Thursday, December 04, 2008

Epson's Built-In Cheating Mechanism

(A little righteously indignant background music, there, maestro... just a bit lower? Thank you, that's perfect.)
I turned on my printer yesterday, and it informed me that the ink was out in three of the six cartridges. Okay, these things happen. But then there are these puzzling occurrences, and a rather troubling number of them, in fact.

This is a printer series that is infamous for shutting down and not letting you print once it decides any one of the cartridges is "out" of ink. (You can guess there's more to this subject, and I'll get to it in turn.) I didn't realize when I bought this thing that Epson was withholding the right I'd enjoyed with every printer I ever owned or used to that point, to print a faded copy of something I needed right then.

First of all, even though I'm supposedly out of a color ink, it refuses to print even a purely black-and-white page. There is really no reasonable justification for this, except to hasten the hapless owner's purchase of more of "the Barbie clothes." (Would prefer to use "razors and blades," but that one is so over.)

Secondly, while "the paperless office" is an absolute that is still beyond reach, I certainly live and function in the "much-less-paper office," and as such wind up printing very little. I use this machine much more often for its scanning.

So it was obvious to me when I turned the machine on several weeks ago and it informed me that the ink was getting low on those three cartridges, that I hadn't printed anything between the last time the device was on and then. Some timer had clicked over a notch, and the ink in half the cartridges was duly reported as having evaporated below the sensor lines or escaped or something.

But Wait, There's More: yesterday I turned the machine on for the first time since the last time, still not having printed anything, and was informed that I was completely out of ink in all three of those cartridges.

It turns out that in 2005, Epson, the maker of my Stylus Photo RX620, settled a a class action suit against them for exactly this behavior. According to a PC World article when legal actions were filed in, oops, 2003,
"…chips are used to monitor the amount of ink inside the ink jet cartridge. Cartridges actually contain up to 38 percent more usable ink after the chip cuts them off, according to research cited in the suits.
"The chip does not measure the real volume; instead, it estimates the amount of ink used and predicts when the cartridge will be empty. The chip transmits estimated ink levels to the printer, which alerts the user with a screen message."
The gist of that message: "You're Gist Out Of Luck!"

In the settlement, any owner of an Epson printer manufactured and bought within some period of time, and who heard about this in time (it wasn't referenced on their home page when the settlement was in force), got a $45 dollar certificate from Epson's own online store, as I recall. Since you pay full retail there, that's not even three cartridges. And, critically, Epson was not required to change the programming in the chips or offer a download to correct the cheating calculations, and give an accurate reading of the ink levels. Bad settlement.

It's a shame, and an insult to the engineers who put this printer scanner copier together, because they did a really nice job. It prints beautiful photos, the scanner works fine and has very good, well integrated software. But somewhere between the various departments with input on this design, the dark directive came down to operate on its brain to turn it against its owner. (Hm, sounds like a great sci-fi movie concept.. .)

Good grief, I think I just released my first real, full-out rant. !, even. My apologies; but these skunks should be aired out appropriately. And I feel a little better now.

Epson Faces Consumer Suits - PC World (10/24/03)

Epson ink cartridge controversy - Wikipedia

1 comment:

Neil Ayer said...

...and I thought I was the only one capable of going on about irritating techno-quirks...

I feel better now, too.