Review: Xerox Phaser 3200MFP

There was a time when multi-function Xerox printers and photocopiers were solely the domain of big-budget corporate companies. But with today’s low pricing, even the smallest and home-based businesses can now afford to scan, copy and fax Xerox-style.

The company’s latest entry to the SOHO market is the Phaser 3200MFP, a black-and-white laser printer/copier/scanner/fax packed into a compact space-saving unit. Available in two versions, the $399 3200MFP/B supports connectivity by USB while the $499 3200MFB/N adds support for Ethernet networking.

The Phaser Unboxed
Thanks to its modest dimensions, the Phaser 3200MFP can be out of the box and setup to go in just a couple of minutes. Other than a few strips of shipping tape, the toner cartridge and the paper tray cover, there are no complicated “some assembly required” instructions.

When it comes to laser printers, sometimes too small is a cause for concern. There are some very small, very cheap laser printers on the market that don’t inspire confidence. The Phaser 3200MFP weighs in at 24 pounds and measures 15-inches high, 17-inches wide, and nearly 15-inches deep – substantial enough to feel solid, but small enough to fit on a desk.

The Phaser’s lid contains a 30-sheet automatic document feeder for scanning, and lifts up to reveal a flatbed scanner. The control panel provides access to major copying, scanning and fax functions, but its numeric keyboard requires typing any alphabetic characters in “touch-tone phone” style, where each number corresponds to a group of letters. An LED menu with simple navigation lets you configure a range of features and generate diagnostic reports.

A somewhat flimsy extendable output tray supports up to 100 pages. Below the output tray, the unit opens to reveal the toner cartridge. The unit ships with a reduced-capacity cartridge with toner for about 1,500 pages, but replacement cartridges are rated from 2,000 to 3,000 pages depending on dots-per-inch (dpi) and print quality settings.

The 250-sheet paper input tray is really a shelf with a hood, rather than the kind of removable tray you find in an enterprise-quality laser. It supports different weights of paper — up to 24 pound. You can feed heavier weights — up to 43 pound — through the manual bypass tray, but only one sheet at a time.

Set it Up
Our evaluation unit, the 3200MFP/B, supports only USB connectivity, so setup was simply a matter of plugging into a USB 2.0 port and a power socket. The networked version may require configuring network settings through the unit’s menu, depending on your network design.

It is important to follow instructions: connect and power up the Phaser before launching the install CD. The wizard will install the appropriate USB drivers, printer drivers for PCL 6/5e and Postscript 3 emulation, scanner driver and optional supplementary software.

If you install the printer on a Windows machine, you can install the ControlCentre software, which lets you configure certain Phaser actions. For example, you can specify that a particular program be launched when a document is scanned. ControlCentre also supports managing the fax recipient phonebook and can deliver firmware upgrades to the Phaser.

Xerox includes drivers for all major versions of Windows including Vista, as well as Linux, with support for Fedora, Red Hat, Mandrake and SUSE. Linux users can install only drivers without supplemental software.

Got a Mac? Then make sure you buy the 3200MFP/N model – it’s the only one that supports Mac OS X

Primary Printing
At its core, the Phaser 3200MFP is a laser printer with a checkbook-friendly price point. With support for up to 1, 200 dpi, the Phaser offers high resolution for a budget laser. With 64MB of memory and a 300Mhz processor, Xerox claims that it can output the first page of a print job in under 10 seconds and keep pace up to 24 pages per minute after that.

Benchmarks aside, the Phaser does indeed turn around pages quickly – noticeably faster than some of the competition. But with only a 100-sheet output tray, it will also fill up quickly, too.

The printer driver defaults to 600 dpi, which can save toner and is more than adequate for most text documents. The driver settings are clearly laid out, making it easy to bump the printer up to 1,200 dpi for graphics, or adjust other printing features, like duplicate copies or support for n-Up printing – squeezing up to 16 pages on one sheet. You can also configure the printer driver to automatically embed a watermark onto printed pages, which can be selected from the included presets or a custom design.

At a replacement cost of less than $100, the Phaser toner cartridge is the only long-term maintenance item. Unlike some competing printers, the 3200MFP does not have a separate drum that needs replacing.

Copy That
Besides printing, the most popular use for a multi-function printer is walk-up copying. The Phaser is simple and uncluttered in this regard – place a document on the flatbed, press the green “Start” button, and in a few seconds, it spits out a copy. Alternatively, you can stack up to 30 sheets in the ADF, and the Phaser will copy the pages with the touch of a button.

From the control panel on the Phaser you can reduce and enlarge copies, or choose from several special-purpose copy modes grouped under the button vaguely labeled “Favorite Copy.” These include so-called “ID card copy” which copies two-sided documents onto one page, allowing you to flip the document between scans, an auto-fit mode which will automatically scale a document to fit the page, 2- and 4-up modes to scale multiple pages onto one, and a poster mode that blows up a document across multiple tiled pages.

Scan It In
Both the flatbed scanner and automatic document feeder can perform color scans up to 4,800 dpi. The Phaser 3200MFP/B delivers scans only to a scanner-aware application on the attached PC, whereas the networked version can send scans directly to network destinations such as shared folders or e-mail.

In Windows, the scanner can be configured to launch a particular application when you initiate scanning at the Phaser. Alternatively, with TWAIN and WIA drivers installed, you can manually begin a scan from within any supporting application, including most graphics programs like Photoshop and Acrobat. Xerox includes “Scan to PC Desktop Personal Edition” for people without existing scan-ready software.

Xerox Phaser 3200MFP
The Xerox Phaser 3200MFP balances utility with quality, but it’s best for light-duty printing.

The automatic document feeder sounds a helpful beep when it detects page insertion. Feeding pages works smoothly and scanning is fast, but the Phaser 3200MFP’s ADF does not support duplexing. The appeal of an ADF is in the name – automatic. Lacking reverse feed means you must manually flip the stack to scan the backside of pages, which isn’t nearly as automatic as it should be.

Just the Fax
Despite its seemingly clunky and old-fashioned nature, the fax lives on. With a built-in 33.6Kbps modem, the Phaser 3200MFP can send and receive faxes like it’s 1999. Not that this reflects any limitation on the Phaser’s part – it supports image compression, a recipient phonebook, recipient speed dial, re-dial, delayed dial, group and broadcast dialing, plus sending faxes directly from your attached PC or the Phaser’s scanner.

Incoming faxes can be output directly to paper, or held in the Phaser’s memory for later printing, which Xerox calls “Secure Receiving Mode.” The Phaser will also hold incoming faxes in memory if the printer is busy at the time of delivery. The Phaser can automatically enter fax reception mode automatically, manually, or based on a distinctive-ring pattern sent by the phone company.

Although the Phaser 3200MFP/B can hold incoming faxes in its memory, it doesn’t support a purely electronic delivery path – that is, let you retrieve the faxes from the PC without needing to print them to hardcopy. In contrast, the 3200MFP/N networked model does support e-mail delivery of incoming faxes.

Compact Solution
Whereas some competing MFP’s might pack in more features, Xerox is positioning the Phaser 3200MFP to balance utility with quality. Despite the affordability of the Phaser and its compact physical size, it mostly feels and performs solidly, although the paper output tray could be a little more robust.

The laser printer at the heart of the 3200MFP confidently churns out black text with speed, but limitations on paper handling in quantity are a reminder that this unit is designed for a light duty cycle.

Its agile scanner is fast and accurate, but if you need to scan significant stacks of paper, you’ll want to look either at the 3200MFP/N, the networked model that can scan directly to network destinations.

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