Pantum will undoubtedly be a new name to the majority of our readers, but this Chinese company has designs on becoming one of the leading laser printer manufacturers by the end of 2015.
The new laser printer division of Seine Technology, the corporation behind Pantum, has already cut some finely chiseled teeth on the ‘compatible consumables’ market. But can it make similarly significant inroads into the tightly contested gaggle of established laser titans?
Pantum has started by rolling out what will be its cheapest model in the forthcoming range, with plans to bring out a slew of better models over the course of 2013.
The Pantum P2050 looks and feels like a deluxe version of an entry-level inkjet printer. This is the black model – a more traditional-looking white and grey model is also listed, known as the P2000.
The case feels reasonably tough, and the black livery gives it a brutal but smart appearance. Construction is solid, with the company at pains to point out the use of a metal rather than plastic internal frame.
The paper input trays aren't perhaps the strongest though, and they can be a little sensitive – if the paper isn't pushed right up to the edge, the printer can't detect it. Nonetheless, they do the job satisfactorily.
Given that the Pantum P2050 is a £60 model, it's also nice that we can talk about input trays in the plural, and besides the ample 150-sheet main tray, a second allows you to insert paper manually. Given obvious limitations, this allows you to operate two different paper feeds.
We're also pleased to see that the output tray is situated at the top of the printer, and Pantum has avoided that short-cut favoured on many a cheap model, of placing the output unit directly above the input tray. The cheap option may save space, but it does make it too easy to get paper mixed up.
You don't get a lot of detail on the Pantum P2050. Unsurprisingly, given the price, there's no screen – not even a text display. The controls consist of a single button and a pair of lights.
Connectivity is also kept to a minimum, with a simple USB 2.0 interface offered. If you want wireless or ethernet networking you'll need to wait until Pantum brings out one of its more expensive models.
The P2050's simplicity does at least make for a fast installation routine – lift up the lid and drop in the toner, load up the drivers and, less than five minutes later, you're done. You don't get fancy utilities or software applications with the Pantum, but the speedy setup is a nice alternative to the long-winded 15-20 minute processes created by some other manufacturers.
Printer manufacturers tend to make some outlandish claims for the speed of their products, but Pantum's figures are pretty close to the truth. Quoted is 20 pages per minute and we got as high as 15.8ppm with a 10-sheet workload.
It takes around 10 seconds for the printer to start churning out pages, but once it's into its stride, it does turn out sheets at almost exactly 20ppm.
Admittedly, you probably aren't going to use a printer like this for large workloads, so in practice you're rarely going to get beyond the 16ppm mark. Nonetheless, 15.8ppm is nothing to be ashamed of. The Samsung ML-2955DW offers a significantly faster 22.2ppm, but that model does cost half as much again.
The Pantum P2050 isn't going to win awards for the quality of its text, but it's still very serviceable. Lettering tends to be a little faint, although it's still very easy to read. In particular, it struggles with detail at the smallest font sizes. But for everyday text printing, the Pantum is quite adequate.
It's not a great graphics printer, with much of our output showing significant banding. At a pinch it'll do for printing out roughs of presentations. For more sophisticated material, though, it'll struggle.
But then, we doubt many will buy a £60 mono laser for its graphics. As a cheap text printer to slot in alongside an inkjet photo printer, it performs admirably.
Running costs are not the cheapest but roughly in line with what you’ll end up paying when you try to skimp on the intitial printer purchase. The Pantum's toner is available in 1500- and 2300-page sizes, which means you’ll pay around 2.4p per page with the highest capacity cartridge, or 4p for the smaller version. A Samsung ML-2955DW will set you back around 2.7p per page, for instance.
Running costs are, certainly a factor to consider if you think you'll be turning to the P2050 for more than occasional use.
In starting with its entry-level models, Pantum has taken the risky step of beginning at the bottom and working its way up from there. These kinds of tactics are not without peril, since few newcomers would want to be written off as a manufacturer of only cheap goods. However, the P2050 avoids most of the pitfalls of low-end laser printers, and actually manages to be a very straightforward but effective printer for a derisory asking price. It'll be the quality of the mid- to high-range printers that may decide whether Pantum soars or crashes. But as a jumping off point, the P2050 offers potential. You may want to look into the running costs first though – if printing significant volumes, the P2050's low asking price will prove a false economy.