Printer Reviews: Epson Expression XP-420

THE GOOD

Supports a full suite of connectivity options including Wi-Fi and cloud printing services from Apple and Google, fast print speeds and excellent output quality.

THE BAD

Lacks Pictbridge-compatible USB port.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Don't be fooled by its small stature: the Epson Expression XP-420 all-in-one inkjet printer forges ahead of the competition with its compact footprint, cloud connectivity options and its ability to print high-quality snapshots directly from an Android phone or iPhone.

Design and features

Epson Expression Home XP-420

Epson Expression Home XP-420

The XP-420's space-saving design is the printer's main focus, measuring a little more than 15 inches wide, 20 inches deep, and 11 inches tall. Its small form factor is almost the same size as its photo-friendly predecessor, 2011's Epson NX-430 . Like that model, the XP-420 features folding paper corral tray guides that help to shrink its overall size when not in use.

The printer has a sensor inside that can tell what size and type of media you load into the rear tray, but you still need to push the sliding corral tab so it's snug up against your paper, or you'll get a paper jam as it tries to spool a sheet into the feeder. That only happened to me once during testing before I made sure to be precise with the tab adjustments.

The retracting trays give the XP-420 a size advantage over the Canon Pixma MG5620 , another inkjet printer that falls into the same sub-$100 inkjet category but will cost you more on ink cartridges in the long run. Relative to other printers, however, the Xp-420 falls somewhere between a single function inkjet and a monochrome laser printer, but at 9 pounds it's only half the weight of the average laser and ideal for offices (at home or away) that might require you to move the unit.

The center control panel sits within a console that rotates up to view the 2.5-inch color LCD display at a suitable viewing angle. Though I usually prefer printers that use mechanical buttons, I like that the XP-420's directional buttons, which let you navigate the on-screen menu. (You'll need to pay more for a touchscreen.)

Epson improves upon the design its previous inkjet all in ones with new display that doesn't require as much pressure to engage some of the buttons. Also, the display itself feels more solidly built now that the company did away with the mushy plastic display cover that used to interfere with the user experience.

I can't fault a $99 device for not including an auto-document feeder or multiple paper input trays, so all paper handling is fed through the single 100-sheet tray on the back and exits through the "mouth" below the controls. Workhorse offices with high output printing needs should consider Epson's WorkForce line, like the WF-2630 that adds business minded features like an auto-document feeder for double-sided printing and Epson's PC Fax utility.

That's not to say that the XP-420 is lacking in extras for the home user -- the front has a memory card reader that lets you walk up and print from an SD card without actually touching a computer. Unlike previous models, however, you don't have an open USB input to connect a flash drive; if you want to upload your photos, you'll need to do so by extracting your SD card from the camera and popping it into the machine.

It's not a big deal, especially now that Epson now offers one-touch photo uploads to Facebook and cloud-based services. You can preview your photos on the LCD and even make simple adjustments to crop dimensions, resize, or perform one-button touch-ups.

Epson gives you the option to connect the printer to your computer using direct USB or Wi-Fi via an installation disc or Wi-Fi Direct if your router supports it. If you don't want to connect wirelessly, you'll need to supply your own USB cable, as usual.

Smart setup on the touch panel is a two-part process: turn on the machine and click Network Setting, then designate your wireless network and enter its password, and that's it. The entire setup from start to finish, with a connection established on our lab network (which uses a home-style Verizon Fios router), took us less than 5 minutes.

The installation process also includes a step which asks if you want the system to automatically hunt and install firmware updates, and we recommend you click "yes" when prompted; the appeal of Web-connected printers like the XP-420 means you don't have to wait for Epson to ship you software updates, so take advantage of it.

Connecting through Wi-Fi also means you can take advantage of Epson's host of free mobile printing apps that let you print directly from mobile devices. First, the Epson iPrint application for iOS and Android devices lets you to print Web pages, photos, documents and anything else on a smartphone directly to the printer.

You can also take advantage of remote printing from any Chrome browser window using Google Cloud Print, or connect immediately to any iOS device using Apple AirPrint. Check out our how-to page to learn more about cloud printing. 

The XP-420 is powered internally by three separate color ink cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow) and an additional black ink that saves you the hassle and money of replacing a tricolor ink tank. I did the math based on Epson's high-capacity XL ink cartridges, which offer more ink capacity at a discounted price, and a page of color ink works out to just over 3.5 cents per page, while a high-capacity black cartridge comes to approximately 5 cents per page.

Both costs are average for an inkjet printer at this price -- the cost for consumables is the same as the Canon Pixma MG5620, but Epson gives you a head start with a $10 price break on the hardware when you buy on Amazon. Of course, keep in mind that your mileage may vary depending on exactly what you're printing and the frequency of high-volume jobs.

Performance

Epson Expression Home XP-420 Review

Epson Expression Home XP-420 Review

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In our speed tests, the XP-420 performed at an average rate printing photos, but it sprints ahead of the competition with presentation output speed, color graphics speed, and especially text speed at an impressive average of 8.3 plain black text pages per minute. We've come to expect impressive throughput results from Epson and these speed tests prove that the XP-420 can handle handle medium- to high-volume jobs with minimum latency.

The XP-420 also gave outstanding output quality results, producing black text of a quality that easily competes with the crispness of expensive laser printers, even at smaller sizes. Full-color graphics and presentations fared equally well, and quiet offices will certainly benefit from the whisper-quiet of the printer's operational sounds, which are easily drowned out by clicking keyboards and soft conversation.

Compared with irritatingly loud devices that make their scanning, spooling and printing processes well-known, the XP-420's stealthy operation is a satisfying alternative.

Conclusion

The Epson Expression XP-420 is a printer, scanner and copy machine that boasts a compact chassis with folding paper trays designed to minimize clutter in a busy workspace. Beyond the "small-in-one" design attributes, mobile professionals will appreciate the cloud-printing updates that can queue print jobs from a phone or a mobile browser. Whether you're shopping for a small office's multitasking machine or looking for a personal printer that won't drain your savings on ink cartridge refills, the XP-420 is worth your investment.

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