Ricoh Aficio SP 232SF Color Laser MFP

Ricoh’s Aficio SP232SF color laser multifunction printer isn’t quite as fast or as skillful as others we’ve tested, and its price (US$799 as of April 6, 2009) is the third highest on our current color laser MFP chart. But this no-hassle unit is inexpensive to run, which is more than most lower-cost models can claim.

The Aficio SP 232SF ships with skimpy, 1000-page black and color toner cartridges; but its high-yield, 6500-page black replacement cartridge currently costs US$126 (1.9 cents per page), and the 6000-page color supplies cost US$163 apiece (2.7 cents per color per page). A page with all four colors would cost a dirt-cheap 10.1 cents. Even the standard-size, 2500-page toner supplies are priced within reason: At this writing, black costs US$83.50 or a hefty 3.3 cents per page, but each color costs US$108.50–a midrange 4.3 cents per color per page. A four-color page would cost 16.4 cents. The Lexmark X543dn, in contrast, has a far cheaper purchase price but outrageously expensive toner.

The Aficio SP 232SF has an unusually friendly design. The control panel is uncluttered and easy to understand. The footprint is relatively small because the toner cartridges nestle in the center of the unit (accessible through the output tray). Each cartridge slot is keyed according to its color. Another nice touch: The scanner unit can slide back a bit to make pulling printed pages from the output tray more convenient–a refreshing break from the cavelike orifices on some MFPs. The Brother MFC-9450CDN may be cheaper and faster, but its design is not quite as thoughtful.

The unit’s other paper-handling abilities vary. The automatic duplexer is a great feature. On the other hand, the 250-sheet main input tray flexes a bit; has hard-to-read, stamped-plastic instructions; and offers only a manual feed slot–no multipurpose tray). You can purchase an additional 500-sheet input for US$149.

Ricoh claims the SP 232SF can pump out printed pages at a rate of 21 pages per minute, but the best it did in our tests was 16.8 ppm for black text and 2.8 ppm for color graphics. Scan and copy speeds were below average, too. Output quality varied. Printed text was not quite as crisp as we’d like. And though color prints looked accurate–aside from slightly orange fleshtones–some of them showed graininess or moiré patterns. Monochrome images tended to look dark. Scans and copies followed suit, showing better color accuracy than precision. This level of quality is fine for mainstream office documents, but more-sophisticated images would be compromised.

What the Ricoh Aficio SP232SF lacks in pizzazz, it makes up for in design and long-term costs. In many ways it could be a better alternative to a lower-cost models.

PC World (US)

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