Pantum is not a well-known company, but if you've ever purchased 'compatible' ink or laser cartridges, chances are they were made by this Chinese manufacturer. Pantum is owned by Ninestar, a subsidiary of Seine Technology, and it's one of the biggest manufacturers of compatible consumables, the nemesis to printer manufacturers' own-brand consumables. Even more interesting is the fact that Legend Capital is a major shareholder of the company and is also the sister company of the world’s biggest PC manufacturer, Lenovo, which could pave the way for a future strategic partnership between Pantum and Lenovo. But we digress.
We tested the Pantum P2000, the company’s entry-level A4 monochrome laser printer aimed at small businesses, and with a suggested retail price of £59.99 including VAT it's in-line with what you’d expect from a run-of-the-mill laser printer aimed at said SMB market.
On paper, the P2000 looks very impressive. It has a 20ppm print speed with 8MB cache and a monthly duty cycle of 20,000 pages, which is roughly two paper reams per day. The starter printer cartridge, though, is unlikely to last for more than a week as it's rated for 700 pages, based on a standard ISO print page.
As far as total cost of ownership (TCO) is concerned, Pantum claims to be competitive with the rest of the entry-level laser printer market. You can expect to get 1,500 pages from a standard-yield cartridge (which has an SRP of £44.99) and 2,300 pages from a high-yield cartridge (£54.99 SRP).
The company’s representatives confirmed that it will do its best to keep compatible consumables out of the equation, a statement full of irony given that it manufactures third-party consumables for other printers.
Opening the printer box, we were surprised to see three power cables (UK, European and Asian), a USB cable (something that many manufacturers tend to omit), the toner cartridge and a driver CD. Packaging is kept to a minimum and, as common with new printers, tape secures the movable parts of the machine.
Outwardly, the P2000 is fairly compact and solidly built, and the grey and white plastic chassis is a deliberate attempt to look as conservative as possible.
The output paper tray is located at the top next to the power button and two status LEDS, whereas the two-stage paper feed tray is situated at the front of the P2000. There’s a USB port around the back along with the on/off switch.
Opening the printer to install the laser cartridge is intuitive and the printer was automatically recognised by Windows when we hooked it up to our Internet-connected, Windows 8-equipped laptop. The printer, we’ve been told, is currently only compatible with Windows, although Mac drivers are being released later this year.
In operation the P2000 was quiet and vibrations were minimal. Under testing we were able to print 20 pages of our test document (containing both text and a single chart graphic) within 72 seconds, slightly more than the 20ppm rating. Furthermore, the first sheet was fully printed within seven seconds from the moment we clicked 'Print'. Printing a graphics file proved to be slower; a 1.4MB, 21.3-megapixel JPEG file was processed in 16 seconds and delivered 14 seconds later.
The output at 600dpi for the mixed type document was average. Text, even at 8pt, was sharp and well-defined and pure blacks were clean and solid, but the P2000 struggled with anything lighter with noticeable banding in graphics, especially when printing photographs. We informed Pantum about that and were told that it would investigate the matter further.
So until then, we're refraining from a definitive take on the P2000’s printing capabilities. However, it's a decent first attempt by the Chinese printer manufacturer in a very mature market where competition is cut-throat with the likes of Dell and Samsung offering equally priced models.
Paradoxically, while the TCO of using original cartridges in those established brand printers is likely to be higher than Pantum's, the average cost of running many of those mainstream mono laser printers is likely to be lower because of the availability of compatible toner cartridges.
But Pantum is undeterred and is in it for the long haul. Only time will tell whether it will achieve its goal of being a top five global printer manufacturer.