Epson's WorkForce Pro WF-5690 Offers Excellent Value

by Ted Needleman

If you need a fast MFP with a heavy monthly duty cycle, large paper capacity, and really large capacity ink cartridges, the Epson WF-5690 delivers that—and more—at a price you can afford.

Every once in a while, you'll see a printer or multifunction printer (MFP) described as designed for a "workgroup" or "department." For the most part, devices intended for workgroups or departments don't have any special features other than they're built to handle a high volume of printing and scanning. When you have multiple people each doing a significant amount of printing and scanning, an MFP's print speed, duty cycle, scan capabilities, and toner or ink cartridge capacity takes on increased importance.

The Epson WorkForce Pro WF-5690 sits at the higher end of the company's Workforce Pro line. With an expected street price of $399, the WF-5690 is fast, has ultra-high capacity ink cartridges available and, with an optional $99 second paper input tray that fits under the MFP (which our test unit did not have), it can accommodate a full 500 page ream of letter- or legal-sized paper. A rear paper feed, for specialty media such as photo paper, adds another 80 sheets to the overall capacity.

Epson claims a duty cycle of up to 45,000 pages per month for the printer but, in reality, a more realistic expectation is closer to 2,500 pages, or about five reams, of paper a month if you want the WF-5690 to last longer than a few months. At that pace, you're going through a case of paper every two months; that's still a lot of printing.

A Small Business Printer That's Big, But Not Too Big

Sporting an attractive light gray color that blends in with most office decor, the Workforce Pro WF-5690 measures 18.1 x 16.6 x 13.5 inches with the front output tray stowed, and weighs in at 31.5 pounds. It's not gigantic, but it's no lightweight, either.

It will need its own table, hopefully where the front output tray, which extends almost 10 inches further out from the front of the unit, won't get bumped into or jostled by people walking by, something that happened fairly frequently during our testing.

Epson WorkForce Pro WF-5690 multifunction small business printer

The Epson WorkForce Pro WF-5690 sits at the high end of the company's multifunction printer lineup.

The WF-5690's accessories—packed in the box— include a power cord, telephone cable (for using the fax with a landline, an install CD with drivers for both Windows and the Mac OS, and a setup poster. You'll also find a user manual and four standard capacity ink cartridges. The WF-5690 offers multiple connectivity options including USB, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi, but you'll have to provide your own cabling if you aren't going to connect via Wi-Fi.

Epson MFP Provides Full Range of Features

While the Workforce Pro WF-5690 isn't overly large, it does offer a full spectrum of features., For starters, it comes with an out-of-the-box paper capacity of 330 sheets—250 sheets in a front pull-out drawer that adjusts to fit letter or legal sized paper, and another 80 sheets in a rear paper feed behind the hinge of the scanner/automatic document feeder (ADF). Typically, the rear paper feed is used for heavier papers such as photo paper or card stock, but you can also use it to feed standard copy/print media.

If you envision long print or copy jobs, or tend to print multiple copies of long documents, you may want to opt for a second paper drawer. This sits directly underneath the main paper drawer and offers an additional 250 sheet capacity, giving you a total of 580 sheets to print before you need to refill the paper drawers.

There's little benefit in providing the paper capacity for long print or copy runs if you have to change toner cartridges frequently. Epson has this covered as well. The 786 ink cartridges come in two capacities; standard, high capacity, and you can also buy extra-high capacity 788XXL cartridges.

The 786 cartridges yield about 900 pages for the black cartridge and 800 pages for each of the color cartridges, and they cost about $23 each. The 786XL cartridges are rated at 2,600 pages for the black and 2,000 pages for the color. They cost about $42 for the black cartridge and $44 for the color cartridges.

Finally, the extra high capacity 788XXL ink yields about 4,000 pages for both color and black. The black cartridges cost $65 and color cartridges sell for $74. These result in a per-page cost that is considerably lower than most laser printers, which makes the WF-5690 a good choice for a high-volume print situation.

Connectivity is another place where the WF-5690 shines. In addition to the Wi-Fi, USB and Ethernet we mentioned earlier, the WF-5690 supports mobile printing from Apple AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, Kindle Fire, and Epson's own Epson Connect, which also lets the WF-5690 scan directly to email or to the cloud over a network connected to the Internet.

The WF-5690 also offers Wi-Fi Direct mode. With Wi-Fi Direct, a wireless Wi-Fi device can transmit a print job directly to the WF-5960 without having a network connection at the device or MFP end. There's also a USB port on the front of the MFP, which lets you print from a USB device such as a flash drive or portable USB drive; you can also scan directly to a USB drive.

One last feature concerns the WF-5690's print control languages. As you might expect, the printer supports PCL, which was originally developed by Hewlett Packard and adopted industry wide. But the WF-5690 also supports Adobe Postscript 3, which is used by many high-end graphics and page layout applications such as Adobe Design and Quark.

It's unusual to find true Postscript in a printer or MFP at this price point. In many cases, having Postscript available won't make much of a difference. But the main advantage of using Postscript is that a graphic file in EPS format should print identically on any Postscript device.

The Multi in Multifunction: Print, Copy, Scan or Fax

In addition to high-volume printing, the Epson WF-5690 can scan, copy, and fax. When you scan or fax, you can either lay documents on the glass scan platen, or feed them through the ADF at the top of the unit. This is a duplexing ADF with a 35-sheet capacity, capable of scanning both sides of a double-sided document. The WF-5690 can also duplex in print mode, printing one side of a document and then the back of that page. This saves paper, and it also makes reports and presentations look considerably more professional.

Setting Up the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-5690

Getting the WF-5690 up and running is a fairly quick process. The longest wait occurs while the ink primes, which takes about seven minutes or so. The install disc takes you through the rest of the setup, which installs drivers for the printer, scanner and, if you use it, sets up the fax. The scan driver is TWAIN compatible, which lets the scanner scan directly into applications, such as the Picasa graphics program, which supports TWAIN. Document Capture Pro, a basic scan-management application, is also included.

As with many higher-end printers and MFPs, the WF-5690 has a color touchscreen. In this case, it's a large 4.3 inches, which is almost the size of many smartphone screens. The functions are easy to understand and navigate through, and there's also a numeric pad to enter fax numbers or to select the number of copies when you're in copy function.

We set up the WF-5690 using WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), which simply requires that you press a WRS button on the network router. The WF-5690 finds the router and automatically establishes the connection. A minute or so later and we were ready to start testing.

Epson Workforce Pro WF-5690 

A Need for Print Speed

Most of the time, when you print only a few pages, print speed isn't a deal breaker. But when you print a lot, or you print long documents, you want a fast printer. The WF-5690 is exactly that. Epson claims 20 ppm (pages per minute) when printing in black or color. We don't use exactly the same protocol in our testing, but we do use the same ISO (International Standards Organization) test files. In our tests, we averaged 21 ppm with the printer driver in default mode (which is normal office quality output).

Much of this excellent print speed comes from a new printhead technology—called PrecisionCore—that Epson introduced on its higher-end models. PrecisionCore uses a modular printhead made up of either two or four chips, each of which have a very high density of print nozzles. The WF-5690 has a four-chip PrecisionCore print head, and can quickly lay down ink and achieve excellent print density and quality.

We didn't time copier performance, but it was faster than many inkjet-based copiers we've tested in the past. The copy function on most inkjet MFPs is there simply as a convenience. The WF-5690's is actually useable.

Epson doesn't claim photo quality for the WF-5690, but our test prints, made on Hammermill Color Copy Digital paper and Epson's Ultra Premium Photo Paper Glossy, were very good. Colors were nicely saturated and accurate, with very acceptable skin tones. For printing the occasional photo, you'll want to use photo paper. For reports and handouts, a quality paper such as the Hammermill paper we use in our testing will work well.

We did not test the fax mode, but did test the scanner, which offers an optical resolution of 1,200 x 2,400 dpi. We actually scanned the test pages we that printed on photo paper into Picasa 3, a free graphics application, and then printed the scans out on photo paper. The results were almost identical. If you plan to scan documents to PDF or to a Cloud application, you should be quite satisfied with the results.

Epson Workforce Pro WF-5690: The Bottom Line

The Workforce Pro WF-5690 is a bit more expensive than many MFPs aimed at the small business market. However, the printer offers a great feature set, fast print speed, large capacity cartridges, and a three-year warranty with advance exchange (Epson will send a replacement printer first and you use the package it comes in to return the bad printer). Given all this, in our opinion, the price represents a good value.

Ted Needleman published his first review in 1978. Since then, he has written several thousand hardware and software reviews, columns, articles on using technology, and two books. He has no intention of stopping any time soon.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Aug 5th 2015
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