Kodak ESP 5 inkjet multifunction printer

Kodak’s ESP 5 All-in-One Printer stands out from other color inkjet multifunction printers because of its significantly cheaper inks. Unfortunately, that’s not reason enough to buy this midpriced (US$170 as of August 4, 2008) machine, given its slowness and other shortcomings.

In our tests, the ESP 5 printed at desultory speeds: 6.1 pages per minute for plain-text pages, 1.9 ppm (or often slower) for color graphic–basically the same as its lower-cost cousin, the ESP 3. Text documents looked charcoal gray rather than black, but they were very crisp. On plain paper, color images looked yellowish and sometimes grainy. When we switched to Kodak’s own photo paper, the same images looked much better. Copies and scans emerged pretty quickly, but the output was disappointingly rough or pixelated.

The ESP 5 has a mostly appealing design. The shiny, black unit’s control panel has a big, 3-inch color LCD and clearly labeled buttons. You also get two media-card slots. Various underlying menu options simplify copying, scanning, and working with photos from the control panel. Open a front panel, and you create a 100-sheet input tray and 50-sheet output tray that share the same space: Printed pages simply fall atop blank ones that are loaded, inviting disarray. Manual duplexing (two-sided printing) is available, and the printer prompts you to turn over the pages when you need to.

Kodak offers useful features and guidance with the ESP 5. It bundles its own AiO Home Center software, which offers on-screen applications for copying, scanning, and photo printing, along with links to online information. The thorough documentation includes a PDF user guide (complete with a glossary) and additional HTML-based help.

Kodak’s inexpensive inks are noteworthy. The machine ships with a permanent printhead that you install yourself. You then load into that printhead a full-size black ink tank and a color tank that contains cyan, magenta, and yellow, plus a photo-black ink and a clear coating. A replacement black ink tank costs $10 (which works out to a consumables cost of 2.3 cents per page), and a replacement color ink tank costs $15 (6.8 cents per page). That’s significantly less expensive than any other color inkjet available.

The Kodak ESP 5 is a decent machine with very affordable inks, but it is slow. If you print a lot and are patient, the cheaper ink might be a reasonable trade-off.

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