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Epson EcoTank EW-M660FT

Most reviews make you read through a lot of boring stuff before getting to the conclusion, so let us do the opposite, and start with the conclusion.

You should probably buy this printer.

Of course, life is more complicated than that, so let me qualify that somewhat:
* Do you want to print super high quality photos than an last hundreds of years? If so, you need a printer specialized for photos, with special expensive ink.
* Do you want to print thousands of black and white pages every month?  If so, you probably should probably buy a laser printer.
* Do you only print a a few pages per month?  If so, you may be better off buying a normal ink jet printer (the ones they sell for super cheap, where the ink costs a fortune).  Note, though, that many of the printers will clog if you don't print at all for a few months.  You may be even more better off just printing at the convenience store when you need to.   
* Do you need to print carbon copy forms, etc?  If so, then you need a dot matrix printer or similar (yes, they still make them).
* And of course there are other specialist needs, like thermal printing for receipts, etc.

We've all been there: You need to print something, now, and your printer isn't cooperating.  It's out of ink, or maybe the print heads are clogged because you haven't printed for a while (or you bought that super cheap ink that turned out not to be so good for your printer...)   If you have a printer where all of the colors are in one cartridge, Then you have to toss out all that expensive ink, even if you are only low on one color.  To make it more insulting, most printers will refuse to print a black and white page even if you are only missing (for example) magenta ink!  So you're magenta ink has run out, so you run out to the store at 9pm before they close so that you can spend 5000 yen so you can print a black and white page!  In you live in Japan, you may well think "Why do I even have a printer?  I could have taken care of this at 7-11 in 10 minutes!" If you are lucky enough to have a printer where each color uses a separate cartridge, then you can buy them separately, but it is cheaper to buy them as a set anyway.  

Then you have streaks on your page, so you go through the cleaning cycle, but...that eats up half the ink in your micro sized cartridge.  The rest runs out if you use it, and dries out of you don't!  You decide to save money by buying some ink cartridges from an alternative maker, but you worry because if they clog up your printer, you'll have to pay more than the purchase price to have it fixed!

Ink is so expensive, in fact, that you can honestly look around Akihabara and just find a new cheap printer (with ink!) for about the cost of replacing your ink.  You could do this every time your ink runs out, but it wouldn't be very eco friendly. (PC-NET often has new printers for less than 5000 jpy).  

Still, we don't recommend you buying a new printer every month because besides being a bit ecologically irresponsible, it means you are still wasting 5000 JPY every month.  You could use the convenience store approach, but having a printer around is convenient when it works, and if you print a lot, convenience stores can be even more expensive.  

If only the printer makers would stop ripping us off for ink, and provide larger cartridges that don't run out so fast.  Or better yet, just let us fill up the printer with ink the way you fill up a car with gas.  They could sell the printer at cost (or for a profit), build it to last, and then sell us the ink for a small profit as well.  

Enter the Epson Eco Tank series.  These printers are exactly what we have been waiting for.  The price point is closer to 50,000 jpy than 5,000 jpy, but we think that's okay, because they include enough ink for over 10,000 pages of typical printing.  Think about that.  You can buy this printer, and not worry about refilling the ink for years!  You can clean the print head every day if you want to and not worry about the ink it consumes!  You can also basically print anything you want without worrying about whether there will be enough ink left, or how much it will cost.  No more rushed trips to the store at the last minute.  Even better, when the ink does run out, you can buy another full set (enough for another 10,000 pages) for about the cost of buying a normal cartridge set for a normal printer.

If you look purely at the economical side of things, you have to balance the fact that this printer costs a lot more than the normal ones, with the fact that the running cost is cheaper.  If you want to run the math, you need to know about how many pages per month you print - but then again, you would probably print more if you weren't worried about using up your precious ink.

Yet in our view, this isn't just about economics, it's about convenience.  Including this much ink means you basically just don't have to worry about it any more.  You can buy this printer and use it for several years without even thinking about the ink.  When the ink starts getting low, you can order another set well before it actually runs out, and then still be set for several years.  Epson's product page has a break-even calculator, but they assume you use all the ink you buy and that it doesn't dry out, and you don't waste it on unclogging print-heads.  The more of that kind of thing happens, the better the EcoTank models look.  

In fact, the only thing we don't like about this printer is that the included warranty only lasts 2 years.  Epson rates the durability at 50,000 pages or 5 years, which means that If you don't pay for the extended warranty and you assume it dies promptly after 5 years, then it has a cost of ownership of about 13,000 JPY per year (assuming you buy a new full ink set every 2 years on average).  This makes it significantly cheaper than any other inkjet printer we have used, even with only light printing.  

Another way to look at it is this: Epson claims you will break even at 2,800 pages.  Whether that takes a month or five years, you will break even at some point.  so the real question isn't "Is this cheaper?", but just "How long will it take to be cheaper?"  The more you print, the faster that break-even point will be reached - but again, we honestly think the convenience factor will be more important for most people who are tired of finicky printers acting up when they need them the most.  

For us, the ADF scanner, duplex (double-sided) printing, fax, and other features are really just icing on the cake.  (Also, going back to the Eco discussion for a moment, clearly throwing away cheap printers is even worse when you take into account that you are also throwing away scanners at the same time!)  

So yes, you pay more up front.  Yes, you don't get photos prints that are as good as those you could get from a dedicated photo printer.  Yes, you won't get monochrome prints that are as cheap as you could have with a laser printer.  Yes, the ink may not be archival quality...  But if you want a hassle free printer you can use for years to come and cheap ink refills when you do need to do them, then we can't recommend this line-up enough.  (Note that there is also a cheaper monochrome model for those with more basic needs).

Note that we have read some mixed reviews for EcoTank printers on English language sites, however the overseas models references in the articles are clearly different from the Japanese models, as indicated by the specifications.  

Setup Detail and First Impressions:
1. Upon opening the box, you will find that there are 8 bottles of ink included; two each of Black, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow.  The black ink is the largest.
2. This printer is not as heavy as you would expect, for example not as heavy as some of the heavy-duty office printers made by Epson.
3. The unit is definitely utilitarian.  Our home use Epson printer is much more attractive, with hidden paper tray, etc.  The only available color is black, and while the unit is not large, it makes no attempt to look cool or inconspicuous. (And it has a large ink tank jutting out from the side).
4. The screen is a low res black and white LCD.  This is nowhere as nice as what you would expect to get on a recent home printer, where color touch screens are the norm.  On the other hand, input is not a pain because there are a lot of buttons for fax use.
5. The instructions tell you to take off all of the tape, plug in the printer, connect it to a Windows computer, insert the setup CD, and then continue by following the instructions there.  However, they then follow with "If you don't have a CD drive or Windows computer, continue following the instructions on the next page."  Not wanting to deal with Windows, we did that.
6. The instructions say to load the printer with one bottle of ink per color, however the bottles seem to hold a little more than the "fill to" line on the tanks, so we left a little in the bottles.
7. Some other reviews said the ink was messy, etc., however we didn't find that to be the case.  You can easily remove the foil from the bottles without getting ink on your hands, and we filled up all the tanks without spilling a drop.  We used a small amount of tissue paper to clean the nozzles of the bottles before putting the cap back on to make sure nothing dripped.
8. When you have finished loading the ink, the screen will still display "Connect to computer and follow instructions", but the instruction sheet explains the secret trick.  "Press ok for three seconds", it explains.  Once you do so, the printer will skip to the Ink charging screen.  
9. Once you tell the printer to start charging the ink, you aren't supposed to turn it off, or do anything else like open/close it, etc.  The ink charging takes about 20 minutes, and it's not a particularly quiet process.  In fact, you might not want to do it in a room where someone is trying to sleep, or late at night if you have thin walls.  Once the process is done, you can continue.
10. Loading A4 paper is easy enough.  The tray holds more than many home printers, but less than most office printers.
11. You will set the paper type/size, WiFi, and a few other items on the screen, and then it will ask about Fax set-up.  (We skipped this, not having the printer near a phone line).
12. The printer does not have a card slot or USB slot, meaning that unlike some other models (f.e. the 804AW) it can't scan on it's own.  It can do a "cloud scan" if it is connected to the internet, but you have to set this up beforehand.  For example, you can have it save your scan results to Google Drive, DropBox, or email them to you, etc.  Alternatively, you can connect the device to your computer via USB and install a special scan handler that will perform the scan from your computer when you press the scan button. 
13. If you download Epson's iPrint software, you can not only print from your Android device, but you can scan as well.  (Although it seems limited to 300DPI).
14. It should be noted that if you connect the printer via USB, then many of the network features disappear.  This shouldn't pose an issue, since there is little need to use USB when both WiFi and Ethernet are supported.
15. Like most of Epson's other printers, Apple's AirPrint is supported, meaning that adding the printer under OS X is effortless.  The scanner is also accessible once the printer is added in the control panel.  No driver is required to print or scan, though you may opt to use Epson's scanner software if the software included with OS X is not advances enough for your needs.  
16.  Two methods of remote printing are supported:  Epson Connect and Google Cloud Print.  You can use both simultaneously.  Epson Connect is relatively straightforward.  The printer gets an email address, and you can send documents to that address to have them printed out.  Although the address is randomly assigned at first, you can reset it something easier to remember if you like.   (You can limit the email addresses from which the printer will accept jobs if you like).  As mentioned above, you can set things up so that scans are emailed to your address, or saved on Google Drive, DropBox, etc.  Most interestingly, if you download and install the Epson Connect printer driver, then you can print from anywhere where you have internet.  This means you can take your laptop to a cafe, hit "print", and your print-out will be waiting when you get home.  What's more, you can install the driver on your work PC, etc.
17. Android and Chrome have native support for Google Cloud Print, however there are also apps for iOS and printer drivers for Windows and OS X, so that again you can print from anywhere.  

We tested scanning an image using the iPrint android application, and then immediately printed the scanned page back out.  The printing is relatively fast, but the machine is not what we would call quiet!  We also tested the Epson Connect Cloud Scan to Google Drive, and sure enough, the scan appeared in our Google Drive less than a second after the scanning finished.  The email delivery feature worked without issues as well.  

We printed several documents without problems using the email functionality, though we wonder if it would work for all complex documents.  Epson lists the following file types as supported: Word (doc, docx), Excel (xls, xlsx), PowerPoint (ppt, pptx), PDF, JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, TIFF.   That means OpenOffice, Pages, and many other formats are not supported.  Even for the supported formats, I would trust printing using a local application and the printer drivers more than hoping Epson's servers can decipher your proprietary MS Office files.  Still, for quickly printing a PDF, it should fit the bill, and is very convenient.  

All in all, while we can't call this machine "Pretty" or "Silent", it prints with reasonable quality, good speed, and you pretty much never have to worry about Ink again.  

Follow Up: One week later
1. Although the printing is double-sided, it should be noted that the scanning from the ADF is only single sided.  If you need to scan both sides, you can send your stack through twice, but then you need to sort out the order afterwards.
2. This is an issue with all Epson printers in Japan, but the scanner software only performs OCR on the Windows version (and then only in Japanese).  There is very little control over the process either.  If you need OCR, especially on a Mac or in English, you should probably purchase a separate product such as Prizmo or OmniPage, or you could use a service like WebOCR.