The Epson Stylus NX420 colour inkjet multifunction (print/copy/scan) provides good output, decent performance, and wireless connectivity. Since its ongoing ink costs are high however, it's not exactly a bargain, making it best for light use only. Competitors include the Canon Pixma MP495, which costs a little less and the HP Photosmart e-All-in-One, which costs a bit more but offers cloud-based apps.

The Stylus NX420 sits squarely in the home and student user category. Paper handling consists of a low capacity 100-sheet vertical rear paper feed and a simple, letter/A4-size flatbed scanner. The MFP lacks an automatic document feeder for scanning or copying multipage documents. However, you will find a few surprisingly advanced features, namely wireless connectivity and a 1.5-inch colour LCD screen. The bundled Easy Scan and Easy Photo Print applications are capable, though their utilitarian interfaces are better suited for experienced users, beginners might wish for more hand-holding.

The control panel design is mostly intuitive, though having the Start/Cancel buttons pull double duty as Okay/Back seems confusing. Setting up the wireless through this interface went smoothly, aside from the tedium of entering the password on the display's very small electronic keyboard.

Notably, Epson cut corners in the documentation: The HTML-based manual for this product resides only online at Epson's site, you can't even download it. Despite Epson's reasoning that an online-only resource is always up to date, we think a manual on the installation CD is worth two on the web.

The Stylus NX420 was a mediocre to slow performer in our tests. Standard quality text pages printed at below average speeds of 5 pages per minute on the PC and 4.9 ppm on the Mac. Snapshot-size photos printed on the PC at a midrange 3 ppm on plain paper and a subpar 0.8 ppm on photo paper. Our high resolution, near-full-page photo printed on the Mac took over 3 minutes to print (0.3 ppm), another below average time. A simple one page copy took 17 seconds (about average), but a mix of full page and partial page colour photo scans were noticeably slower than the mean.

The Stylus NX420's print quality suffers on plain paper, even the nicer-quality Hammermill Laser Print stock that we use for most of our testing. At default settings our text samples looked realistically black but fuzzy around the edges, while photos appeared washed out. When we opted for higher-quality print modes and Epson photo paper, we got much better results.

Ink costs, depending on how much you print, will eventually nullify the Stylus NX420's bargain purchase price. Its standard-size cartridges include a $15.19, 265-page black, which comes out to a middling 5.7 cents per page; each $12.34, 340-page colour cartridge costs an above-average 3.6 cents per page. A four-colour page would cost about 16.5 cents.

While some printers offer a higher-yield option, Epson goes the other way by offering what the company calls "moderate-use" cartridges, with even lower page yields, and higher costs, than the standard-size supplies: The $12.34 black lasts 200 pages (6.2 cents per page), while each $8.54 colour cartridge lasts 220 pages (3.9 cents per page), making for a 17.6-cent four-colour page.

OUR VERDICT

The Stylus NX420's LCD and its wireless capability are features not often found in this category, but otherwise this MFP is budget all the way. Its ink costs are high, though acceptable for very low volume use.