Time for a laser all-in-one at home

Anyone who has ever used an inkjet printer can tell you this: The ink dries out, especially if you print infrequently.

It affects all brands and all inkjet models. Simply because ink is a liquid and evaporates when exposed to air. The ink residue at the nozzles of the ink cartridge dries out first, clogging the nozzles. Because of this, inkjet printers often incorporate a self-cleaning feature to prevent this.

"Factors such as climate and humidity affect the lifespan of the cartridge. For instance, a dry environment with either very warm or very cold temperatures may shorten it," explained Canon Singapore's assistant director, Mr Edwin Teoh.

The only real solution is to use a laser printer, whose ink comes in a dry powder form.

Laser printers used to be so expensive that they made sense to be used only in offices, where the printing volume was high enough to make the initial cost worthwhile.

In recent years, the hardware has become more affordable. A monochrome laser multi-function printer (MFP) can be bought for less than $200 now. Prices have declined the most for colour laser printers. Their average selling price here has slid from $745 to $554 in the past three years, said market tracker, GfK Asia.

And buyers have snapped up these cheaper printers. Canon told Digital Life that the adoption rate of laser colour MFPs has leapt by more than fivefold in the past three years. GfK Asia's figures indicate that unit sales have doubled.

In contrast, sales of single-function laser printers have fallen slightly in the same period.

The move towards multi-function printers is mirrored in other markets. They made up more than 45 per cent of all laser colour printers sold in Asia Pacific in 2011. This number went up to 49 per cent last year, said Gartner analyst, Ms Zalak Shah. She expects such sales to keep growing as the price gap between single- and multi-function models narrows.

Besides being more affordable, the latest colour laser MFPs are likely to come with features which let you print wirelessly from mobile devices.

The five printers - ranging from under $500 to about $700 - in this round-up all have mobile apps for iOS and Android devices.

Review: Brother MFC-9330CDW

As the most expensive model in this round-up by a fair margin, this Brother printer has much to prove. Its specifications certainly look good.

This is an LED printer, which is similar to a laser printer. Its actual print speed is the highest of this lot of printers, at 23 pages a minute (black-and-white and colour).

Samsung's Xpress C460FW comes closest at 18 pages for black-and-white printing, but manages only four pages a minute for colour.

The Brother comes with a colour 3.7-inch touchscreen, larger than any on the multi-function printers reviewed here.

It is useful for navigation and control. Understandably, the touchscreen is not as responsive as those found on mobile devices. This can be frustrating when you make a swipe gesture on the screen and nothing happens.

It has a touch-sensitive backlit keypad which lights up when required, such as when you are sending a fax. Except for the power button, all the buttons are touch-based, which makes for a clean look.

The paper tray holds 250 sheets, easily beating its shoot-out rivals whose trays top out at 150. It also has a 35-page auto document feeder.

The MFC-9330CDW supports automatic duplex printing, which, as anyone who has ever used this feature can tell you, is convenient and saves paper.

Wi-Fi Direct is supported - this means you can print directly from a supported mobile device or laptop without connecting the printer to a Wi-Fi network.

Brother's iPrint & Scan app (iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7) does not look snazzy, but it will let you print documents and photos from a variety of sources, including cloud services, such as Dropbox, Evernote and OneDrive.

For offices, this printer has a Secure Function Lock feature, which can restrict up to 25 users from printing in colour.

The Brother MFC-9330CDW produces decent black-and-white print-outs, but its colour prints were far from the best. The bar charts which it printed showed mild banding.

Its black toner costs $95 for about 2,500 pages - the cheapest of the five printers here. However, heavy users will have to factor in the replacement cost of the drum ($185, good for 15,000 pages).

Fast and packed with features, this printer is worth its high price tag, especially if you print mostly in black-and-white.

Price: $698
Yield: Up to 2,500 standard pages per cartridge (black) and 1,400 pages per cartridge (colour)
Print resolution: Up to 600 x 2,400 dots per inch
Speed: Up to 23 pages per minute (black), 23 pages per minute (colour)
Tested speed: 23 pages per minute (black), 23 pages per minute (colour)

: 5/5
Design: 3/5
Performance: 4/5
Value for money: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

Review: Canon imageClass MF8280Cw

The bulky Canon imageClass MF8280Cw is the largest printer in this round-up.

Weighing a back-breaking 26kg, it appears more appropriate for the office than the home. However, it lacks the features which would have made it perfect.

For instance, it does not support duplex printing. Its paper tray, which has a holding capacity of 150 pages, is quite limited, although it is perhaps sufficient for a small office.

Depending on the print volume, you should be prepared to refill the tray daily. It is relatively convenient to scan, copy or fax multiple pages, as there is a 50-page automatic document feeder.

What the Canon has in abundance are physical buttons.

At the start, this can be quite overwhelming. However, once you are used to them, they make sense as useful short cuts to functions which are frequently used. However, I would have preferred a Wi-Fi Protected Set-up button instead of having this feature buried within the network settings.

There is no support for Wi-Fi Direct, so the Canon must connect to an existing Wi-Fi network before documents can be printed from a mobile device. Google Print and Apple AirPrint are supported.

Canon has a couple of mobile printer apps - choose the Canon Mobile Printing app (iOS and Android).

It has serious limitations, although it looks sleek and modern.

You will need Internet access (via Wi-Fi) to print Microsoft Office documents or PDF files directly from your mobile device. Basically, the app communicates with Canon's servers to convert and print such files.

Canon also suggests that users print a screenshot or photo of an e-mail or convert the e-mail to PDF format as the app cannot print the e-mail text directly.

On a related note, the printer cannot read or print PDF files from an attached USB drive.

While part of the overall experience, the mobile app's limitations should not unduly affect the printer's actual performance. Print speed is as advertised - a fairly average

14 pages per minute for colour or black and white.

More importantly, print quality is good, especially for photos and graphics. I would rate it as second best, only behind the HP printer.

However, the cost of printing black and white is the highest here, at about 6 cents per page.

On the other hand, colour printing is surprisingly affordable at about 20 cents per page. The drum is integrated with the toner, so there is no extra cost.

The toner included with the printer is good for only 800 pages, compared with 1,400 pages (black) and 1,500 pages (colour) for the standard versions.

It strikes a good balance between print speed and quality, but it is relatively expensive for black-and-white prints.

Price: $599
Yield: Up to 1,400 standard pages per cartridge (black) and 1,500 pages per cartridge (colour)
Print resolution: Up to 600 x 600 dots per inch
Speed: Up to 14 pages per minute (black), 14 pages per minute (colour)
Tested speed: 14 pages per minute (black), 14 pages per minute (colour)

: 4/5
Design: 3/5
Performance: 4/5
Value for money: 3/5

Overall: 4/5

Review: Fuji Xerox DocuPrint CM215fm

Launched last year, this Fuji Xerox printer is a functional no-frills model which lacks Near Field Communication and some other new features offered by other brands.

Technically, this is not a laser printer. It uses S-LED (self-scanning light-emitting diode) technology. However, the two are relatively similar.

The CM215fw uses the Fuji Xerox Print & Scan app (iOS and Android) as a mobile app for wireless printing, which has basic functions.

It can print documents, photos and webpages from mobile devices, but it cannot be integrated with cloud storage services. Moreover, the user interface looks dated.

As a multi-function printer, the CM215fw more than lives up to expectations. Print speed for black-and-white pages approaches 13 pages a minute, slightly under the advertised 15 pages.

However, colour print speed is as good as touted at about 12 pages per minute. Print quality is relatively good, especially for colour pages.

The LCD display is large enough to show more information than the displays of some competitors.

The physical buttons, however, seem a bit mushy and require a bit more force to register.

Manual duplex printing is supported, but the paper tray holds only 150 sheets of paper, which is on the low side.

Wi-Fi connectivity, which includes a one-touch Wi-Fi Protected Set-up button, makes connecting to a router a hassle-free affair.

However, sending a document from a mobile device to the Fuji Xerox took more than 30sec, which seems slower than some printers.

Maintenance is straightforward. Pull open the side panel when you need to replace the toner. You can probably change all four toners (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) in less than 30sec.

The copier produces clean copies which could almost pass off as originals at a glance. Like many multi-function printers, it has an ID copy feature to make copies of your identification cards. Documents and photos can be scanned to an attached USB flash drive - you can directly print documents stored on the drive.

Overall, this Fuji Xerox is a capable printer for the home or small office, especially given its small footprint. It is priced competitively at $499 and compares well with its rivals in terms of printing costs.

Each black-and-white page costs 4.8 cents. Heavy users will appreciate that the drum, which can easily cost more than $100 for most models, is free under warranty.

Good print quality and relatively low print cost make up for its clunky mobile printing feature.

: $499
Yield: Up to 2,000 standard pages per cartridge (black) and 1,400 pages per cartridge (colour)
Print resolution: Up to 1,200 x 2,400 dots per inch
Speed: Up to 15 pages per minute (black), 12 pages per minute (colour)
Tested speed: 13 pages per minute (black), 12 pages per minute (colour)

: 4/5
Design: 3/5
Performance: 4/5
Value for money: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

Review: HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M177fw

The all-black HP stands out from the sea of grey and beige printers.

From a distance, its compact chassis looks like brushed metal, although upon closer examination, it can be seen that it is made of plastic. There are no buttons to spoil the clean look - everything goes through a sturdy 3-inch touchscreen.

The HP prints beautifully for a laser printer of its class. However, it works at a leisurely pace, which will not cut it in a busy office.

HP promises printing of up to 17 pages a minute for black-and-white documents.

That "up to" in my tests worked out to be between four and five pages a minute. It produced four colour print-outs a minute, which, at least, matches the advertised speed.

However, in terms of print quality, the HP is the best of the bunch. Colours are vivid and bright. Fonts are sharp and there is almost no banding or graininess. Only the Canon comes close to matching the HP.

Unfortunately, this quality comes at a price: 5.9 cents for each black-and-white print-out, the second most expensive after the Canon (6.4 cents).

A colour page costs about 24 cents, matching the Samsung and Fuji Xerox printers tested here.

However, it is not as affordable as the Brother's 18 cents per colour page.

Then, there is the cost of replacing the laser drum ($110.10) after printing 14,000 black-and-white pages or 7,000 colour pages. Finally, the printer itself is relatively pricey at $629, with bundled toners good for only 500 black-and-white and 500 colour pages.

For what it costs, the HP does not have an impressive list of features. It lacks, for instance, a front-facing USB port, which means it cannot print from, or scan to, an attached USB storage drive.

As with most of the printers here, this one does not do automatic duplex printing, although it is still possible to print manually on both sides. Its 150-sheet paper tray is inadequate if you print a lot.

The HP ePrint mobile app (iOS, Android, BlackBerry) quickly lets you send PDF documents, photos and webpages to the printer when both printer and mobile device are on the same Wi-Fi network. The app scans your mobile device automatically for files and sorts them by type (PDF, Word, Excel and PowerPoint).

Like Canon's mobile app, the HP ePrint app has to upload Microsoft Office documents to HP's servers for conversion before printing. Another flaw: The HP app is limited to printing. Unlike competing print apps, it cannot scan documents and send them wirelessly to your mobile device.

Slow and expensive to operate, the HP is tops for print quality. Suitable for low-volume users.

Price: $629
Yield: Up to 1,300 standard pages per cartridge (black) and 1,000 pages per cartridge (colour)
Print resolution: Up to 600 x 600 dots per inch
Speed: Up to 17 pages per minute (black), four pages per minute (colour)
Tested speed: Four pages per minute, four pages per minute (colour)

: 3/5
Design: 4/5
Performance: 3/5
Value for money: 3/5

Overall: 3/5

Review: Samsung Xpress C460FW

Samsung's Xpress C460FW is a laser printer which occasionally dabbles in colour. That is the impression I got from glancing at its specifications.

While it claims a decent speed of 19 pages a minute for black-and-white prints, the C460FW can deliver only four colour pages in a minute. The HP printer is the only other model in this shoot-out which prints so slowly in colour.

As with all printers, the first black-and-white print-out took about 15sec. However, once it warmed up, the C460FW managed 18 black-and-white pages a minute.

Black print quality is good, with clear, crisp and dark text. Colours are bright and vivid, but the machine does not handle colour gradients well - there were distinct bands in the colour prints it produced.

In short, this printer works best for black-and-white documents, although it can do a decent job for colour prints if you can tolerate the slow print speed.

Of the models here, the Samsung printer has the smallest footprint, narrowly beating the Fuji Xerox DocuPrint CM215fw.

At 14kg, it is not too heavy to handle, so it is suitable for use at home and small offices.

Both the Samsung and the Fuji are similar in features and price. Their paper trays each hold 150 sheets and protrude slightly when in use, unlike larger printers, where the trays sit fully within the chassis.

Neither printer offers automatic duplex or double-sided printing, so the paper must be fed manually if it is to be printed on both sides.

It is in mobile printing where the C460FW shines. It supports Near Field Communication (NFC), which makes it easy to connect your mobile device to the printer. Install the Samsung Mobile Print app (iOS and Android) on your NFC-enabled mobile device and tap the device against the NFC label on the printer to pair the two devices.

Once this is done, you can switch to using the mobile app to control the printer. As the printer has only a standard two-line monochrome LCD display, it is easier to use the app. The printer has hardware buttons for tasks such as ID copy, for scanning and printing of identification cards; and one-touch Wi-Fi Protected Set-up, to connect the printer to a router.

A Direct USB button lets you print documents and images from a USB flash drive plugged into the front USB port. However, this is time-consuming, especially when you are using the printer's menu controls.

Personally, I would use the app whenever possible. It can be used to print, scan and fax documents. You can even check ink levels with it. However, for most users, the best part of the app is that it can connect to cloud storage providers, such as Dropbox and OneDrive, to download files to be sent to the printer.

This is one of the most affordable multi-function colour laser printers on the market, albeit with slow colour print speed.

Those who print from mobile devices will appreciate the NFC feature and the excellent mobile app.

Price: $488
Yield: Up to 1,500 standard pages per cartridge (black) and 1,000 pages per cartridge (colour)
Print resolution: Up to 2,400 x 600 dots per inch
Speed: Up to 19 pages per minute (black), four pages per minute (colour)
Tested speed: 18 pages per minute (black), four pages per minute (colour)

: 4/5
Design: 3/5
Performance: 3/5
Value for money: 4/5

Overall: 4/5


This article was first published on Oct 29, 2014.
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