The ESP 7, the cheaper of Kodak's slick all-in-one wireless printers (the other being the $299 ESP 9, which has a fax) has two major things going for it: it looks better in a home office than any of its competitors, and the ink is cheap and yields good low-cost prints. For faster speeds and quieter performance you can turn to other less attractive $199 printers. But if design, decent photo quality, and ink costs are priorities, the ESP 7 offers the best value.
The ESP 7 is, hands down, the sleekest business printer we've tested. Its glossy piano black finish and rounded edges are particularly ideal for someone who wants a printer that can blend into a home office. Its 3-inch LCD is larger than other printers', and the tilt-out control panel makes for a more compact, less conspicuous design. What's more, at 7.4 inches high, the ESP 7 has a lower profile than other business all-in-ones, such as the Epson WorkForce 600 or the HP Officejet 6500.
Another bonus: the ESP 7 has separate paper trays for larger paper (up to 8.5 x 14 inches) and for 4 x 6- and 5 x 7-inch photo paper. Both trays fully retract inside the printer, so you won't see any paper sticking out. The only part of the printer, in fact, that sticks out is a retractable tray that catches outgoing prints. The front face also has slots for SD, MS, xD, and CF Cards, as well as a PictBridge port for connecting your camera directly.
The ESP 7 also has a much simpler interface than its competitors: just power and menu buttons, LED Wi-Fi indicator, a five-way navigational pad, Cancel and Start buttons, and a zoom rocker. We had no problem navigating the on-screen menus, although we spent most of our time printing wirelessly from a notebook.
Installing the ESP 7 and configuring its Wi-Fi connection was a breeze. Unlike other printers, you don't have to pop in a separate printhead for the ink cartridges (not that this is difficult, but it's refreshing to have one less step). Whereas companies like Canon, Epson, and others sell their colored ink cartridges separately (different ones for cyan, magenta, and yellow, for example), Kodak's color ink comes in the form of one large color cartridge (the black ink is still sold separately). This makes installation quicker, but we do wonder what happens if you run out of one color before the others.
One gripe: the printer doesn't come with a USB cable. Although the Wi-Fi setup, refreshingly, doesn't require connecting the printer to a PC or router, it would still be nice to have a USB cable in case the network fails, or if the user wants a faster wired connection. Kodak sells a USB cable separately for $24.99, while other $199 Wi-Fi printers come with a cable included.
Performance and Print Speeds
We performed several printing tests, both over a Wi-Fi network and over a USB connection (you can also use the bundled Ethernet cable to connect it to your router or access point, if you like). Our test documents included a two-page Microsoft Word document; a six-page PowerPoint presentation, including photos and colorful graphics; a two-page PDF with lots of fine print; and two photos, printed on both 4 x 6- and 8.5 x 11-inch photo paper.
Over Wi-Fi, it took 44 seconds to print the Word document; 2:42 to print the PowerPoint presentation; 1:23 to print the PDF; and an average of 60 seconds and 2:20 for the 4 x 6- and 8.5 x 11-inch prints, respectively. On average, the printer took an average of 6 seconds to begin printing (the range was 4 to 8 seconds, with the Word doc taking the least time, and the PDF taking the most).
The ESP 7 finished a solid third with its average wireless printing time of 1:38, just a bit slower than the 1:36 average among five all-in-ones we tested. However, it's worth noting that the Epson WorkForce 600 was twice as fast at 48 seconds.
The ESP 7 finished fourth among five all-in-ones printing over USB. These tests took 59 seconds (Word document), 2:43 (PowerPoint), and 1:18 (PDF), with an average print time of 50 seconds and 2:07 for the 4 x 6- and 8.5 x 11-inch photos, respectively. The average start time was also 6 seconds (the Word doc took 3 seconds to begin printing; the PDF took 7).
One of our biggest complaints about the ESP 7 is that it's noisy, both while starting up and while preparing for a print job. However, we appreciated the convenient on-screen status box, which shows both a progress bar and percentage of completion. You can also see the ink levels from this box, and even click a button to order replacements. If you like, there's also a built-in duplexer, which can print on both sides of a page to save paper and money.
When it comes to print quality, photos are the ESP 7's strongest suit: 12-megapixel photos we took with the Nikon D90 and Canon PowerShot SD780 IS appeared crisp on both 4 x 6- and 8.5 x 11-inch photo paper. The colors were accurate, and we could have framed these prints to show them off. We have a slight preference for the Canon Pixma MX860's photo quality, although it costs double per print versus the Kodak.
On the other hand, our black-and-white Word doc looked streaky, while the occasional letter in our fine-print PDF looked not exactly smudgy, but bold. Fresh off the presses, our photos and documents felt slightly heavy, but not wet or smudgy.
The Starter Printing Bundle ($42.99) includes various sizes of Kodak's Ultra Premium Photo Paper, as well as black and color ink cartridges. You can also buy these cartridges separately for $9.99 and $14.99, respectively. Kodak claims that a single page black-and-white page costs 2 cents, while a mixed-color page costs 7 cents. 4 x 6 photos cost 9 cents a piece, which is a bargain compared to the Canon MX860's cost of 19 cents per 4 x 6 photo and 5 cents per black-and-white document page.
In addition to printing, the ESP 7 copies and scans wirelessly. Unlike the other four $199 business all-in-ones we reviewed, it does not fax (Kodak's $299 ESP 9 does, however).
Other features include one-touch copying, which doesn't require the use of a PC; that's standard across products in this class. The ESP 7 can make up to 99 copies at once, although its reduction/magnification range of 20-500 percent is wider than average (most other all-in-ones have a range of 25-400 percent). Its scan resolution of 2400 x 4800 dpi is also standard. The ESP 7's paper tray holds 100 sheets of document paper at a time, which is on the lower end of normal (the Canon Pixma MX860, for instance, holds 150, and the HP Officejet 6500, 250, but the Epson WorkForce 600 also holds 100 sheets).
Software and Warranty
Living up to Kodak's reputation for delivering easy-to-use products, the ESP 7 matches its simple interface with intuitive software for your PC. With the AiO Home Center Software users can do a variety of things, including edit and print photos. The task-oriented main menu makes the software easy to navigate, as do the fast, step-by-step wizards (we'd rather print photos with this program than, say, Windows' Fax & Photo Viewer any day). It's both Mac and PC compatible; the printer comes with separate installation discs for each OS. The ESP 7 has a one-year warranty, as do the print cartridges.
Kodak's $199 ESP 7, which prints, copies, and scans, is the sleekest, most attractive all-in-one on the market. Moreover, it prints crisp photos, and the low cost per print makes it an attractive choice for budget conscious small businesses and telecommuters. If you can deal with an absent fax function and middle-of-the-road wireless speeds, you'll get the best value when it comes to quality, design, ease of use, and cost of supplies.