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10 Reasons to Reconsider Buying an Epson EcoTank ET-3850 Printer

Are you in the market for a new all-in-one printer for your home office? You may have come across the Epson EcoTank ET-3850, a wireless inkjet model that promises cartridge-free printing with large ink reservoirs you refill yourself. And while there‘s a lot to like about this printer‘s EcoTank ink system and feature set, a deeper dive reveals some notable drawbacks that should make you think twice before buying.

As a computer and printer expert with decades of experience, I‘ve set up and tested hundreds of printers for various needs and budgets. So allow me to spare you the potential buyer‘s remorse and explain why the Epson ET-3850 falls short of greatness. Here are the top 10 reasons to avoid the Epson EcoTank ET-3850 printer and consider the alternatives instead.

1. No Automatic Double-Sided Scanning

My biggest gripe with the Epson ET-3850 is the lack of duplex scanning, or the ability to scan both sides of a page automatically. If you frequently scan double-sided documents, you‘ll have to manually flip and re-feed each page, which is a huge productivity killer.

Duplex scanning is an absolute must-have for any office-oriented all-in-one printer in this price range. Having to babysit the scanner and flip pages yourself defeats the purpose of an automatic document feeder (ADF). Competitors like the Canon PIXMA G7020 offer duplex scanning and even duplex faxing, which the ET-3850 also lacks.

For anyone who needs to digitize stacks of double-sided documents on a regular basis, this missing feature alone is enough reason to avoid the Epson ET-3850. An "all-in-one" printer that can‘t fully automate scanning tasks simply doesn‘t cut it for office productivity.

2. Frustrating and Outdated User Interface

The ET-3850‘s user interface feels like a blast from the past, and not in a good way. While most modern printers have adopted touchscreens for easy menu navigation, the ET-3850 has a clunky non-touch display controlled by physical buttons.

Navigating the nested menus to change basic print settings and initiate scans or copies is needlessly tedious. Even simple tasks like selecting the paper type or toggling double-sided printing require repetitive button presses. A sluggish touch interface would still be better than these antiquated controls.

You can avoid some of the on-printer menu diving by using the Epson Smart Panel mobile app for key functions. But in my experience, relying solely on the app has its own annoyances and connectivity issues. A printer in this price tier should have a large, responsive touchscreen for standalone operation, period. Models like the HP OfficeJet Pro 9025 get this right.

3. Slow Print Speeds, Especially for Duplex Documents

Speed may not be your top priority in a home office printer, but there‘s no excuse for how pokey the Epson ET-3850 is, even compared to other entry-level inkjets. Epson rates the black-and-white print speed at a respectable 15.5 ppm (pages per minute), but in reality, expect closer to 10-12 ppm based on my tests.

The bigger issue is the glacial duplex (two-sided) printing speeds. Automatic double-sided printing comes standard on the ET-3850, which is great for saving paper. But you‘ll pay for those paper savings with your precious time, as the speeds plummet to 6.5 ppm for black and a painful 4.5 ppm for color two-sided documents.

If you frequently print lengthy double-sided reports, proposals, or handouts, these speeds just won‘t cut it. For comparison, the Brother MFC-J4335DW prints duplex jobs nearly twice as fast at 12 ppm monochrome and 10 ppm color. When printer manufacturers force you to choose between single-sided speed and double-sided savings, that‘s a red flag.

4. Messy, Hands-On Maintenance

With the EcoTank design, Epson has essentially taken the print heads out of the ink cartridges and built them into the machine so you can pour bulk ink directly into the reservoirs. This eliminates plastic waste and delivers a far lower cost per page, which is all well and good.

However, there‘s a downside to this approach that Epson doesn‘t widely advertise: manual printhead maintenance. Traditional inkjet printers with disposable cartridges require little to no printhead cleaning as the heads are replaced every time you swap in a new cartridge. But on a cartridge-free system like EcoTank, you‘re responsible for keeping the permanent heads clean and clog-free.

The ET-3850 requires you to regularly run cleaning cycles, which are not only tedious but consume a lot of ink. If a clogged nozzle doesn‘t clear up after multiple cleanings, you‘ll have to open up the printer and manually clean the heads with a syringe, which is a messy endeavor.

Epson could alleviate this burden by including a removable printhead wiper or brush like some competitors do, but alas the ET-3850 offers no such tool. For something marketed as low-maintenance, the EcoTank sure demands a lot of elbow grease. If you‘d rather not play ink-covered technician, consider a model with user-friendly maintenance features.

5. Flimsy Scanner Lid and Meh Build Quality

While the Epson ET-3850 has a reassuringly large and solid ink tank housing, the rest of the printer‘s construction feels somewhat cheap and flimsy, especially for the price. The scanner lid in particular seems like it could break right off if you accidentally knock the printer over.

The single paper input tray can also be wobbly, and I‘ve had issues with it not sliding smoothly and lining up correctly. A little looseness and flex is expected on budget printers, but competitors like the Canon G7020 manage to feel much more substantial and well-built overall.

Granted, most people don‘t need their printers to withstand a bomb blast. But I expect better fit and finish from Epson given their reputation for quality and the ET-3850‘s cost compared to rival options. It may seem like a minor gripe, but a printer‘s heft and sturdiness matter for both long-term durability and day-to-day enjoyment.

6. Lackluster Connectivity Options (No USB Host Port)

On the connectivity front, the Epson ET-3850 checks most of the boxes with Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi Direct support alongside a standard USB port for wired connections. However, one puzzling omission is a front-facing USB host port for printing directly from a flash drive.

Nearly every other all-in-one printer aimed at home and small offices includes this handy feature, which lets you quickly print PDF and image files without needing a computer or mobile device. Sometimes you just need to step up to the printer with a thumb drive and make a quick copy of a document. Having to transfer the file to your phone or laptop first is annoying.

I suspect Epson removed the front USB port to cut costs, but it‘s a frustrating corner to cut on a printer that already commands a premium for its EcoTank ink system. It may not be a dealbreaker if you rarely need walk-up USB printing, but it‘s another example of how the ET-3850 comes up short against competitors with more thoughtful designs.

7. High Upfront Cost for Questionable Value

There‘s no getting around the fact that the Epson ET-3850 is one pricey printer, largely due to the EcoTank ink reservoirs and bundled extra-large ink bottles promising up to 2 years‘ worth of printing. And while it‘s true that your ongoing ink costs will be far lower than with a traditional cartridge model, you really have to print a ton for those savings to offset the sky-high initial purchase price.

For the same cost as the ET-3850, you could buy a higher-end inkjet all-in-one with a far superior feature set, like the Canon MAXIFY GX7021 or Epson‘s own WorkForce Pro WF-7840. These printers offer faster speeds, more versatile paper handling, and critically, single-pass duplex scanning and copying.

Even some cheaper models like the Brother MFC-J4335DW or Canon G6020 deliver better bang for your buck in terms of productivity features and ease of use. The only way the ET-3850 makes financial sense is if you religiously print in extremely high volumes, to the tune of 500+ color pages per month, every month.

So before you take the EcoTank plunge, carefully consider your actual printing needs and calculate the total cost of ownership. A printer with pricier ink that actually makes your life easier can be the smarter buy, especially if you don‘t print enough to recoup the cost difference. Don‘t fall for Epson‘s "affordable ink for 2 years" hype without doing the personalized math.

Top Alternatives to the Epson EcoTank ET-3850

If you‘re looking for a well-rounded printer that avoids the ET-3850‘s pitfalls, here are my top picks in a few different categories:

Best for Office Productivity: Canon MAXIFY GX7021

  • Single-pass duplex scanning/copying
  • Fast 24 ppm black, 16 ppm color speeds
  • 600-sheet paper capacity with 3 input sources
  • 2.7" touchscreen and 50-sheet ADF

Best Budget-Friendly Tank Printer: Brother MFC-J4335DW

  • Up to 1 year of ink in the box
  • 20 ppm black, 19 ppm color speeds
  • Prints up to 8.5×11" borderless
  • Compact footprint with 150-sheet input tray

Best for Photo Printing: Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000

  • 6-color Claria photo HD inks for vivid prints
  • Prints up to 13×19" borderless
  • 50-sheet rear tray for specialty media
  • 2.4" color touchscreen and front USB port

Ultimately, the best printer for you depends on your specific needs and budget. But by prioritizing key features like duplex scanning, low maintenance, and strong performance for the price, you can avoid falling into The EcoTank‘s trap of overpriced ink "savings." Do your research, read in-depth reviews, and pick a printer that will make your life easier, not harder.