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If you want proof that the design and production of printers is an evolutionary process, look no further than Epson's SX400. We cheerfully booked this machine in for review when we received the press release, because it was a new model in a competitive area of the market. When we received our sample, though, it looked suspiciously familiar.
If you have read our review of the Epson Stylus DX8400, you'll have a pretty good idea how this printer looks and performs. The SX400, apparently, has a new ‘colour ID', which means different shades of dark grey and black for its case. It also has revised paper tray designs, both front and rear.
Tray changes may sound trivial, but in both cases the improved design provides more paper support and, in the case of the feed tray, stops paper flopping forward and acquiring a curve when you're not printing.
The control panel is identical to before, but was already well laid out, with separate mode buttons for Copy, Memory Card and Photo and a ring of buttons for menu control. There's a 63mm colour LCD monitor, too, so you can preview photos from memory cards. The images display using a slightly odd double scan, like an old Web page. This suggests the printer's processor is a bit underpowered.
The Stylus SX400 uses a Contact Image Sensor (CIS) scanner, which has a good resolution for a flatbed of 1,200 by 2,400 and an internal 48-bit colour depth. CIS scanners use sensor and lens strips, together with LED illumination, and avoid the mirrors and cold cathode lamps of CCD-based devices. This means there's very little warm-up time, but that they can have problems with image depth, if what's being scanned isn't perfectly flat.
In the front of the printer are two memory card sockets, for all the usual types, and a PictBridge socket, which is buried rather deep behind the front plastic fascia, making it fiddly to get at. This is true of the single USB PC connection at the back, too.
The Stylus SX400 uses four, single-colour DuraBrite Ultra ink cartridges, which slot into place in the print head. The printer goes through a one-off charging cycle, when you introduce a new cartridge, but there's no other physical setup.
Epson's software bundle is pretty comprehensive and includes a copy of Abbyy Fine Reader Sprint 6 for OCR, as well as several of the company's own utilities for scanning and Web print. The printer driver has been updated with single-click options for tasks like high-quality photo print and standard-quality text print on plain paper.