You want a colour laser printer, but you don't have a lot of cash. How does £195 sound? That's the price of the Brother HL-3170CDW, and in exchange the colour laser printer 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. See also: Group test: what's the best printer?
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 tradeoffs.
Brother HL-3170CDW: Bulky profile, basic features, and duplexing
Measuring 41x46.5x24cm and weighig 18.1 kg, 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 dialogs offer a bevy of options.
Brother HL-3170CDW: 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, whose inks are amazingly cheap. Higher-capacity, 2200-page colour cartridges are available, but they offer just a small savings in cost per page over their standard-size cousins.
Brother HL-3170CDW: 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 12.2 ppm on the PC and 11.2 ppm on the Mac. Snapshot-sized (4-inch by 6-inch) 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.