IT Pro Verdict
A look at the specifications for Epson's EcoTank ET-4850 suggests that it could be the perfect home/office multifunction peripheral (MFP). Able to print, scan, copy and fax, it's equipped with a 35-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF) and a generous 250-sheet paper cassette. Duplex printing is standard, while there's support for both wired and wireless networks.
That's a decent set of features, but the ET-4850 costs almost three times what you might expect to pay for a competing mid-range home-office MFP. Why? Because it's equipped with refillable ink tanks and arrives with enough ink to print 5,200 black or 14,000 colour pages. Do the sums and that makes it better value out of the box than competing cartridge-based devices. Even once the supplied ink runs out, you'll pay less than half a penny for every full-colour page you print. Over the long term, it's far cheaper to own than a conventional inkjet, and produces less plastic waste.
The EcoTank system has been around long enough that Epson has ironed out any foibles. Each ink bottle is keyed so you can't mix them up: you simply invert them over the relevant tank and wait for the contents to glug out. Typically there's a small amount left, which lets you top the tanks back up once the printer has primed itself. This is a tedious ten minutes during which you can't do anything useful such as join the printer to a wireless network, but it's a one-off process.
One major drawback of ink tank printers is that they're comparatively clueless about ink use. While a cartridge-based device usually knows when it's time to order new supplies, ink tank ones don't. It's particularly important, though, as letting the printer run dry could lead to failure.
Our experience is that EcoTank frequently nags you to check the ink levels, and tends to think the tanks are approaching empty when there's a significant amount of ink left. Keep levels above the minimum and reset the level gauge when prompted, however, and you're unlikely to have problems.
While it isn't a remarkable performer, the EcoTank ET-4850 is quick enough to cope with moderate duties in the home or office. It delivered our 25-page text test at 15.3 pages per minute (ppm), dropping to 4.8ppm for colour graphics. However, it is quite a slow duplexer managing only 2.8 images per minute (ipm) when printing ten sides onto five sheets of paper. By comparison, the quickest competing inkjets manage around 5ipm or more.
Unusually for Epson, this isn't a particularly fast scanner, either. It completed a preview in a snappy 11 seconds, but needed 29 seconds to scan an A4 page at 150 dots per inch (dpi). At a more detailed 300dpi, the same job took 43 seconds, two or three times what we'd expect.
With a sluggish scanner, it was no surprise to find that photocopies were also on the slow side. A single mono copy needed 14 seconds, with a single colour copy chugging along in 32 seconds. We used the ADF to copy ten pages, which took two-and-a-half minutes in black and over four minutes in colour. Unfortunately, this ADF doesn't support duplexing, so you can't automatically scan, fax or copy double-sided originals.
The ET-4850 is an all-rounder with dye-based inks. While these mean it can turn out strong photographs with a brilliant, glossy finish, they're less authoritative on plain paper -- colours are less bold than you'd get from a good office-focused device. This is particularly so for duplex prints, where the default is to use less ink to avoid smearing – you can tweak the setting in the driver. This lack of vibrancy applies to both text and graphics on plain paper, but otherwise print quality is high.
Scan quality was excellent. Documents were well exposed, with only a suggestion of bleed on some double-sided originals. Photographs were sharp and accurately exposed. Our colour target revealed a brilliant dynamic range – every shade was distinguishable, from fully white to black.
All in all, this is an above-average MFP, lifted further by its ridiculously low running costs. Despite its high purchase price, you'll only need to print a few thousand pages before it works out better value than most cartridge-based rivals. The caveat is that it might take light users a couple of years to do that, and the ET-4850 has only a one-year warranty.
After a brief career in corporate IT, Simon Handby combined his love of technology and writing when he made the move to Computer Shopper magazine. As a technology reviewer he's since tested everything from routers and switches, to smart air fryers and doorbells, and covered technology such as EVs, TVs, solar power and the singularity.
During more than 15 years as Shopper's long-time printer reviewer, Simon tried, tested and wrote up literally hundreds of home, small office and workgroup printers. He continues reviewing smart products and printers for a variety of publications, and has been an IT Pro contributor since 2010. Simon is almost never happier than when surrounded by printers and paper, applying his stopwatch and a seasoned eye to find the best performing, best value products for business users.