Kodak's ESP 3 is an entry-level all-in-one (AIO) inkjet printer, copier, and scanner. Kodak keeps the cost low at $130, which makes this one of the cheapest multifunctional printers, but the output quality just isn't up to par with that of the other inkjet printers currently available in the same price range. We enjoyed using Kodak's AIO Home Center Software with its new Facial Retouch technology, but when it comes to actually printing, the ESP 3 produces disappointing results at a slower-than-average rate. If you don't have a lot of money to spend on an AIO, you can still find one with better output quality than the ESP 3.
The ESP 3 has a compact footprint (6.9 inches high, 16.6 inches wide, and 11.8 inches deep) relative to other AIOs. There's no built-in document feeder, which helps account for the low price tag. The input and output trays are both located at the bottom of the unit, but the input tray is slightly angled to the left and can hold 100 sheets of plain paper or 30 sheets of Kodak's photo paper. We liked that this model has an onboard media bay with slots for Compact Flash, MemoryStick, SD/MMC, and xD-Picture Cards, but there's no LCD, meaning you'll have to use a computer and companion software to print your photos. Sacrificing the LCD is also reasonable for this price.
The top of the ESP 3 has buttons or direct access to major settings including Black/Color, 100 percent/Fit to Page, Cancel Print, Scan, and Adjust Quantity. The hood of the scanner bay has a unique perforated design that blends well with the rest of the ESP's slim shape.
You access the dual-cartridge ink bay by lifting up the scanner bay, but instead of a locking hinge, a long mechanical arm automatically pops up and keeps the top portion open. This sloppy, mechanical process is akin to the rod that props up the hood of a car, and we can see this being the first place to show mechanical fatigue over time.
All of Kodak's newest all-in-one printers (including the ESP 3) ship with its Home Center Software, a portal for scanning, printing, and copying pictures from your printer. In particular, we were very impressed with its navigation and usability. We typically prefer our own photo-editing programs for image manipulation, but the Home Center software makes it incredibly easy to get the most out of the ESP 3. In a way, it's like AIOs for Dummies. We got the most use out of Home Center's Print Pictures gateway. The software automatically scans your hard drive and the printer's media bays for any available pictures and displays them in a window similar to iPhoto, with the ability to zoom, select individual pictures, and grab more photos from an external source. From here, you can edit the pictures using Kodak's retouching software. Advanced users will prefer a more robust program such as Photoshop or Illustrator, but Kodak makes it easy to adjust photos with literally one mouse click. The editing window provides options to sharpen, restore, reduce red-eye, crop, adjust lights and shadows, and automatically touch-up portraits.
Our favorite feature is the Custom Facial Retouch function. This choice prompts you to click the center of the person's face that you want to retouch. After you select the retouch level (default, low, medium, or high), the algorithm automatically recognizes what needs to be fixed and eliminates blemishes, cleans up facial hair, smoothes wrinkles, and even whitens teeth and eyes. We used this feature on a number of images in both light and severe cases, and we were very pleased with the results. From an amateur photo editor's standpoint, the changes are unnoticeable. Just be aware that the higher the retouch level, the more unrealistic it looks, so don't get too excited and make yourself look like a porcelain doll. Remember: Wrinkles add and distinguish expressions!
Kodak claims the Home Center software is compatible across Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Windows Vista operating systems. However, our test bed running Windows Vista froze up in mid-edit and insisted on a restart, so Vista users might want to wait for a driver update before relying on Home Center exclusively.
|Color scanning (PPM)||Photo (PPM)(10 copies)||Graphics (PPM)||Text (PPM)|
Compared with other AIOs in the same price bracket, the Kodak ESP 3's results were about average, but there are even cheaper printers that printed at the same speed. We put the Kodak up against the Canon Pixma MP470, a $100 multifunction (MFP) printer, and it beat the Kodak by a full page in both text and photo prints; graphics printed at almost exactly the same rate. We also compared it with the HP Photosmart C5280, a MFP touted for its photo print quality. Not surprisingly, the ESP 3 lagged with text and photos. In terms of speed, we were neither impressed nor disappointed by its printing times; it's simply slightly slower than average.
We were hoping that the task quality would be excellent, to offset the underwhelming speed rating, but the image fidelity leaves a lot to be desired as well. Black-and-white text looks decent to the naked eye, but color prints look awful and just get worse as the font size increases. The colors are blotchy and have a transparent element that creates noticeable white perforations, indicating that the nozzle isn't laying down an appropriate amount of ink. The ESP 3 continued to show the same results, even after we aligned the cartridge and cleaned the nozzle. Color graphic prints were equally dissatisfactory, showing horrendous banding and blotches in color gradations. Skins tones also looked grainy and unrealistic, even on Kodak's best glossy 8.5-by-11-inch photo paper. The photo print came out the best out of all the tests but still had an overbearing amount of yellow, producing a cloudy, oversaturated tone. Scan quality was a little better but also retained the dark compression issues we saw in the prints. The color scan produced accurate results, if a little too bright, but the overall impression was sharp and defined.
Kodak supports the ESP 3 with a one-year manufacturer's warranty with toll-free phone and online chat tech support available every day. The Kodak Web site provides access to manuals, driver downloads, troubleshooting tips, graphic tutorials, and a list of frequently asked questions.
Find out more about how we test printers.