An impressive budget printer spoilt by sky-high running costs
- Premium looks
- Reasonable speeds
- Good photo quality
- Dim graphics and average text
- High cost per colour page
As Epson proved with the old Expression Home XP-452, budget home printers don’t have to look cheap and play nasty. You could have a colour screen, wireless printing and a decent set of features without spending more than £50. The new Expression Home XP-4100 adds another fiver to the budget and has a lot in common with last year’s model, yet it feels pared back in a couple of ways. The result is a home printer that still seems to punch above its weight, but maybe not quite as high above as Epson’s older model.
READ NEXT:HP OfficeJet Pro 6970 review
Epson Expression Home XP-4100 review: Design and Setup
The Expression Home XP-4100 sits somewhere in the middle of Epson’s 2019 home printing line-up, coming in above the slightly cheaper XP-2100 and XP-3100, but below the XP-5100 and the XP-6100 we looked at earlier this year. It combines a standard four-ink print system with a 1200dpi scanner and 802.11n Wi-Fi, offering a choice of a direct PC or smartphone to printer connection or the more usual connection across a home network.
It’s a very compact printer, smaller even than other compact home all-in-ones like the Canon Pixma TS-8350, with a desktop footprint of just 37.5 x 30cm, though it stands taller than the Pixma at 17cm. With its 2.4in colour screen, gloss-black surfaces and curved corners you could even describe its looks as swanky, though it doesn’t feel quite as premium, especially around the thin-plastic flaps and lightweight hinges.
While it’s incredibly unobtrusive sitting idle, you’ll need a little more space while it’s up and running. Paper feeds in from a single feed at the rear, while the output tray pulls out and protrudes a few inches from the front. The flap that covers the feed is spectacularly fragile and not up to the job of holding up more than a few sheets of A4. Luckily, it’s supported by a chunkier stand which pulls up then stays firmly in place.
We suspect that someone at Epson has made a judgement call and decided smartphone printing is in while printing from external storage is passé, but where the old XP-452 had a USB Type A port and an SD card slot, the XP-4100 only has a single USB Type-B port for a direct connection to PC. The focus here is much more on wireless printing, though – as is so often the case – the setup wizard doesn’t actually take you through setting up the wireless connection.
It doesn’t really matter, as selecting the wireless icon and clicking OK takes you straight through to the wireless setup process. This is pretty straightforward, but prepare for some tiresome moments if you have to enter a security password. All the functions, settings and maintenance stuff is controlled through the colour screen and what looks like a touch-sensitive panel, but turns out to be a more old-fashioned control panel using clicky membrane switches. Most of the time this is fine, and the options tend to be logical and much where you’d expect them. Entering any kind of text, though, is something of a chore.
Once you get your wireless connectivity up and running, you’re free to print from your PC or from your smartphone or tablet, using the Epson iPrint app. This also allows you to print directly from Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive and EverNote, and you can also download the Creative Print module to make your own collages and multi-picture prints.
Epson Expression Home XP-4100 review: Performance
This isn’t an office printer, and if you’re printing out relatively low volumes at home you won’t have any issues with the XP-4100’s speeds. Black text pages arrive at a rate of 11.3ppm, which is off the pace set by faster home printers like the HP Envy Photo 7830 and Canon Pixma TS-8350, but not painfully slow. You can speed things up – and save some ink – by switching to draft mode, but the rise to 18.75ppm means putting up with a noisier printer and rather grey and fuzzy-looking text. In normal mode the text could still be sharper, but if it’s not quite laser quality it’s still clean and a nice dark black.
Even budget printers handle duplex printing these days, and the XP-4100 isn’t slow here, hitting speeds of 7.03ppm even with the whole business of pushing the paper out and sucking it back in. In this respect it’s actually faster than the Canon Pixma, though not the Envy Photo 7830.
Colour prints take a little longer to arrive. On documents with complex colour graphics we saw speeds fall to 3.59ppm, while a 10 x 8in colour photo took two minutes and twelve seconds. An A4 print of a test chart took the best part of four minutes before it hit the output tray. Again, this isn’t a big deal if you’re just printing the odd photo – and if you’re printing a lot of photos you might want to think about spending more.
READ NEXT: BrotherMFC-J491DW review
Viewed on its own, the output doesn’t look at all bad. Colour graphics could be brighter and more vibrant, but they’re clean with smooth colour graduations. On glossy paper, photos look like they might have come from a more expensive model. It’s only when you put them side-by-side with photos from a higher-end printer, like the Canon Pixma or Epson’s own Expression Photo XP-8600, that you notice how they lack the rich colours, subtle tones and detail. In other words, the XP-4100 is fine for quick smartphone snaps you’re not too bothered about keeping, but if you spend time taking good photos then you probably want something that will really do them justice.
Copying speeds are a tad below average, at 13.34 seconds per black-and-white copy and 37 seconds for a colour copy. What’s more, the colours are on the dim side, with blotch patches appearing here and there. Again, this isn’t a problem if you’re just copying a page from a book or an article from a magazine, and 300dpi scans look pretty good. 1200dpi photo scans don’t capture as much detail as we’ve seen elsewhere, though, and even a basic A4 scan takes thirty seconds to produce.
Unfortunately, the XP-4100 shares the XP-452’s Achille’s heel: high running costs. Even with a set of four XL cartridges you’re looking at exorbitant running costs of 20.5p per colour page and 6.4p per black and white page. It may be cheap to buy, but it definitely isn’t cheap to use.
Epson Expression Home XP-4100 review: Verdict
The Expression Home XP-4100 is one of the best options for around £50. It’s slightly faster than the old XP-452, not to mention cut-price rivals like the Canon Pixma TS-3150, while the overall print quality is surprisingly good for the money. However, unless you’re only printing out very occasionally it’s hard to live with its running costs. Much as we’d like to slap on a recommended award, this budget beauty is going to hit your wallet too hard in the long term.