So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Ricoh Australia Aficio GX 3000
- New gel technology, convenient front-loading mechanism consumables, full duplexing as standard
- Expensive, text printing isn't up to scratch
The Aficio GX3000 is a photo printer posing as a business model. Office users would be well advised to set their sights on a laser printer instead.
Price$ 319.00 (AUD)
Major technology changes in the printers market are rare. In fact, in over a decade, we can't think of another printer that honestly claimed to be touting brand new technology.
The new gel-based technology used in Ricoh's trio of Aficio printers probably won't revolutionise the printing market, but it merits closer examination. For a start, the much-vaunted speed boost appears to be there. The quoted print speed of 29ppm (pages per minute) is an exaggeration, but only just. In our real-world testing, the GX3000 was running off pages of text at the rate of 19.4ppm, while even colour images churned out at 15.8ppm.
So why does this printer not win an award? Well, there are a few problems, most of them connected to Ricoh's positioning of the new trio as dedicated office printers. The casing is robust and the paper tray is well built, but the paperfeed is not as reliable as on a typical colour laser. Ricoh wants us to compare the Aficio to other inkjets but, given the strong business bias, we suspect most customers will see them as a cheap alternative to a colour laser.
The basic GX3000 (which we've reviewed here) comes without network facilities, although you can upgrade. The two more expensive models, the GX3050N and the GX5050N, come with network facilities as standard, and the GX5050N throws in an extra 500-sheet paper feed tray and boasts an extra 1ppm of print speed.
All of the printers come with a two-year onsite warranty, and we like the convenient front-loading mechanism for the consumables. We love the fact that the printers eke every last drop of gel from each cartridge. You also get full duplexing as standard. The 'level colour mode' is very good for cutting down on unnecessary gel usage when you want to print a page with both graphics and text, and would prefer the printer to produce high-quality text but weaker colour graphics.
Unfortunately, we suspect most business users will want only the ability to print strong text. And here the Ricoh falls down. Even at its highest quality mode, the text is rather poorly formed and lacks the crisp definition of even a cheap colour laser. The lettering is quite dark, but the results won't do for the typical professional. And since in this mode you also have to make to do with a meagre print speed of 5.5ppm (whereas even a cheap colour laser should be capable of doing 13ppm or more), it compares poorly there too.
We think Ricoh should be saving costs on the expensive build quality and feeding facilities and concentrating instead on making this a competitor to the photo inkjets - in this respect it's really pretty good. Even at the highest quality mode, it still turns out pages at the rate of 4.3ppm, which is fantastic for a top setting - the strong middle setting works at a sizzling 8.33ppm. And the results are pretty impressive. It perhaps needs a little work on its lighter colours, but the darker end of the palette was stunningly reproduced.
Traditional inkjet printers create images and text by spraying drops of ink through a series of nozzles on to the page. This is simple and very effective, but it can also be quite slow, since the ink doesn't dry instantly. Not only does this slow down the process, but it's all too easy for print to be smudged. Ricoh has spent many years developing an alternative to inkjet technology. The new Aficios replace ink with a pigment-based gel. Because this is of a similar level of viscosity to wine, it doesn't run and soak into the paper like normal ink. Instead, it sits on top of the paper and dries very quickly - almost the instant that it hits the page. Not only can the printer work more quickly, but it should theoretically be less prone to smudging and blurring than with traditional ink-based printers.
The Aficio GX3000 is a photo printer posing as a business model - it's aimed at the wrong market. Office users would be well advised to set their sights on a laser printer instead - these have far more reliable paper feed mechanisms, and if you want any kind of quality they're faster and offer better prints than the Ricoh printers. The GX3000 is too expensive, but if a cheaper version comes out, Ricoh's interesting technology could yet provide strong competition for the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Canon and Epson.
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