It's really amazing how printers have become commodities in the past few years. Just look at Epson's latest all-in-one: The Stylus NX420 functions as your printer, scanner and copier. It has a small LCD screen, a Wi-Fi connection (802.11n), an SD card slot, and a lot of moving parts. It can handle both letter- and photo-size paper and happens to weigh a little over 12 pounds. It costs just $100.
Compare that with the iPod Nano: It functions as your media player. It also has a small LCD screen, but there are virtually no moving parts, and certainly no wireless connection or card slot. It weighs a mere 1.28 ounces, and it costs $149 — or about 1.5 times the Epson.
If that isn't already making you do a double take, the Epson adds even more, letting you print photos directly from memory cards and throwing in built-in photo correction. I'm actually kind of surprised it doesn't play your MP3s, too, but I guess the iPod has to win something.
I've been trying out an NX420 that Espon loaned us for the past few days, and it definitely delivers on the value. Connecting to my Wi-Fi network was surprisingly easy, though I was a little bummed that I had to actually install a driver from a CD-ROM on my MacBook Pro for it to find the printer properly (what is this — 2003?). It prints black-and-white on inkjet or normal paper respectably fast, at about 6 pages per minute. Color printing isn't as nimble, but it still managed to get two pages with complicated photos on them in less than a minute.
Photo printing wasn't as crisp as I'd like, with the ink pattern visible if you looked closely. I could definitely live with it for a lot of photos, though for really special ones I'd go with something else (or a lab). There were also occasional horizontal print lines (you know, when it looks like the printer pressed a little too hard on that last pass?), but that was mainly when I used non-photo paper.
Speaking of the ink, is that how they get you? Is that why this machine offers so much more than an iPod for so much less? The machine takes four cartridges, and replacements are said to cost about $10 each. After two days of printing a few dozen pages, the black ink was depleted the most, by about 20% (the others, no more than 5%). Yeah, they kind of get you here, though your mileage may vary.
Still, I've got to give points for the simple setup and deep bag of tricks on this machine. And no, I'm not talking about the iPod.