Hands on: Epson Expression ET-3600 EcoTank review

Buy, print and forget...

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Our Early Verdict

The ET-3600 is a good printer but not a great one. Other products in Epson’s EcoTank range might be a better fit depending on whether you have a heavy print workload, or want better scanning capabilities.

For

  • Absurdly low running costs
  • Ease of use

Against

  • No ADF at this price point
  • Slow printing

Epson has come up with a new type of printer, the EcoTank family, to tackle the issue of total cost of ownership for individuals and organisations that churn out a large amount of printouts.

For those who print large numbers of documents, buying cartridges and swapping the empty ones is costly, both in pecuniary terms and costs in terms of potential lost opportunities caused by downtime and frequent maintenance routines.

Of course, printer vendors have historically emulated the razor blade business model. Sell the product for cheap but charge a lot for the consumables – in other words, cut down on the capex (initial expenditure) and push up the opex (operational costs).

This has given rise to some ridiculous situations where the cost of buying one set of consumables (a full set of ink or toner cartridges) is far higher than the price of the actual printer which often comes with the same set of cartridges.

The Expression ET-3600 is one of a number of Epson all-in-one printers that embrace the opposite philosophy. While they are relatively expensive to acquire, the cost of running them is almost nil because the ink is included in the deal.

Yes, you read that right. Epson includes two years’ worth of printing ink with its printer, the equivalent of 84 cartridges on average or up to 11,000 printed sheets of paper in colour or in black. That, Epson claims, helps cut the cost of printing by nearly three-quarters.

The printer costs only £330 (around $420, AU$565) but there are far cheaper printers offering the same functionality and core features; EcoTank, scanning, as well as wireless connectivity. The ink, which is provided in small plastic bottles, is far cheaper than the usual hard-body ink cartridges.

A full set of EcoTank ink cartridges (350ml worth of CMYK liquid) can print up to 6,500 pages and yet costs under £24 (around $30, AU$40). These are original products, not compatible consumables, and will therefore not void your printer’s warranty.

Obviously, you need to be willing to print a lot to justify the initial investment. Compare this with HP’s Instant Ink program which allows you to print 300 pages per month for £8 (around $10, AU$14) or, to match Epson’s two-year offer, 7,200 pages for £192 (around $240, AU$330), a price that obviously excludes the cost of the printer.

As expected, the ET-3600 is bulkier than the average printer thanks to the inclusion of four ink containers on its right. That is a far more elegant solution compared to CIS (Continuous Ink Systems) solutions that have prevailed in the printing industry over the last decade.

We’d advise you to use disposable gloves when you fill up the ink reservoirs as the ink takes a while to come off in case of spillage.

This device will fit comfortably on an average desk thanks to a compact footprint, and its design has been kept deliberately simple. There’s a tiny monochrome LCD screen to display essential information about printing status, arrow control keys plus alphanumeric ones, colour/black and white copy, and a few more system ones.

It can scan but only one page at a time – there’s no automatic document feeder (ADF) on this all-in-one, so you will have to look elsewhere if you plan to use your multi-function printer to make copies of multi-page documents.

The ET-3600 has a 150-sheet paper cassette with a pull-out paper tray. Loading the paper is rather straightforward and overall, paper handling on this printer was more than decent.

You can connect to it via USB, Ethernet and Wi-Fi (including Wi-Fi Direct) with Android and iOS apps available. The device is also compatible with Apple’s AirPrint and Google’s Cloud Print. 

There’s no NFC at this price point, although this is less of a ‘walk-to’ printer. Also absent is a card reader although curiously Epson mentions the presence of one on its website.

Other specifications include the printing resolution (4,800 x 1,200 DPI) and the scanning resolution (2,400 x 1,200 DPI), both of which are more than adequate for average office usage.

Epson rates this printer at up to 13.7 pages per minute (monochrome) and 7.3 pages per minute (colour) with duplexing more or less halving the printing speeds under ISO/IEC rules.

No details about the monthly duty cycle were available but given Epson mentions a 50,000-page, one-year carry-in warranty, we suspect that it must be in the low thousands, which is enough for small offices. 

Make no mistake though, if you’re looking for a superfast, photo quality printer, you will have to look elsewhere. The ET-3600 does, however, deliver good quality copy with little banding; the ink dries quite quickly to Epson’s credit.

We printed two mixed media PDF documents as part of our testing. The first one, a 16-page colouring book, took about six minutes to come out (equivalent to 2.5 pages per minute) while the second run saw 10 pages printed in 4 minutes 25 seconds (or just over 2 pages per minute).

However, it would be unfair to the ET-3600 to compare it with printers in the same price range, as this all-in-one is essentially a printer and ink bundle. 

Come to think about it, the ET-3600 is very similar to the WF-2650 we reviewed earlier this year – this is an Epson WorkForce printer that costs £60 (around $75, AU$105) with a full set of ink (14.7ml) costing £22 (around $30, AU$40).

Early verdict 

If printing is all you want to do, then you might as well settle for the cheaper ET-2550 which uses the same technology to deliver exceptionally cheap printing.

Epson’s EcoTank is certainly the best technology for producing usable copy at the cheapest possible price – dare we say, even cheaper than laser printers, especially if you plan to print a lot of documents, blending colour and mono.

The step up, the ET-4550, is probably a better buy at £40 (around $50, AU$70) more since it comes with a three-year warranty as well as an SD card slot, fax capabilities and an automatic document feeder.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré (Twitter) has been musing and writing about technology since 1997. Following an eight-year stint at ITProPortal.com where he discovered the joys of global techfests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.