The Oki B2520 MPF looks like a compelling package at first glance, offering up all the features you’d associate with a multifunction laser printer–print, copy, scan, and fax–plus a couple unexpected extras at a low price. Don’t be lured by its song, however; the user interface is clunky, the user guide is confusing, print speeds are slow, and print and scan quality are disappointing. And while this $320 printer boasts some interesting features for small offices such as mailboxes and a QWERTY keyboard, it’s not network-ready, which means that unless you’re an office of one, you’ll need to look elsewhere (or upgrade to the B2540 MPF). Of the comparably priced mono laser multifunctions we’ve reviewed lately, we recommend going with the Lexmark X340n. It’s a bit more expensive, but you get faster prints, better quality, and it comes network-ready.

Design
The Oki B2520 MFP is diminutive for a multifunction laser printer. It sits 17.6 inches wide, 15.2 inches deep, and 16.2 inches tall, and weighs 26 pounds. The scanner lid is topped by a 50-page automatic document feeder (ADF) that allows you to copy and scan legal-sized documents (the flatbed scanner can only accommodate pages up to A4 in size). A single USB port adorns the front panel of the printer for connecting USB thumbdrives.

The paper cassette holds up to 250 sheets of paper and can be configured to hold a variety of paper sizes up to legal. Above the cassette is a single-sheet manual feed slot with adjustable paper guides. The output well includes a fold-out paper stop that catches long sheets. This printer lacks a rear-output slot for straight pass-through printing.

A printer’s control panel should be dead simple to use; the Oki’s is not. Many of the control panel’s buttons are cryptically labeled, and the two-line text LCD screen is not backlit, making it difficult to read in low light. Beneath the LCD are the standard start, stop, and menu navigation keys, but there’s no obvious menu call-up button. The user guide points out that pressing the down arrow calls up the menu, which is decidedly unintuitive. To the left of the LCD are four buttons, three of which have icons and the last of which is labeled ECO. Again, consulting the user guide, we learn that the three keys change contrast, “color analysis mode selection,” and “analysis resolution setup,” and that ECO refers to a mode that conserves toner (and reduces print quality). It took us a while to figure out that “analysis” basically means “scan” (the user guide wasn’t particularly helpful on this count) so those buttons change the scan resolution and allow you to scan color documents. Why Oki couldn’t just call it “scan” is beyond us.

To the right of the display are a numerical keypad and a full QWERTY keyboard. Below the numeric keypad are three buttons: the one with the three figures we correctly surmised was a broadcast fax button; the one that looked like an open book calls up the address book; and the one with the universal icon for volume control is actually a manual connection for faxing–again, not intuitive. Finally, the last few buttons let you switch between fax, copy, and scan modes, or stop a print job. There’s also a button labeled “SMS,” though that feature is not enabled on this model. Having looked at a lot of printers, we’re baffled as to why Oki’s control panel is so confusing and requires such an extensive legend in the user manual. If you get fed up trying to find tasks and options in the menu, the Oki B2520 MFP is set up for task shortcuts using numerical codes. The codes are displayed in the menus on the LCD, but they’re pointless if you’re having trouble finding what you need in the printer’s menus to begin with. But you can print a function and task list that outlines the various (and extensive) codes. Either way, Oki needs to work on simplifying the control panel and making it more transparent to users. You shouldn’t have to hold a training seminar for the new office printer.

Oki offers a 4,000-page toner cartridge for the B2520 MFP for $159. The estimated per-page print cost is nearly 4 cents, a bit high for a mono laser multifunction printer. As mentioned above, though, you can use the ECO mode to conserve toner if you’re making prints for internal or personal use. The monthly recommended print volume is 7,500 pages, so this is best suited for a small office with light printing needs.

Features
The Oki B2520 MFP comes with a 100MHz processor and 32MB of RAM (not upgradable). It’s not network-ready, but you can add networking as an option. Additionally, Oki offers a USB dongle that enables wireless printing. Though the B2520 MFP is a mono printer, copier, and fax, it can scan both mono and color documents.

The copy options for the B2520 MFP are straightforward. You can make up to 99 copies at once and make N-up and poster copies. When scanning, you can scan to your PC or to a connected USB drive. If you choose to scan to your connected PC, the PaperPort software will be launched. Here, you can preview the scan, save it to various locations on your PC, choose the resulting file type (including TIFF, JPEG, and PDF), or open the document in a number of different programs, including Word, Adobe Acrobat, Excel, and Paint. If you opt for an editing program such as Word, the optical character recognition program will launch to scan the document as an editable file. Other options include attaching the scan to an outbound email (Outlook only) or to FTP.

Fax option include delayed, schedulable transmissions, secure fax receiving (called fax answering machine), and fax rerouting (including to an attached USB key). In the directory, you can create up to 250 entries, which can include a fax number, email address, and FTP address, and up to 20 groups. While you can assign a shortcut key to specific addressees, the control panel lacks one-touch dial buttons for your most commonly faxed contacts. Another interesting feature is the ability to create mailboxes on the B2520 MFP. It’s set up for 32 mailboxes–one public and 31 private. Users can send and receive files (via fax or scan) from their private mailboxes for security.

When using a USB thumbdrive with the B2520, you can scan to it, fax to it, or print from it. When printing, the only supported file types are TXT, TIFF, and JPEG. You can also delete files from the key using the control panel. If you’re scanning to the drive, the control panel will ask you name the file, which you can do using the QWERTY keyboard, and choose the file type: PDF or image.

Performance
In CNET Labs’ laser multifunction tests, the Oki B2520 MFP failed to impress us. Its task speeds were slow, and quality left a lot to be desired. It printed black text at a rate of 10.64 pages per minute, behind the Dell 1815dn, the Lexmark X340n, and the Canon ImageClass MF4690. It was also the slowest at printing grayscale graphics with a score of 11.21 pages per minute, at grayscale scans with a score of 3.31 pages per minute, and at copying via ADF, with a score of 9.18 pages per minute. With color scanning, it was the second slowest with a score of 3.25 pages per minute, beating out the Canon.

Unfortunately, the Oki B2520 MFP didn’t fare much better with task quality. The high point was the black text: it was crisp and sharp, though we’d like to see a darker, richer black. The graphics print was beset by distracting cross-hatching, and the photo elements weren’t sharp. The grayscale scan was very disappointing: it was blown out in the light end of the grayscale, so highlight areas in the photo elements lacked detail. It was also a bit hazy overall, but worst of all, there was color in the scan: a regular pattern of pink, green, and a bluish tone. The original document is a black-and-white image, so there’s no reason to see color in the resulting scan. The color was most obvious in graphical patterns, but it also plagued simple straight lines. The color scanning was pretty good, showing good color reproduction and clean details. Overall, we were very disappointed with the quality of the B2520 MFP, especially given the fact that we’ve liked Oki laser printers such as C6000n in the past.

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