I'm a firm believer in the saying "everything has a price". a printer can't be that cheap and be the same quality as the other, at least twice as expensive. and no, it doesn't seem a brand-price issue.
Epson were chosen to be Digigraphie.... operators, by the Digigraphie committee for two reason; quality of print, and the promise that these clogging, dripping, killing-our-wallets heads, will print exactly the same way today and in ten years (if the printer survives, that is). whether it is true or false the visibility of the print quality is better or worse between Canon and Epson, or HP and Epson - it is not always about visibility. that is why you see a 9890, and probably see more of these "weird" versions in the future.
I, too, have a love-hate relationship with my printer (9900). A little bird told me that at photokina, a Canon representative told him that the new Canon's ink is fast pacing to the quality and gamut of Epson's HDR ink. Boy, if I were this guy's boss, I would chop his head off - but that remark says everything to me.