The CX6900F is Epson's latest entry into the multifunction inkjet printer party. Priced at AU$299, it sits in the middle of Epson's multifunction range. However, unlike some of its more expensive brethren it has, in addition to its scanner and copier functions, a built-in colour fax.
Design-wise the CX6900F adheres to the Epson multifunction printer formula of silver plastic on grey. Paper is fed in via a top-loading feeder suitable for 100 sheets. In front of this is a number pad -- primarily used for faxing -- and a smattering of control buttons, plus a slightly larger than A4 scanner. The scanner can be flipped up, allowing you to access the ink cartridges below. Running costs are kept reasonable as there are four individually replaceable cartridges (black, cyan, magenta and yellow) priced from AU$14.50.
On the front, next to the paper exit tray, is a flap concealing slots to read xD, SD/MMC, Smart Media, Memory Stick and CompactFlash cards.
The CX6900F functions as a PC-free fax, copier and photo printer. Using the 1200 x 2400dpi scanner as a copier we managed to copy a colour page in about 2 minutes 30 seconds and a black and white page in about 40 seconds. The CX6900F's 33.6kbps fax is capable of colour faxing, although this seems to be a bit of a gimmick given the glacial transfer rate and the scarcity of colour faxes in use. Also, the lack of a feeder for the scanner may be a hindrance for those who have to fax large documents.
Additionally, users can print straight from their camera (via PictBridge) or from their memory card -- using any of the five types listed above. Prior to printing photos the CX6900F can automatically perform the contrast and colour balance adjustments usually done by users in photo editing software, like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. In reality, though, printing straight from memory card to printer, using the built-in memory card reader, is an exercise in frustration because the Epson only has a single line display. Selecting a photo to print from a memory card requires printing out a thumbnail sheet containing pictographic instructions on what to do next.
Although the transfer speeds from card to PC are glacially slow -- try almost three minutes for 65MB -- it's still preferable to use the printer as a memory card reader for your PC, and print photos out using the supplied Epson Easy Photo Print software. Easy Photo Print allows users, who don't wish to master the intricacies of Adobe Photoshop, to print photos in various sizes and on a variety of paper formats, from plain to glossy photo paper.
On starting up the CX6900F, the printer does about 40 seconds worth of electrical and mechanical gymnastics before it is ready for printing, scanning or faxing. Once up and running, the printer is a snap to operate via its supplied drivers and software suite. As is the fashion, the driver provides a status update on the ink levels during each print job. We expended just over a quarter of the supplied black cartridge on one 28 page document in the highest quality setting for text. In this mode, we managed 2.3 pages per minute (ppm) -- with text quality good, although still quite obviously that of an inkjet printer -- while in draft mode the printer raced along at 15.3ppm -- still well short of its claimed 27ppm.
Using the glossy photo paper supplied to us by Epson, we turned out prints that when viewed at a distance of about 20cm could almost pass for professional grade. The prints showed good colour reproduction, being neither too saturated nor too dark. Only on closer inspection can one see the fine pixilation that is a tell-tale sign of inkjet printers. A4 photos took just a shade under nine minutes to spit out, while standard 6x4-inch photos take about three and a half minutes to print. Images printed out on normal paper were noticeably duller, with pixilation evident at normal reading distances -- between 20- and 50-centimetres away.
Note: the first CX6900F had to be returned to Epson because the carriage holding the cartridges refused to move itself after a few prints.