Desktop Printer Ink Wars 2016: Part II

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #165


As you may recall, Epson’s new approach to ink is five new EcoTank models with huge ink reservoirs that hold enough ink for up to two years of printing. Hewlett-Packard’s (HP’s) new initiative is “Instant Ink,” and it charges you not for the ink you use, but by the number of pages you print each month instead, with plans ranging from $2.99 for up to 50 pages per month; $4.99 for up to 100; and $9.99 for up to 300.

I tested the ink initiatives with an HP OfficeJet Pro 8620 (left) and an Epson WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank (right).

This isn’t a review of the printers themselves, but for the record, they’re more alike than different. Their feature sets are closely matched, and in six months of daily use I found printing and scanning speeds too close to declare a winner. The same goes for printing and scanning quality, which I also declared too close to call. One last thing: They’re both relatively big, mostly black, and relatively unattractive (but then so is just about every printer ever made).

I feel obliged to mention that neither printer’s sheet-feeder was very good and both suffered from frequent paper jams and feed failures. I have a 5-year-old Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 that can handle a bigger stack of paper, and doesn’t jam or fail (or at least not since I tried to scan a crumpled and torn flyer and learned my lesson). That being said, it’s important to note that the Fujitsu is a sheet feed-only scanner (no flatbed scanning or printing); both of the printers I tested also have flatbed scanners (and good ones at that) and (of course) are printers, too.

Moving right along, here’s my projected 5-year cost of ownership under each plan:

*not tested; included for cost comparison only.

One other thing to note: If you exceed your Instant Ink plan’s limit, you’re charged $1.00 for each additional 15–25 pages depending on your plan.

My conclusion is that the fewer pages you print every month the more likely an HP Instant Ink plan will be less expensive for you. Conversely, the more you print, the more you’ll save if you go with an Epson EcoTank. (For what it's worth, after six months and 3000 pages, my ink reservoirs are more than ¾ full.)

Had I written this review last year, that would have been the end of it. But in January, I got a notification from HP that my credit card had expired and my account was about to be suspended. You know me… I had to see what would happen so I didn’t update my card and my account was indeed suspended. I was a little surprised when my printer then ceased to function and would only display this error message:

An error message you don’t want to see when you're on deadline.

Sure I could have run to Fry’s or Best Buy for some “regular” HP ink. My point is that if you choose any Instant Ink plan, there’s a possibility that your printer will be disabled remotely by HP. I know I’m at fault in this instance, but what if I had not seen the emails from HP? Or was on deadline with a client in the office waiting.

The bottom line is that if you choose an Epson EcoTank printer, you’ll never have to think about it being remotely disabled.

In all fairness, if I thought one of the Instant Ink plans was appropriate for me, I’d continue using it in spite of the (admittedly somewhat remote) possibility of again having it remotely disabled someday. But since I print a lot of pages every month, the Epson EcoTank should be more economical for me in the long run.

And that’s all he wrote…