One of the curious facts about today’s printers market is just how dominant the mono laser remains.
Low-cost colour models were expected to be taking pride of place long before now, and yet the trusty mono laser continues to sell in huge numbers. And companies continue to bring out new models without even a thought of colour.
In some respects, this is unsurprising. Most offices still need black-and-white far more than colour capabilities, and if you’re prepared to do with only a few shades, you can get far more in terms of performance, network capabilities and paper handling.
The Brother HL-5380DN is something of a luxury mono printer, coming with potentially high speeds and plenty of upgrade options. You probably wouldn’t guess that it was a £336 model just from the appearance, however. It looks fairly well built, but the light/dark grey livery isn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing. And the corrugated top smacks of bargain-basement design principles. The control panel is strangely bulbous, protruding from the side as though it was squeezed in at a later date.
The Brother HL-5380DN isn’t overflowing with such fripperies as attractive displays. Indeed, the single-line LCD tends towards the basic, even if the options offered within are plentiful.
The navigation system is standard but reasonably effective. When problems occur, the LCD’s green colour changes to a rather lurid orange. It catches the eye, certainly, and the unpleasant hue means you’ll probably be eager to fix the error, just so that you can return the printer’s LCD to its reassuring green colour.
The control panel has some useful features on it too. Users can enter a PIN code to initiate printing when they reach the machine. This means that, in a busy office, there’s no chance of somebody else reading or picking up your printouts before you‘ve had time to reach the printer. The Anti-Curl switch is another feature you might want to make use of, as thin paper can come out a little too furled.
Where the serious-minded user would want the Brother HL-5380DN to be properly specified, it is. There’s no Wi-Fi, but you do get wired ethernet alongside the obligatory USB interface. 32MB of memory is provided as standard, and this can be bolstered to a substantial 544MB, should you wish to print out large files on a regular basis.
The rugged input tray supports 250 sheets, while the flimsier multi-purpose tray will add as much as another 50 sheets, should the media be thin enough. Two additional 250-sheet trays can be fitted to the bottom of the Brother. Costing around £85 each, these seem good value.
One small issue is that, since the printer doesn’t have a great deal of depth, it’s not possible to build in a full size output tray to hold the sheets. The paper support flaps are only partially successful at catching the paper, so we’re not sure we’d want to fire off big print jobs and leave the Brother to its own devices for too long.
In the fastest 300/600dpi modes, the Brother achieves a strong speed of 23.1 pages per minute – short of its stated 30ppm, but not by much.
The high quality 1200DQ mode adds extra clarity with a still excellent speed of 21.4ppm, and only the highest 1200dpi mode sees the performance sputtering to a mere 12ppm. However, even in the highest mode, the printer isn’t amazingly dark.
Overall, the characters are of good definition, but they are undoubtedly a little too light. For those who like the sharp dark text of inkjets, the Brother HL-5380DN will confirm everything they fear about the supposedly lighter output of lasers. It scores top marks for clarity, but not for its ability to stand out from the page.
The auto-duplex mode is adequate. The 600dpi mode, for example, sees the speed drop from 23.1 to 12ppm. This is close to a 50% fall in performance, which is far from stunning, although 12ppm is probably just about fast enough for users to content themselves with the paper-saving auto-duplex.
The Brother HL-5380DN handles graphics quite well, and showed considerable depth in our monochrome tests.
The Brother’s asking price may be high, but high volume users will benefit from low running costs. With a cost per page of just over 1.2p, the Brother is just about the cheapest to run of any printer available. The toner is reasonably easy to replace too, allowing us to award high marks for the Brother HL-5380DN’s consumables.