Some of us here at Computer Shopper have been analyzing computers and peripherals long enough to remember when color laser printers cost upward of $7,000. At that price, very few small offices and home-based businesses could justify buying one. Even for many years after, color laser printers were considered more a luxury item than a sound business expense. Still, owning a color laser printer was then, as it is now, akin to having a small printing press in-house.
Fast-forward about 20 years, to today, and here we are reviewing an under-$200 single-function color laser’well, in this case, technically a laser-like‘printer, Dell’s C1660w. (We say “laser-like” because the C1660w is actually an LED printer, making it a “laser-class” device. We’ll talk more about this distinction in a moment.) The list price on this model is $199.99, but when we wrote this in the first week of April 2013, it was selling on Dell’s Web site for $154.99. If you’d told us 20 years ago that we’d be reviewing $200 color printers that were faster, lighter, and smaller than those four-figure models (and sold for less than the toner cartridges inside them), we’d have been more than a little dubious.
Granted, the C1660w isn’t the first color-laser-class machine we’ve seen limbo under the $200 bar, but this phenomenon is new enough that we haven’t yet lost our sense of wonder. In most cases, what makes this possible is the print mechanism inside. These devices rely on LED arrays, rather than lasers, to draw the page image onto the print drum. Among other advantages, LED technology uses less power, has fewer moving parts, takes up less space inside the printer, and costs less to manufacture. And it does all these impressive things without compromising print quality.
The C1660w is on the low end of a line of entry-level LED printers Dell offers. The next step up in the family is the $279.99 C1760nw Color Printer we reviewed last month, which, at this writing, was selling for $259.99 on Dell’s site. Like the C1760nw, the C1660w is quite basic; it lacks a snazzy-looking color LCD for facilitating PC-free printing, it has no support for printing from cloud sites, and it can’t print two-sided pages automatically. What you give up in the $100 price delta between this model and the C1760nw is some print speed, as well as Ethernet connectivity and a few other, less-significant features.
Neither model is designed to be a high-volume workhorse. They print at similar speeds, and the two models figures for toner cost per page (CPP) are only a few tenths of a cent apart. If you don’t need the ability to connect to a wired network, the lower-cost C1660w is likely the better buy. (In short, if you use your printer enough that the speed and CPP differences between these two machines matter, you’re probably looking at the wrong class of printer altogether.) Their high CPPs make them poor choices for small offices and home-based businesses with even moderate print-volume requirements. If you print more than, say, a couple hundred pages per month, you’d be much better off, in terms of the ongoing cost of ownership, choosing a more expensive, higher-volume machine.
Like the C1760nw, the C1660w does have its high points, though. It turned in competitive scores on our speed tests, for a printer in this price range. Its output looked good overall, and the chassis is small and light. As we said about the more costly C1760nw, the C1660w works for us as a light-duty personal printer in environments where laser-like speeds and near-typesetter quality are what you need, but only when your print volume is minimal.
See full review at Computer Shopper.