OKI Data’s Multi-tasking MFP

High-tech products often seem to suffer from a frustrating case of under achievement. Vendors usually aim to differentiate their offerings from competitors’ by only one or two key features, often leaving us with equipment that could do so much more if only it were designed to.

To its credit, Oki Data must have hired an overachiever to design its B4545 monochrome multi-function printer/scanner/copier/fax. A veritable Swiss Army Knife of office document functionality, the $500 (street price) unit is aimed at the light-to-medium duty small office environment that needs loads of functionality in a small physical footprint.

At First Glance
The compact B4545 fits easily on an empty desk or small printer stand with minimum fuss. The initial out-of-the-box assembly requires attaching a document feeder tray, document output tray and paper input tray. It’s evident that the build quality of the B4545’s trays and other movable components are a bit lightweight, but that’s in line with the product’s modest price tag.

However, the B4545 does not skimp when it comes to user input. The MFP offers a large array of controls, mostly divided into logical groupings such as Copy, Scan and Fax. A full numerical keypad, navigation keys and a full alphanumeric keyboard may look intimidating at first but they’re part of a key design feature: PC independence. The B4545 lets you perform many document tasks, from copying to scanning to faxing, “walkup-style” without ever touching a connected PC.

Network Setup
Connecting the B4545 to a PC is, of course, a good idea, and it supports both USB 2.0 cable and Ethernet network connection. Using the network connection you can avoid all the hassles typically associated with printer sharing between multiple PCs. By default, the B4545 will pickup an IP address by DHCP and register itself on the network. You can access most of the unit’s configuration parameters through an administration Web page, which some people will find easier than punching away at the printer’s keys. In more advanced networks, you can manually configure network parameters, including logging into a Windows domain.

Printer Performance
The B4545’s laser print engine draws paper from the 250-sheet bottom-mount tray. You can also buy second, 500-sheet tray (a $135 option). With a 600×600 dpi print resolution, the B4545 doesn’t offer the ultra high-resolution printing available on more expensive or on some single-function laser printers, but it’s entirely reasonable for office documents.

Oki Data advertises a print speed of up to 21 pages per minute with a time-to-first-page print speed as fast as 13 seconds. Take these figures with a grain of salt. Many factors can affect print speed, including the size and complexity of documents. In practice, the B4545 can feel a little slow to pump out the first page, but once it gets going, the print speed is, like its resolution, reasonable for most office tasks.

The print quality is equally solidly. The B4545 may not be the printer for publishing slick brochures, nor is it meant to be. While it includes a 2,000 page starter toner cartridge, replacement cartridges rated at 6,000 pages cost $169. The image drum is designed to last for 20,000 pages, and a replacement drum costs $119.

You can also buy an optional duplex unit ($215), which requires the second tray and allows automatic two-sided printing.

Scanner Capabilities
Flexible scanning capabilities will endear the B4545 to small businesses for whom the “paperless office” is really just a utopian dream. The B4545 features a flatbed scanner that can handle paper up to letter or A4 size. In addition, the top of the unit contains a reverse automatic document feeder scanner.

The flatbed scanner is ideal for very thick or odd-shaped documents, while the automatic document feeder can accept up to 50 sheets of 16-to-25 pound legal-sized paper. Unlike the printer, the scanner can perform duplex scanning without any additional equipment. The B4545 feeds each input document through its scroll scanner one way, and then automatically reverses it, scanning both sides. As on the flatbed scanner, scans can be either monochrome or color at a resolution up to 600×2400 dpi, though the color scans show some irregularity in tone. Like its printing counterpart, the B4545 scanner is best suited to the typical array of office documents. It’s not intended or suited for scanning precious photos of grandma.

The B4545’s “scan-to” functionality is especially convenient for the networked office. Like any traditional scanner, you can perform and manage scans from an attached PC using the included PaperPort or OmniPage OCR software or any TWAIN-compatible application. But unlike most scanners, the B4545 will also let you scan documents directly to several destinations, including: network-shared hard drive, FTP site, e-mail or an inserted USB flash drive.

Scan-to documents can be saved in either TIFF or PDF format. Simply pressing a few keys on the B4545 lets you scan 20 double-sided pages and send the resulting PDF to an e-mail address or to save it directly to a USB drive, all without ever touching the PC.

Making Copies
Basic office math tells us that printer plus scanner equals copier. With Kinkos-like copy buttons, the B4545 makes it easy to send scanned documents directly to the printer. Copy options include a variety of zoom levels, detail levels and contrast control. If you don’t have the optional duplex printing feature, any double-sided documents that you scan will print on individual pages

Unlike a commercial copier, the time-to-print speed for each copy can be slow. Fortunately, if you need to copy multiple pages the document feeder makes unattended batch copies easy, letting you go about other business.

Whoever invented the fax is still laughing at us to this day. Faxing is slow and cumbersome, yet some businesses still can’t give it up. Unfortunately, they happen to be the very businesses you need to work with.

The Oki Data B4545
The Oki Data B4545 features a complete keyboard and is fully operable without a PC.

On the one hand, with its ability to scan documents directly to e-mail recipients, the B4545 truly renders the fax obsolete. If you do need to fax, the B4545 offers a single phone line jack and features a 33.6kbps modem. It can send and receive up to 500 pages and can broadcast to 499 recipients. You can use the included software to route incoming faxes to an attached PC instead of sending them directly to printer output. Faxes can also be sent via LAN.

Extra Conveniences
The B4545 sports a few features that add extra convenience. One is the front USB port for an attached USB storage device like a flash drive.

When you insert a USB drive, the B4545 searches its contents for text, TIFF and JPG files. Using the small LCD interface, you can navigate through supported files and select for deletion or output to the printer.

With its full-featured keyboard and network connectivity, you can also use the B4545 as a standalone communications device. Type and send e-mail messages or faxes directly from the console without using a PC at all.

For those times you want to print both sides of a small document onto a single page, the B4545 offers so-called “ID Mode,” so named for making copies of identification cards like a driver’s license. With ID Mode, you scan each side of the document and print both scans on one side of paper.

Feature Heavy, Budget Friendly
Multi-function devices are often accused of coming up short in each area. Although the B4545 produces crisp output with decent speed, its printer will not be mistaken for an enterprise workhorse. Indeed, with its 12,500 page per month rated duty cycle, Oki Data has consciously designed the B4545 for organizations with modest output demands compared to dedicated business laser printers.

Instead, the B4545 is chock full of convenience features, and its flexible scanning options especially standout. Anyone who has fumbled around scanning multi-page documents on a typical flatbed scanner will truly enjoy the reversing auto document feeder. And anyone who has used a networked office device only to wonder why it takes so little advantage of actually being networked will find the B4545 refreshingly capable.

Aaron Weiss a technology writer, screenwriter and Web development consultant who spends his free time stacking wood for the winter in Upstate New York. His Web site is: bordella.com

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