Review: Samsung SCX-4500 Multifunction Printer

by Eric Grevstad

Samsung's black box looks more like home theater equipment than a monochrome laser printer/scanner/copier. Its speed, quiet operation and output quality are impressive, too, but SMBs will have to decide whether to make a few sacrifices for style.

We've all seen photo shoots and sales brochures that show PCs and products in stylish settings -- judging by most magazine ads, the average home office has panoramic penthouse views and $1,300 ergonomic chairs. But Samsung's brochure for the SCX-4500 takes the cake: Not only is the monochrome laser printer/copier/scanner shown in one of those sterile white and glass living rooms that's half Ikea and half art gallery, but it's alone on the coffee table, with no computer, USB cable, or other gear in sight. Unless there's a PC hidden under the throw pillows.

In short, the SCX-4500's main attraction is how it looks -- or, if you prefer, how it doesn't look, for without close inspection you'd never guess it was a printer. The $300 three-in-one is styled like two black slabs placed atop one another, with a glossy black finish on top highlighted by flush-fitting, blue-LED-backlit touch controls in place of humble buttons. (The effect is partly spoiled by the snap-on clear plastic tray to catch printed sheets.)

The Samsung stands just 6.5 inches tall, with a compact 13 by 15.5-inch footprint, and runs quietly enough to sit next to your desk phone. It's also, assuming you can live with grayscale instead of color graphics, a solid printing performer that delivers sharp text documents at close to its rated speed of 17 pages per minute, with the first page arriving in about 15 seconds even if the laser's been resting to conserve power.

On the other hand, glamour has its costs. You can use the SCX for heavy-duty productivity work. You can also run a 10K in stiletto heels.

See the Light Show

As with most printers, a little shopping around can find the SCX-4500 for less than its $300 list; TigerDirect, for instance, is offering a $70 mail-in rebate through the end of this month. For even tighter budgets, the all-in-one has an equally sleek stablemate in the 5-inch-high ML-1630, which is the same monochrome laser printer with no scanning or copying capabilities, priced at $200 (and widely available for $150).

Setup is simple, with a combined drum and toner cartridge that falls into place under the unit's hood. Samsung follows the shameful practice of other printer vendors in slipping a half-empty starter cartridge into the box; full-capacity replacement cartridges are rated for 2,000 pages and cost $70. The SCX's monthly duty cycle is an inkjet-caliber 5,000 pages.

Samsung SCX-4500 Multifunction Printer's main attraction is its good looks.

Connection choices are simple, too: The device has a USB port. To be sure, we weren't counting on an Ethernet adapter in this price range, but the lack of one disqualifies the Samsung for small-office sharing.

Turn the printer on -- the backlit power-button circle requires a disconcertingly hard push -- and the Samsung greets you with a brief scrolling animation from a small blue LED marquee above the control panel, which also provides page counts for printing and copying jobs and percentages (adjusted by up and down buttons) for reduce/enlarge and copy-darkness settings. A scrolling arrow pointing toward the paper tray indicates that the latter needs refilling, while faint musical chirps signal events such as the end of a print job.

Speaking of the paper tray, Samsung's Web site refers to it as a "semi auto sliding cassette tray," which means that instead of pulling it out manually you press an eject button that pops it out an inch before you pull it out manually. (The site also says, "Imagine the excitement and sense of pride that this sleek jewel of a printer will bring to your life....welcome a trendy laser that will sparkle on your desk and light up your printouts.")

The phrase we prefer for the tray is "shallow" -- it holds a skimpy 100 sheets, making the SCX's ability to make up to 999 copies of a document look daunting indeed. The snap-on flap that catches finished pages after their tight backflip or U-turn through the printer accommodates 30 sheets.

(Continue to Page 2 for More on Performance and Pricing)

Pretty Speedy

Our biggest gripe with the SCX-4500 is the same one we've had with a dozen other printer/scanner/copier/sometimes fax machines: Without an automatic document feeder (ADF), you're obliged to lift the flatbed scanner lid and place pages on the legal-sized scanner glass one at a time, so copying more than a few pages is a tiresome chore. Flip the lid up and expect it to balance or stay open as with many multifunctions, by the way, and it crashes right back down onto your fingers.

The 600 by 4,200 dpi (optical resolution) scanner works great for its probable primary job, capturing or copying office documents. We were disappointed with the quality of color photo scans, both because several looked fairly noisy and because the scanner persistently cropped about an eighth of an inch off the right side of the full-bleed or borderless images we fed it.

Walk-up copying works fine, too, with the abovementioned touch controls governing the number of copies plus 50 to 199 percent zoom or document resizing. Making 20 copies of a magazine cover took a swift 1 minute and 21 seconds, placing the Samsung among the fastest desktop copiers we've tested.

To return to the Samsung's minimalist controls, we've been spoiled by printer/scanner/copiers with front-panel LCD menus that let you set up a list of scanning possibilities such as "Scan to e-mail, Scan to PDF, Scan to Paint Shop Pro, Scan to OCR" and so forth. Since the SCX has a single "Scan to PC" button, you must set that button's function before you begin, using a software utility that allows only one destination at a time.

To be fair, the rest of the supplied software is helpful and intuitive, with everything from accurate ReadIris optical character recognition to a photo-browsing and -printing utility that offers a variety of printing layouts and simple image editing functions.

Fast Enough for Client Files

High-volume enterprise copiers, of course, crank out 30, 40, or more pages per minute, but a rated 17 ppm is more than prompt enough for the SCX-4500's occasional to medium-sized print jobs. Our single-page letter with small graphic company logo printed in 15 seconds (from sleep mode) or 12 seconds (with the printer primed and awake). A 20-page Microsoft Word file took 81 seconds, the same as the 20-page copying job.

Six PowerPoint slides appeared in 31 seconds, and our 55-page Adobe Acrobat PDF document took 3 minutes and 33 seconds. Print quality was very good for text in big and small font sizes alike. PowerPoint and Excel charts and graphics were good as well, though we noted the common monochrome laser shortcomings of banding in solid-color areas and unappealing, grainy 8 by 10-inch photo images (printed in about 15 seconds apiece). Small photos in flyers and newsletters looked fine.

So where does the SCX-4500 fit in? We give it a thumbs down, partly because we give one to every multifunction copier or fax without an ADF for multipage jobs and partly for other shortcomings such as the thin paper tray and painstaking scanner settings. None of those, however, will disqualify it in the eyes of style-conscious users or office-conversation-piece seekers. Put it this way: You've seen sleek, executive-status-symbol laptops. Think of this as a status-symbol printer. It's fine for light duty, but mostly gets by on its looks.

Adapted from Hardwarecentral.com.

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This article was originally published on Friday May 9th 2008
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