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Epson Stylus Photo 830U

This entry-level photo printer from Epson adopts the company’s usual style of operation. A near vertical paper tray at the rear feeds paper through to be printed on horizontally and sent out to a fold-down, telescopic tray at the front of the machine.

At the back are two sockets; one for a mains kettle lead and the other for a USB cable. A second USB socket at the front increases flexibility by offering alternate positioning on the desktop. Three buttons on the printer's top surface – for power, paper feed and head cleaning – represent all the physical controls.

The Stylus Photo 830U is connected by USB, but doesn't take advantage of the faster USB 2 standard. In fact, the data rate of most ink jet printers isn't fast enough for the USB connection to become a bottleneck, so there's little advantage in using USB 2. Only HP provides USB 2 support in this group.

A smoked plastic cover at the centre of the printer means you can see a page being printed as it happens and lifting it provides access to the print head. The head takes two ink cartridges, one black and the other five-colour. Being a six-colour printer, the Stylus Photo 830U uses light cyan and light magenta inks to augment the standard cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

Setting up the Stylus Photo 830U is simple enough – run the software setup, plugging the unit in when requested, and wait for the driver to finish installing. The driver itself is well provisioned, with facilities for borderless prints and watermarks, but no stamps for overprinting.

You can select different quality types from draft through text-and-image to photos, but oddly the driver doesn't automatically select paper type. Instead, a pop-up reminds you to change this, too. The HP approach is better, where quality and paper type are tied together, though the defaults can still be overridden for special effects.

Epson also supplies Easy-PhotoPrint. This is an image browser which enables you to select numbers of specific images, paper size and type as well as a layout for them on the page. There are plenty of different layouts available, including borderless prints on paper sizes from 100mm x 150mm up.

Print quality from the Epson Stylus Photo 830U was generally good. Text print was clean and although it showed some spread into the paper, this wasn't excessive. Areas of colour in the mixed text and graphics print were also well reproduced, though there was some fluctuation in the density and the colours were a bit bland.

The three primary colour bands in the colour ink usage test didn’t reproduce well, with the cyan too dark and magenta looking particularly insipid. This wasn’t an isolated incident, either, as the same tints were reproduced by the Stylus Photo 900.

Photographic print was only fair, with some loss of detail in the foreground trees of our test print. The sky was well reproduced with a smooth gradation from blue to cream across its length, as in the original. Detail in the shadows was better than from the four-colour printers, as you would expect with a wider range of inks to pick from. This printer can print up to A4 borderless and the test sample we produced showed no signs of smudging or marks where the printer had to grip the paper.

Epson printers have always been prone to periodic delays during printing, for cleaning cycles. The piezo-electric printing technique these machines use makes it essential there are no air bubbles in the head, so the printer automatically flushes ink through its tubes every so often. This can delay a print job by as much as 30 seconds.

That said, print times were not spectacular, anyway. The five-page text print took the best part of three minutes to complete and even the photo print took longer than the other budget printers, at just over two minutes. The six-colour print technique takes longer than four-colour, but this doesn't really account for the all-black text print time.

Noise levels from the Epson printer were acceptable, an improvement over earlier models where the whines and clunks in feeding paper were intrusive. Although they're still there, Epson has worked to reduce the sound levels and in most working environments they’re unlikely to be noticed.

The ink tanks in the Stylus Photo 830U are quite large, so you don't have to replace them that frequently in normal use. Under test, the printer managed 387 pages of 5% black text and 291 of 20% colour. This is peculiar as the black text figure is considerably lower than that claimed by Epson, while the colour one is over 20% higher.

These figures lead two page costs of 6.2p per black text print and 44.8p including glossy paper cost, for colour. They put the Epson Stylus Photo 830U in the middle of the field on running costs.

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