HL-3170CDW colour laser printer
Low purchase price; good text quality
Colour graphics are mediocre; control pane lacks a menu button
You want a colour laser printer, but you don’t have a lot of cash. How does $197 sound? That’s the price of the Brother HL-3170CDW, and in exchange it delivers reasonably good prints. Not pristine, evocative colour graphics – move on to another printer for that. But good text and decent spot colour, it can do, and the toner costs are tolerable as well.
Here’s the real decision: do you pick this all-around-average machine, or do you pick this other, like-priced colour laser, the Dell C1760nw, which has much better colour quality, but also much more expensive toner? Or do you think a bit outside of the box and consider a business inkjet, such as the Epson WorkForce WP-4020, which competes head-to-head with both of these lasers on speed, print quality and features, and whomps them both on cost of consumables? By our reckoning, the latter is the best deal, but some people just can’t get laser out of their heads, and they will have to think harder about the trade-offs.
Bulky profile, basic features and duplexing
Measuring 16.1in wide x 18.3ins deep x 9.4in wide and weighing 17.6kg, the HL-3170CDW is fairly large and beefy for an entry-level, laser-class printer (it uses LED technology to produce basically identical results). The height is due more to the stacked toner/drum system than the bottom-mounted, 250-sheet paper cassette. There’s also a 100-sheet output tray integrated into the top of the unit, and a single-sheet manual feed for envelopes and glossy photo paper. The unit prints automatically in duplex.
When some colour printers run low on one colour, they will complain, but keep printing. Not so with the HL-3170CDW: it will not print when you run out of any of the four colours. This can be a problem if you really, really need to print something and haven’t any spare toner. Better a warning and a less-than-optimal printout, than no printout at all. Brother needs to rethink this.
There’s no reason to make a big deal about control panels on single-function printers, as most people rarely use them after setup is over. (Multifunctions are another story.) But the HL-3170CDW’s control panel could definitely use a dedicated menu button. Employing the OK button for this purpose is unintuitive and awkward, an unnecessary corner cut. Otherwise, the single-line monochrome LCD display and controls are easy enough. The HL-3170CDW’s setup was a breeze. The unit sports USB, ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity. There’s a full array of wireless and email printing features, including AirPrint, and both the PC and Mac driver dialogues offer a bevy of options.
Reasonably priced toner
After enjoying its initial purchase price, your ongoing costs for the HL-3170CDW will be, if not actually cheap, at least better than expected. Most low-cost colour lasers hit you with high toner costs down the road. The HL-3170CDW’s prices hover comfortably around the average – and are better than those of many of its competitors, though not as good as the above-mentioned Epson WorkForce WF-4020, the inks of which are amazingly cheap. The unit ships with starter cartridges rated for a scant 1000 pages.
Good speed for the price
Speed is good compared to other entry-level colour lasers and business inkjets. The Brother HL-3170CDW spits out text and mixed monochrome pages at a lively and 11.2 ppm on the Mac and 12.2 ppm on the PC. Snapshot-sized (4in x 6in) colour photos printed onto letter-size paper at a brisk pace of 2.9 ppm, and full-page photos arrive at a spirited 1.4 ppm.
Fast means nothing if quality is inferior, and unfortunately, that describes the HL-3170CDW’s graphics. Both monochrome and colour artwork exhibited mild horizontal striations and vertical banding that were visible under light scrutiny. Worse, the colour palette is overly light, and human faces look jaundiced. For a dab of colour, a small picture, or the occasional, simple graphic, the HL-3170CDW’s colour quality will suffice, but not for much else. On the other hand, text is top-notch, and that’s generally the larger part of the equation for the small or home offices that would consider this model.
A good choice for basic colour printing
To its credit, Brother offers a little more than most competitors do. The warranty lasts only one year, but there’s free phone support for as long as you own the product. Speed is excellent, and for text and spot colour the HL-3170CDW’s print quality is fine. Toner costs are around average. At this price point, it offers a decent colour-laser experience without gouging you later. But if you want the best possible deal in this price range, a business inkjet delivers far more.
by Jon L Jacobi and Melissa Riofrio, PCWorld