Sharp's AJ-5030 tries to do too much and overextends itself. It features a 10-page sheetfeeder, built-in fax capability, and one-touch scan-to-e-mail, which is more than other flatbed multifunction devices (MFDs) do, including Lexmark's X83 and Canon's MulitiPass F30. But the AJ-5030 lacks the speed and the output quality of other multifunctions, and its control console has a bewildering number of buttons that are hard to navigate. Unless its convenient fax and copy features win you over, you can get better and less expensive alternatives elsewhere. Sharp's AJ-5030 tries to do too much and overextends itself. It features a 10-page sheetfeeder, built-in fax capability, and one-touch scan-to-e-mail, which is more than other flatbed multifunction devices (MFDs) do, including Lexmark's X83 and Canon's MulitiPass F30. But the AJ-5030 lacks the speed and the output quality of other multifunctions, and its control console has a bewildering number of buttons that are hard to navigate. Unless its convenient fax and copy features win you over, you can get better and less expensive alternatives elsewhere.
A fax machine, plus
The AJ-5030's design strikes us as a bit cheap, especially considering its $299 price tag. But setup went off without a hitch, thanks in part to the helpful, albeit flimsy, Quick Setup Guide. Paper enters through the top-loading input tray, which holds up to 100 sheets of plain paper, and empties into the output tray on the bottom-front of the machine. With its paper trays fully extended, the AJ-5030 measures a relatively compact 18 inches wide by 18 inches deep by 13 inches high. It's compatible with Windows 95 and above, but it doesn't work with Macs. It connects via USB or parallel, and it even comes with a USB cable so that you can get up and running right away. If you encounter any problems, the printed operation manual covers all of the unit's features in sufficient depth.
Most multifunction devices can be classified as printers with scanners grafted onto them. The AJ-5030 is more of a fax machine with a photocopier and a printer attached. Fax features are pretty solid; you can fax either loose sheets or bound materials, store 10 fax numbers for rapid-dialing, and program an additional 89 speed-dial numbers via the software or front panel. To access stored speed-dial numbers, press the Speed Dial button plus a two-digit code. There's also a broadcast fax capability, which can send a single fax job to 10 destinations. And there's a line-in and line-out socket, so you can hook up a phone and share the fax line with phone communications.
While its fax features are notably strong, like all multifunction devices, the AJ-5030 stands or falls on its ability to print. Even for an inkjet, which you'd expect to be slow, the Sharp lags noticeably behind its peers. In CNET Labs' tests, it managed only 2.2 pages of text per minute, slightly over half the speed of the next-slowest multifunction printer and a third of the speed of the fastest, the Canon MultiPass F30. The speed dropped to half a page per minute when printing color graphics.
On quality tests, the AJ-5030 delivered mixed results. Text on plain paper looked good and was on a par with the competition. However, the edges of some letters looked ragged and lacked shape. On coated paper, text improved, and most of the flaws disappeared. Graphics output, though, was only fair, while photographic output was not up to snuff. And sadly, the AJ-5030 is a bit of an ink guzzler. In CNET Labs' tests, text documents cost about 15 cents each and color documents cost 93 cents. That's 36 percent more for text and 27 percent more for color than the next most-expensive printer, the Lexmark X83--and we thought its consumption was a bit steep.
As a photocopier, the AJ-5030 fared a little better. Combining its flatbed scanner with a sheetfeeder makes working with multipage documents a breeze. The sheetfeed tray handles stacks of up to 10 pages, and the window can take bound materials up to A4 paper size--not legal size but a little bigger than traditional letter-sized paper. You can select a variety of copy options with the click of a few buttons on the console, including color, monochrome, magnification, and paper type (a feature that's missing from the Lexmark X83).
There's nothing special about the software that Sharp bundles with this device. Unlike most of its peers, the AJ-5030 doesn't have a memory-resident program for most scanning operations--you must launch its File Manager-like scanning desktop or use a TWAIN-compliant program to acquire images from the scanner. The scanning software doesn't make it easy to select your own scanning resolution--it gives you presets starting at 200x200dpi (dots per inch). For onscreen viewing, 100dpi or even 75dpi can be adequate; to shrink to the default resolution, you must reduce the image using editing software after scanning.
There is one Sharp program that runs in the background, though. It's a scan-to-e-mail program that takes up a total of 2.75MB of RAM while inactive and works with the AJ-5030's e-mail button to attach a scan to an outgoing e-mail message. This is a pretty limited use for an always-on program--other MFDs add print monitors and toolbars with many more scanning options--but it does the job well.
Fortunately, Sharp stands behind its product. In addition to the standard one-year warranty, tech support is available by phone 24/7 for the life of the printer. The Sharp Web site also offers FAQs, drivers, and e-mail support.
The one that you want?
Although it has several marks against it, the AJ-5030 could meet the needs of some users. Its sheet feeder and flatbed meld the features of a desktop fax and the convenience of a photocopier nicely. The fax functions are capable enough for more-than-occasional fax use. But if your focus is on fast and attractive printing, especially of color graphics, look elsewhere.
Multifunction printer speed
Pages per minute (longer bars indicate better performance)
Multifunction printer quality
|The Sharp AJ-5030's speeds were disappointing, even for this class of printer. And unfortunately, you won't be rewarded for your patience. While text was acceptable, the graphics output looked merely fair.|