Ricoh GelSprinter All-In-One GX 3050sfn: high DOA rate mars experience.
looks; feels like a heavy duty device; GelSprinter ink.
unacceptably high DOA rate; ozone produced by electrostatic paper transport mechanism; poor Mac software support.
The Bottom Line:
Ricoh needs to update their packaging & improve Mac software support before I could recommend this product.
I work as a Macintosh Computer Consultant, so my business is evaluating new products that my customers might be interested in. I had high hopes for Ricoh's GelSprinter GX 3050sfn All-In-One printer / fax / scanner / copier. Ricoh appeared to build a high quality product, with an innovative waterproof inkjet technology that I know my clients could really use. Unfortunately, I never actually got to see a unit work in front of my face after trying hard to do so, so I cannot in good conscience recommend this product.
The Ricoh GX 3050sfn is an AIO print / scan / copy / fax device. It has built in 10/100BaseT EtherNET networking, as well as a duplexing unit for printing on the backside of a page. There are many AIOs on the market less than $500 (many less than $300), so what justifies the high $850 retail price on this unit?
Today's printer market is made up of 3 technologies: dot matrix, laser, & inkjet. Dot matrix is the oldest printer type, using pins pressed against a ribbon & then against paper to create letters on the page. (Daisy wheel, which I'm not including even though I still own one from the early 1980s, uses a wheel with letters along the circumference; each letter would be pressed against a film ribbon, and then against paper, leaving an imprint of the letter against the paper. Daisy wheel print looked (and sounded) like a typewriter, much higher quality than dot matrix.) Laser printers use a laser to position magnetically charged toner particles, tiny pieces of plastic, on paper, then heat the toner to melt it on the page. The plastic is waterproof, so getting a laser printed page wet won't lead to smearing. Laser printers are high quality, but tend to make a good amount of noise, and use quite a bit of electricity. They also produce ozone as a result of the magnetic toner positioning process. The United States Environmental Protection Agency classifies ozone exposure of over 105 ppb to be unhealthy. Laser printers are common in business environments with a lot of open space, but they are not used as often in small enclosed spaces.
Inkjet printers use tiny spray nozzles to spray droplets of ink at a page. Inkjet printers use very little electricity, make little noise, & produce no ozone. However, inkjet ink is generally water soluble. Drop a single droplet of water on an inkjet printed page, even condensation from a cold soft drink can, and you will see the printed colors bleed across the paper. Leave inkjet printed ink exposed to enough water, and you'll be left with a discolored sheet of blank paper. You wouldn't know anything was ever printed on it.
And this is where Ricoh's GelSprinter technology comes in. GelSprinter uses a special ink that is waterproof. I am still unsure if the ink is waterproof because of the ink formulation, or the method used to apply it to paper. I was skeptical, so I took some samples home and put them in a sink of warm water. As expected, the paper came out wrinkled, but the print looked exactly the same as it did at Macworld Expo. Vibrant colors, and not a hint of smearing! To me, this is incredible, and I have a variety of customers that could use this technology. Even at the show, they had two samples, one printed on their GelSprinter printer, and another sample printed on another brand of inkjet printer. They placed both printouts in a tube filled with water & sealed the ends. After a day or two, the GelSprinter print is perfectly legible. The other printout... Well, it looks like a slightly discolored sheet of white paper. There is no print I can see on it at all. Pretty amazing. So technologically, I'm sold. I'd like one of these for myself, so I can send letters out when it's raining & not have to worry about an address getting smeared on an envelope.
The GX 3050sfn is a very heavy device at 51.8 lbs, and the box is rather unwieldy. It would be easier to carry with 2 people, although I lifted it by myself. The unit appears well packed inside, with lots of packing tape & 4 pieces of styrofoam at the corners.
The first odd thing I noticed is that the safety info mentioned to keep the unit in a well ventilated area or you may notice an "odd smell." The odd smell they mention is ozone, which is produced by the unit when its electrostatic paper transport is in use. Instead of the typical rubber rollers that move paper around inside most inexpensive inkjet printers, Ricoh borrowed a page from high end copiers & laser printers & has implemented a superior solution. A belt is electrostatically charged; the paper sticks to this belt through static electricity, keeping it from moving around as the belt moves the paper throughout the printer. This keeps the paper from moving around due to dusty rubber rollers, and should lead to superior printouts. I could not get answers out of Ricoh for sure, but I believe the GelSprinter line should produce less ozone than a laser printer since a laser printer produces ozone for the entire printing process, while the GelSprinter is only producing it for the paper transport. But if this is a concern, you should write in to them & ask, and please let me know the answer you receive in comments for this review & I'll add them in.
I went through the setup process for the printer, which is outlined with an easy to read illustrated setup guide. Basically, you:
1) Pull all packing material (stryofoam & tape) out of the unit.
2) Pull tape out of the paper cassette drawer, and load white paper.
3) Unlock the scanner head with two lock switches under the scanner hood. You'll notice what appears to be a piece of fringed white packing tape here. This is NOT packing tape, don't remove it. It allows the scan head to gently touch the scanner glass when you close the lid. Close the lid slowly & watch what the paper does, then you'll get it.
4) Install the ink cartridges, which are keyed on the bottom so you can't put the wrong cartridge in the wrong slot.
5) Plug the unit in & turn it on.
The unit makes a low hum, like a fan spinning. Then you hear the paper transport turn on, which makes a satisfying motor noise. The unit proceeds to load ink, which the display says will take 6 minutes. The machine starts making lots of clicks & whirrs, which is typical for inkjet printer setup. And then I hear beeping, & on the display I see:
System Error (S001)
Uh oh. I look in the manual, and find that this is a bad error. After calling Ricoh tech support, they tell me this error means the unit never made it through its own self test before failing. Hey, we all get a certain number of DOA units. So I pack this one up and pull out the second one. (I bought two.) I go through the same process... And I get the same error message. What are the chances? I pack this one up too, and order two replacements.
And can you guess what happened? The two replacements didn't work either, all with the same error. Ack! Sorry, but after 4 DOA units in a row I'm done. I cannot give this product a proper review without actually seeing it work in front of my face. But I do have some thoughts. I believe that this is a beautiful product, but it's probably being abused somewhere in the shipping channel and the packaging is not up to snuff. There is no give, no "play" within the box for a shipping guy to drop the box or set it down hard or throw it in the back of his truck. I think Ricoh needs to seriously re-evaluate the packaging this unit is shipped in. This is a brand new product, and I hope they are able to update their packaging quickly. At some point I'd like to update this review when I see one work, but until then this review will have to stand.
What I can review are the differences between this unit and some of HP's AIOs, which I think are some of the best on the market & are what Ricoh will have to beat if they want to steal some market share.
Weight/size: I wish this unit was about 10-15 lbs lighter, and about 1/3 shorter. It's BIG and HEAVY. But it looks & feels like a heavy duty piece of office equipment, and would fit in well in that environment.
Fax: HP has a variety of setups for fax on the same or different phone line as voice calls. For example, an HP AIO can work on the same phone line you use for voice. It can listen in on the call, and if it senses a fax call, it can disconnect the phone & answer the fax. It can even work with an answering machine. Very useful with some of my SOHO clients.
Network: HP has built-in wired & wireless networking on many of their home AIOs, allowing the unit to be placed anywhere.
Display: HP has full color displays on several of their AIO models, walking you through complex procedures, showing ink levels, displaying pictures & allowing you to modify them before printing, setting up the unit, etc. Ricoh has a simple black & white LCD display.
Photos: On HP's PhotoSmart line, HP has a separate paper tray for 4x6" photo paper.
Memory card slots: HP has memory card slots for a variety of digital cameras' memory cards, allowing you to print photos from the card directly to the printer without a computer.
Ink: HP's PhotoSmart line has 6 water soluable inks, their other printers have 4; Ricoh has 4 waterproof inks.
Software: Ricoh currently has no TWAIN scanner driver for the Mac for their GelSprinter AIOs. They allow you to scan to email or an ftp site; MacOS X has a built in ftp server so this is workable, but a far inferior solution to HP's scanner software which can take a stack of paper in the ADF (automatic document feeder) and turn it into a multipage PDF. Ricoh offers a variety of neat scan & fax features on the Windows side, such as print to fax, or received faxes going to a Windows PC on the network, with no Mac equivalent feature. Ricoh has major work to do on their Mac software. I hope they just buy an HP AIO & copy what they did, that would be a good start.
I believe that technologically, Ricoh has something unique with their GelSprinter technology. The question is, how long will it take before one of the inkjet printer companies (HP, Epson, Canon, or a new player) makes something comparable? I hope Ricoh hurries, fixes their packaging problem, and completes some really good Mac software. I'm really excited about their GelSprinter technology, and a new competitor will be great for the industry.