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Epson WorkForce 520 Review

Updated on March 26, 2015

All-in-one printers are getting impossibly cheap these days, probably due to less than ideal market conditions. Ink jets that do everything are flying off the shelves while pricier laser models are taking the back seat. Offerings like Epson’s WorkForce 520 are at the forefront of the shift. For less than $100 you get efficient printing, copying, scanning, and fax capability.

Upon first viewing, the WorkForce 520 looks similar to its more feature-rich cousin the WorkForce 610. It has a matte black finish with glossy details and a sleek sloping design at the top of the device. Most notably the 520 is lacking the fancy colour display. The simple two-line LCD isn’t going blow anyone away but it gets the job done. Naturally, compromises like this allowed Epson to offer this AIO at such a competitive price.

Photo buffs may disappointed by the lack of built-in card reader or front side USB port for connecting directly to a camera. You’ll need to step up to the WorkForce 610 to get access to every imaginable card type: CompactFlash, SD, and Memory Stick, just to name a few. It an understandable omission when you consider there is no colour LCD screen for previews anyway.

The control panel is simple and well-labelled. You can switch from copier, scanner and fax machine with a push of a button. On-screen options are selected via a multi-directional pad with an ‘OK’ button in the middle. To the right is a numerical keypad commonly used to operate the fax machine but also used to enter passwords to access a wireless network.

Setup is basic for anyone that has owned an ink jet printer before. Simply unpack, plug in cord, power on, select options (language, date and time), install included ink cartridges, load paper in the tray, connect phone line, choose connection and install software provided on disc.

The wizard steps you through the process of connecting to your network. You can choose from Wi-Fi, Ethernet or USB 2.0. If you decide to go with 802.11 b/g/n wireless, you can either establish a connection with USB (just temporarily) or select the network via the Epson control panel on the printer. It’s recommended that you use that first method as you won’t have to diddle with typing in passwords with the keypad. A USB cable isn’t provided but chances are you already have a few on hand so this isn’t seen as much of a drawback.

Extras included with the WorkForce 520.
Extras included with the WorkForce 520.

Like Canon’s competing models such as the Pixma MP495, the WorkForce 520 makes use of a total of five ink cartridges. Most significantly there are two black cartridges: one for plain text and the other for colour photos and graphics. As black ink is notorious for running out first in ink jet printers, this innovation doubles up capacity. Cost of running is very affordable. A standard-size black cartridge costs around $15 and can print up to 550 pages (2.8 cents for each page).

Plain text printing is record-breaking in speed. On average it prints text at over 12 pages per minute or copies 7 ppm. Canon’s Pixma MP495 is only about half as quick. Ironically the Epson’s speed drops off to a crawl when printing photos with the highest quality settings enabled. The results look impressive but if you commonly need to print photos quickly, this flaw might eat into your productivity. Canon’s MP495 did better in this respect.

The fax machine sends and receives data very fast. It prints colour faxes as fast as three seconds per page. Unlike Canon’s inexpensive AIOs, the flatbed is legal in size not 8.5" x 11". That extra bit of real estate can come in handy when scanning books or copying large documents. Copies can be enlarged anywhere from 25 to 400 percent.

Epson WorkForce 520 Review Verdict

Although it delivers for most small business owners and home offices, the WorkForce 520 isn’t the best match for photographers, graphic designers and other artistic types. The photos and graphics come out looking good but the speed leaves something to be desired.

Surprisingly the plain text printing is blazingly fast and beats out competitors such as the Canon Pixma MP560, Lexmark S605, and HP Photosmart Wireless. It lacks a built-in card reader and colour LCD screen ideal for photography. For these reasons the WorkForce is ideal for those who are mainly interested in printing out text with the occasional graphic or chart.

The WorkForce 520 is only missing the bells and whistles that add wow factor but aren’t completely essential for most users. At this price budget users won’t mind axing a bit of sizzle.

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