Fresh from reviewing the Kodak Zx1 Pocket Video Camera, our friends at Icon International Communications has graciously provided a Kodak ESP 7 All-in-One printer for a bit of DigitalReviews love. Given Kodak’s heritage with imaging and film, I have to say up front that I have expectations before I even unbox the unit. So come on down as we enter into DigitalReview’s inaugural printer review.
The Kodak ESP 7 is a smart looking machine that exudes design appeal with its high gloss and frosted black finish. The top cover is matt black with a simple pattern of inset squares and smoothly rounded edges. It certainly makes for a stylish addition in a home office, yet professional looking enough to not look out of place in a small office environment.
Looking over the specifications, the ESP 7 packs quite a punch for the market it is targetted at. For starters it is a multi-function with printer, scanner and copier. There is no fax feature in the ESP 7. Connectivity options covers USB to host, wired and wireless networking, as well as direct input from memory cards (CF, xD, MS and SD) and flash drives. An optional Bluetooth adapter can be purchased separately.
A 3" colour LCD drives the menu system as well as giving preview to any photos on media cards. There is a dual paper feed which includes a standard 100 sheets input tray and a dedicated 40 sheets photo tray. On the cartridge front there is a a dedicated black ink store as well as a multi-colour cartridge for cyan, magenta, yellow that contains an additional black reservoir. The ink are pigment type and a clear layer is applied to minimising "bronzing" – the colour shift effect that happens with pigment inks when held at a certain angle to the light. Last but not least, the Kodak ESP 7 also features duplex printing.
The ESP 7 comes with a "Start Here" 16 page guided tour of how to get the unit up and running. Usually there are orange shipping tapes and foam pieces to remove from various parts of the printer, in my case these were already removed. For me the process starts at installing the printhead and the two ink cartridges. The "Start Here" guide have clear drawings and written instructions to make this a simple process.
When a new printhead is detected, the ESP 7 will begin the calibration process once the printer access door is closed and paper is detected in the general feed tray. The calibration cycle takes around 2 to 3 minutes and is required for each time the printhead is replaced. After walking away and letting the ESP 7 go through its routine, I heard a loud crunching of paper followed by the squawk of an alarm from the Kodak. The good news was that the ESP 7 has reasonably clear access to the paper feed mechanism by either opening the printer access door or via the rear access flaps. It was easy to physically clear the paper jam from the printer but it took a few goes for the unit to accept that the problem is fixed. For the record I was using 80 gsm A4 paper.
After this little drama I proceed to load the photo tray with some Kodak Ultra Premium Photo Paper (High Gloss) and sent a sample of three different photos to the printer via a thumb drive. When I went to retreive the print outs, the results were nothing short of horrendous. The colour reproduction was appalling and there were red banding all across the print out. For a little while I wondered how is it possible that Kodak would release a product that performs so badly onto the market.
I went through the usual checks, updating printer drivers and firmware on the ESP 7. Further calibration print outs was showing only black and pink results. A quick consultation with my representative at Icon International Communications drew the conclusion that the paper jam has managed to significantly damage the printhead. Good thing these are interchangeable.
The ESP 7 has built-in wireless capability which is configurable from the LCD screen on the unit itself. An onscreen keyboard with full symbol support allows a pretty easy run at entering your wi-fi key, although having to change from lowercase to capitals, numerics and symbols can be a little tedious when you have a 63 characters wpa2 key.
Wired networking is a breeze as the Kodak AIO (All-in-One) software will automatically search for the printer on the network. Network connections are either wired or wireless, but not both. The wireless wizard will ask for the cable to be removed from the Ethernet port before allowing you to continue.
Back In Action
With a replacement printhead installed and the printer successfully completing the calibration, I was back in business. The ESP 7 has sensors which reads the type of paper and automatically adjust printer settings. When using Kodak Paper, sensors read the proprietary backprint on photo papers and optimise print settings accordingly.
The first page took about 34 seconds before the printer was in a position to put ink on paper. On plain A4 paper it look about 22 seconds to print a 10 x 15 cm photo. The second and third prints had a minimal delay of about 2 seconds, but using Kodak Premium Photo Paper takes around 42 seconds to print the same photo.
Quality wise, on standard A4 paper a photo print out was ordinary with barely acceptable colour reproduction and high levels of grain. Changing to the Kodak Premium paper though gave results that is a world apart. The colours are much more faithful to the screen bearing in mind that screen calibration is not the same as the printer calibration. The graininess is gone and all the subtle details in the photos are reproduced as intended by the photographer. Even with some High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos which contains large variations in light, colour and contrast, the ESP 7 performed very well.
The scan and copy functions are handy to have. For document scanning the speed is not too bad and the quality is acceptable. There is a dedicated entry on the menu for photo scanning. The process takes much longer although the results are surprisingly excellent although there is the slightest loss of sharpness in some parts if analysed very closely.
While the overall impression of the Kodak ESP 7 is favourable, there were a few issues to note.
First the printer is quite noisy when in operation. Whilst I do not have a sound meter, the unit sitting close to the back of my house can be clearly heard near the front door, with multiple walls of various constructs in between.
On a few occasions I have noticed that a black line appears on the far right of a photo print, sometimes right on the very edge of the paper and other times it is a few millimeters in. At least once with a fair stack of photographic paper in the tray, I have noticed that the feed alignment was not straight and resulted in a skewed print out. When the top tray is in use, it is drawn into the printer body so it is not possible to adjust the paper guides until the job is cancelled.
Last but not least, the paper jam that ruined the printhead is a concern at how delicate that component is. It is noted, however, that a new new printhead is offered for free for consumers who have also been through all troubleshooting processes with no result.
Print speed: borderless Kodak Lab Quality 4 × 6 in. photos in under 28 seconds, documents up to 32 pages per minute in black and 30 pages per minute in colour
Print sizes: standard-size borderless photos up to 8.5 × 11 in. (US letter size), 210 × 297 mm (A4 size); standard-size documents up to 8.5 × 14 in. (legal size)
Paper capacity: full size paper tray holds 100 sheets plain paper / 40 sheets photo paper; dedicated photo tray holds 40 sheets small format photo paper
Display: 7.6 cm (3 in.) LCD (color)
Ink cartridge compatibility: Kodak Black Ink Cartridge, Kodak Color Ink Cartridge
Connectivity: built-in Wi-Fi, 802.11 b/g; Bluetooth Wireless Technology enabled (accessory required); USB external ports–(1) front, (1) back; PictBridge enabled
Memory cards supported: print without a computer using memory card slots and USB port; CompactFlash (CF) I, II and Microdrives; Secure Digital (SD)/Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC); Multimedia Card (MMC); XD-Picture Card (xD); Memory Stick (MS)/Memory Stick Pro (PRO)
Scanning: CIS scanner, 2400 PPI at 48 bit; scan multiple pictures simultaneously and software will create separate image files automatically; scan documents and photos up to 216 × 297 mm (8.5 × 11.7 in.); scan and edit your documents with optical character recognition
Copying: one-touch color copy without PC; copy documents or photos with one button; 20–500% scaling or fit to page and make up to 99 copies at a time
Dimensions: 446 × 188 × 432 mm (17.5 × 7.4 × 17.0 in.) (WxHxD)
Weight: 8.5 kg (18.7 lbs)
Product: one year from purchase (with proof of purchase) or 13 months from date of manufacture
Printhead: one year from purchase (with proof of purchase) or 13 months from date of manufacture
Ink Cartridges: one year from purchase (with proof of purchase)
Windows: XP Home (SP2 or above), Vista. Minimum: Celeron 1.2 Ghz, 512 Mb RAM, 200 Mb HDD and CD-ROM
Mac: OS 10.4.8 or higher. Minimum: PowerPC G4, G5 or Intel-based Mac 1.2 Ghz, 512 Mb RAM, 200 Mb HDD and CD-ROM
* Kodak ESP 7 All-in-One Printer
* Kodak Black Ink Cartridge
* Kodak Color Ink Cartridge
* Paper Sample Pack
* Power supply
* Adapter cord
* Startup Guide
* Kodak EasyShare Software
* Kodak All-in-One Printer Software
Despite some drawbacks, the Kodak ESP 7 All-in-One printer is quite impressive in feature and results. The multitude of connectivity options makes it easy to get a file printed and with the right quality paper great results can be achieved. I disagree with some prevalent attitude that a printer should have great quality results no matter what paper is used. The reality is that the ink and paper has to match to give the right result, whatever "right" is for the particular job in mind.
The colour cartridge managed to perform about 80 photographic prints of 10 x 15 cm size, give or take a little depending on the colour coverage and saturation. It feels like the ink is being consume at a reasonably fast rate but Kodak quotes the following costs-per-page: Mono at 3.5 cents, Colour at 11 cents and Photo at 15.9 cents. The Wilhelm Imaging Research laboratory rates the Kodak ink and paper with the highest overall print permanence of over 120 years.
One interesting point to mention is Kodak’s support during the review of the ESP 7. I posted the fairly innocuous comment "Started testing the Kodak ESP 7 all-in-one printer. So far, no good. I can get black & pink on colour printouts. #gadgets" on Twitter when the testing went pearshape. Overnight I received some advice from KodakConnect as to how to troubleshoot and that at the end of the troubleshooting steps I can order a replacement printhead. I was impressed that Kodak actively monitors, engages and assists end users outside of the traditional support model. In checking the KodakConnect Twitter feed, the response I got was not because I am a reviewer but is consistent across the board. It is a clever approach to manage company reputation and resolving real issues in a medium that could potentially change opinions quickly.
The Kodak ESP 7 retails for AUD$299.00 and is available from Officeworks. The black ink cartridge retails for AUD$14.99 and the colour ink cartridge for AUD$24.99.