- Review Price: £2885.00
Most of the multifunction machines we review come from manufacturers who specialise in printers. Some even buy in the scanner component to make their devices. Sharp, however, comes primarily from the photocopier market and the AR-M201 is an office photocopier which can also print. Printing isn’t an afterthought, though, as the machine can print in full duplex, handling both sides of each page in a single job.
The AR-M201 looks rather different from multifunction printers you may be used to. It’s quite a bit bigger than most and designed much more like a photocopier than a printer. Paper is loaded sideways in the single 250-sheet tray (a second 250-sheet tray is available as an option). It feeds through the machine from right to left and ends up on an output tray with a large aperture on the left-hand side, so you can remove the finished pages. A50-sheet special-media tray folds down from the right-hand side, giving a total, unexpanded capacity of 300 sheets.
On top, there’s a 50-sheet Automatic Document Feed (ADF) for scanning and copying and this can be hinged up, so you can scan from the flatbed glass, as well. The full-colour scanner has a resolution of 600 x 1,200ppi, so it’s suitable for scanning photo prints as well as text pages. The machine comes with a single USB socket for PC or Mac connection, but an optional adapter can be fitted for network use.
The control panel is a shallow strip along the front of the machine and is in places a bit confusing. The special function and page imposition options are rather crowded onto just two buttons, though the diagram of paper sources, with lights showing where paper will be fed from, is a useful extra. There are 18 quick-dial buttons for the fax, as well as number pad for less frequently dialled numbers.
The installation of consumables shows the machine’s origins in photocopying. The toner cartridge and developer drums slide conveniently in from the front of the machine, behind a fold-down cover.
Software setup is straightforward from the supplied CD. As well as the printer driver itself, Sharp supplies its Sharpdesk application, a bit like a cut-down version of PaperPort, which can handle printing and scanning jobs, including OCR of text pages and the compiling of documents from several text or picture files. This is a useful way of working with the device and is easy to learn how to use.
Fax software is provided for generating faxes from your computer and facilities on the machine include cover pages and choice of resolutions.
Sharp quotes speeds of up to 20ppm for this mono laser device and under test we saw our five-page text document complete in 34 seconds and the five-page text and graphics test finish in 38 seconds. These times equates to real-world speeds of 8.8ppm and 7.9ppm. The machine spends quite a bit of time preparing to print, though, so longer documents will get closer to the rated speed.
Our 20-side duplex document took 2 minutes 17 seconds, giving a speed of 8.8ppm, noticeably better than some other laser-based printers and certainly faster than most duplex inkjet devices. A15 by 10cm photo took 17 seconds, so you would expect to get about four photo pages per minute.
As you might expect, photocopying is the AR-M201’s forté and a single page A4 copy from the flatbed took just eight seconds. The same document from the ADF increased this time to 13 seconds, but both still show good photocopying performance.
Print quality is particularly good for text and even small font sizes are reproduced clearly and intensely black. Greyscale graphics output, as from our business graphics sample, is passable, though tints reproduced rather dark and there is some obvious micro-banding. Photocopies of the text and graphics document show noticeable degradation in the copy quality, but would still be usable within an office.
Photo output again exhibits the micro-bands seen in the business graphics test and some of the darker details are lost. Again, this output – which like all our photo tests was done in the highest quality mode available – would be OK for internal documents, but you might not want to give it to customers.
Sharp is particularly reticent to quote prices on the Web, either for the AR-M201 itself or its consumables and the user guide doesn’t mention the part numbers for its toner cartridge or developer drum, either. We eventually got trade prices out of the company, along with page yields, and with no better option, we’ve doubled these to work out page costs. They give a cost per page of 0.91p, 0.7p of which is our standard paper cost. The maintenance and consumables costs on this machine are very low.
Sharp’s AR-M201 is a robust, well-designed multifunction printer, well up to everyday use in a small or medium-sized office. If you’re more familiar with photocopiers than you are with computer printers, you may find it easier to operate and maintain, too.
However, it’s very hard to see how Sharp can justify an SRP of over £2,800. Even allowing for the possibility of negotiating a cheaper price from one of Sharp’s dealers – the way these things usually work – you have to look at competitive products with similar specifications. With the likes Brother MFC-7840W available from under £400, why would you knowingly pay this much?
Score in detail
Print Speed 8
Print Quality 7