EcoTank models eschew traditional (and expensive) ink cartridges in favour of tanks that are refilled from bottles of ink.
The design has definitely improved since Epson's early EcoTank models such as the ET-4550. The tanks are integrated into the printer's outline instead of being tacked on to the side. It's not just a question of looks: it was a good idea to wear disposable gloves when refilling the old models, but the redesigned nozzles and ink ports make the process mess-free, at least in our experience.
The ink supplied with the ET-4850 is supposed to be good for 14,000 black and 5200 colour pages, while replacement bottle give a nominal 7500 black and 6000 colour pages.
The usual set of interfaces is provided: USB 2, Wi-Fi (802.11n) and 100Mbps Ethernet. We tested using Wi-Fi.
If, like us, you like to leave your printer switched on, it's good to know that the ET-4850 consumes just 1W in sleep mode.
Physical controls are minimal, thanks to the touch screen, although it is a bit small at 6.1cm – an extra centimetre would likely make a disproportionate difference. It's much easier to use the Epson Smart Panel app on a phone or tablet, especially when you need to type in a network passwords or similar. We did get somewhat used to the touch screen over time, but it remained easy to touch a UI element adjacent to the one intended, and 'drag' gestures were often misinterpreted as taps.
The "?" (help) button is a nice touch. It provides access to troubleshooting steps and 'how to' animations for common operations. That's more convenient than having to find the manual, especially as it isn't supplied in printed form.
Once the printer is set up, five sets of test patterns are printed: one to prove all nozzles are working, the other four to check head alignment.
An on-screen alert prompted us to install a firmware update, but it wasn't mentioned by the app. Despite a warning that it might take a few minutes, the update was complete in less than a minute.
At the time of our review, no software was available for macOS Monterey. So we initially printed via AirPrint without installing any additional software. That worked, despite the "An error occurred while trying to add the selected device" warning at the end of the setup process.
For Big Sur and earlier, Epson offers downloadable printer and scanner drivers, Epson Photo+ (for arranging and printing photos), a software updater, and an uninstaller.
There's a web-based setup wizard if you don't want to use the mobile app, but that process basically involves a downloaded installer. It installs the print, scan and fax drivers, a scanner utility, extensions for creating OCRed and password-protected PDFs, Photo+, a low-ink reminder utility, a network configuration tool, remote printing support, the software updater, and documentation.
We took a punt on installing the Big Sur compatible software, and it seemed to work with Monterey – at least to the extent that we didn't notice any issues.
Before we move on to operational matters, note that as usual for Epson, the ET-4850 comes with a one year warranty, extended to a second year if the product is registered within the initial warranty period.
The ET-4850 is an A4 printer, accepting paper up to 215.9 x 355.6mm.
The paper tray has a 250 sheet (half a ream) capacity, which is reasonable for the SOHO market Epson is aiming for. On the other hand, it is a single tray. To print on envelopes (C6 or DL) or photo paper, you must remove the normal paper, adjust the paper guides, load the other media and reinsert the tray, and then reverse the procedure to go back to A4. So if envelope printing is still a regular task in your office, this probably isn't the printer for you. Look instead for a model with two trays, or at least a bypass feed.
Support for AirPrint and Epson Print Enabler or Mopria Print Service covers the bases for printing from iOS and Android devices. The ET-4850 also supports Epson Connect for remote printing: email a file (eg, a PDF) to a dedicated email address and it prints.
Printing our standard test document (two pages, with mix of text and business graphics) took 33 sec from click to drop. That blows out to 47 sec duplexed – most of the difference is due to a relatively long pause between sides, presumably to allow the ink to dry. There doesn't appear to be a way to fine-tune that interval.
Print quality was everything we expect from a modern inkjet.
When it comes to photo printing, various Epson photo papers are supported but as we didn't have any to hand we can't say how good a job it does in this respect.
It took 12 secs to preview and 28 sec to scan an A4 page at 150dpi. The scanner driver includes the usual unsharp mask, descreening and dust removal adjustments, as well as backlight correction and Epson's colour restoration feature that we find gives very good results when scanning old and faded colour prints.
The usual range of file formats such as JPEG, PDF and TIFF are supported, as well as the increasingly popular HEIC.
We suspect most macOS users will take advantage of the native Mac scanning software, but Epson's ScanSmart app has some useful features including scanning multiple photos at once into separate files. The Epson Smart Panel app supports scanning to mobile device, and scanning to the cloud (Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive and OneDrive)) is handled via Epson Connect. WSD support takes care of scanning to Windows PCs.
As for image quality, very few SOHO workers would be unhappy with the results.
The ET-4850 delivered very good colour reproduction when used as a copier. The only issue we noticed was that some brick reds came out a little on the pink side. It took 30 seconds to copy an A4 page.
The main disadvantage of this model is that the ADF is single-sided, so you can't conveniently copy a multi-page two-sided original. At least there is provision for copying one side at a time to a two-sided copy.
You either need a fax or you don't. We no longer have anyone to send a fax to, and we use exclusively IP handsets, so we couldn't test this aspect of the ET-4850's operation. According to the documentation, faxes can be sent manually, or directly from Windows or macOS via a printer driver, while incoming faxes can be printed, saved in memory, or saved in PDF format in a connected computer.
It's a given that a home or home office printer is either cheap to buy and expensive to run, or relatively expensive to buy and cheap to run. The ET-4850 is clearly in the latter category at $649. But a $30 bottle of black ink is supposed to be enough to print 7500 pages (we'll have to take Epson's word for it, because we're not prepared to waste 15 reams of paper to prove this point), which is less than half a cent a page. So it's not difficult to work out whether your print volume is sufficient to justify the purchase price.
The other big advantage of the EcoTank system is that the tanks need refilling much less frequently than a conventional inkjet's cartridges need replacing.
We do wish Epson had included a duplex ADF, even if that would have meant omitting the fax capability in order to hit the price point, but we accept that fax is still important in some circumstances (we understand it's still a common means of communication in Epson's home market).
When all's said and done, the ET-4850 is a cheap to run, compact and quite stylish all-in-one.