It’s a rare occurrence when one of my product reviews lasts more than about a week. Sometimes when reviewing notebooks, the battery tests can push the testing window a little bit with all the charging and discharging, especially for units with really optimized battery life. But normally things are reviewed fairly quickly here in the Breeden Technical Test Lab. So it was quite a surprise when I finally put the finishing touches on a review that I started over four years ago.
All the way back in September 2015, which really does seem like a different world now, I reviewed a printer aimed at federal agencies with a pretty unique set of features. It was designed with its ink placed in giant IV-looking bags which are hung on the side of the printer, and then hidden behind a hard plastic shell so your agency doesn’t look like it’s hosting some kind of a weird science experiment. The end result is that the printer looks a little chubby, but otherwise hides its ink reservoir secrets extremely well.
In terms of performance, the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-R4640 EcoTank was about on par with other printers in its class. The ink jet technology was able to process the punishing 30-page text and graphic-laden document I created specifically for printer testing, and it was able to churn it out in two minutes and 29 seconds. A similar document with only text took just one minute and 42 seconds.
If you have a couple minutes to spare, you can watch the graphical performance test in a YouTube video I made back in 2015. Notice how the printer has to slow down when it comes to really complex images or photos printed through text. The WF-R4640 has a lot of memory at 256 megabytes, but this is a pretty tough document to print. It’s even broken a few printers in the past. In this case, the performance was smooth. Viewers should have just enough time to make some popcorn while the colorful pages spit out in the video.
All of the prints produced by the WorkForce Pro were high quality, as one would expect from a high-end ink jet. But the most unique feature of the EcoTank was its massive ink reservoir, and the fact that the ink is designed to be safely stored inside those IV bags for years without breaking down or losing quality.
Remember when I said that products in the lab are normally reviewed in about a week? When it was time to send this printer back, Epson asked me to keep it around so that I could check out their longevity claims. I almost never keep products that I’ve reviewed. Sure, it sounds like a cool idea at first. But trust me, after doing this for almost 20 years I can tell you that if you let review products hang around after they’ve been tested, it doesn’t take long before your test lab starts to look like a high-tech version of one of those hoarders shows.
I made an exception in this case because I really didn’t fully believe that the WF-R4640 could print up to 20,000 pages and sit for up to five years before the ink needed changing. So I made it the main workhorse printer for the lab and my various other businesses. I even promised readers in Nextgov that I would report on how the printer performed in its final test one day.
Over the years I forgot about that promise. The printer became the background for all my printing tasks, which are extensive. I went through at least a full carton of paper and over half of a second one, but never even thought about changing the ink. Ink had become a quantity like power that was just always reliably available. Given how easy that made working from home, I probably should have included the WF-R4640 in my last column’s list of recommended technologies for feds who are now telecommuting.
And then something odd happened. The orange low ink light started to blink. I was a little shocked. Apparently I print a lot of blue-colored pages because it was the cyan bag that was running low. About a week later, the yellow inkwell also started to run dry. I had reached the end of the very long road. At no point did the quality of my prints suffer, so Epson’s ink longevity claims were proven true.
I printed out a report about the unit’s performance over the past four years and found that I had printed 5,066 black and white pages from my desktop, 4,938 single-sided color documents and 328 double-sided color images. I had also scanned and printed 665 black and white documents and 224 in color. The printer received another 3,154 documents from my phone and other mobile devices. Finally, I had sent 12 faxes. That’s a pretty heavy workload for never having to change the ink.
I called Epson to let them know that the test had finally concluded, but had to remind them what I was talking about since they had also forgotten about the experiment. While other reviewers have conducted speed and performance tests with this printer model over the years, I don’t think anyone has performed longevity testing. So this is probably the only report on that aspect of the WorkForce Pro, or at least the first one to finish.
Epson sent me a new set of those huge IV ink bags. Swapping out the old bags, which were now shrunken, drained and dry, with the buoyant new plump ones took about five minutes. After that, the low ink light stopped blinking and the WF-R4640 was ready for another four or five years of continuous duty. I’ll let you know how it goes this time around. Expect my report sometime around the fall of 2024.
John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys