommend the Epson Stylus NX515 for its performance alone.
Service and support
Epson backs the Epson Stylus NX515 with a limited one-year warranty that includes toll-free customer support weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. Further support is available online through a model-specific troubleshooting guide, FAQs, e-mail support, driver updates, and document downloads. We're disappointed to see that Epson only includes one year of service with this device, considering the Epson Artisan 800 includes a two-year warranty. We understand that Artisan series comes with increased features and more hardware upgrades, but we're adamant in our belief that Epson should strive for user confidence across all product lines.
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