Deservedly or not, inexpensive LED-based printers are enjoying a renaissance of late. Over the past few months, we’ve looked at a bunch of new entry-level, LED-based color printers designed for small and home offices. The three most recent of these low-cost, low-volume machines we’ve tested are Dell’s C1760nw Color Printer and C1660w Color Printer, and Brother’s HL-3170CDW. The last of those is the beefier of a pair of LED-based color printers that the Japanese electronics giant sent us recently.
Here, we’re looking at the slightly less versatile of that pair, Brother’s $249.99-list HL-3140CW. (It’s also the less expensive of the two; the HL-3170CDW lists for $279.99.) Aside from a $30 price difference, this color LED model is much the same as the HL-3170CDW, which we reviewed just a few weeks before this printer. And for that modest $30 savings, we found that you give up a bunch.
The biggest thing you give up in the HL-3140CW is automatic duplexing (which, of course, allows you to print on both sides of the paper without having to manually flip it over). Connectivity and memory are also different; the higher-cost machine comes with an Ethernet port (which the HL-3140CW lacks) and twice the memory (128MB, rather than 64MB). As we noted in our review of the HL-3170CDW, these additional features are hefty sacrifices for $30, making this higher-priced laser-class printer a better overall value.
In case you’re wondering why we call these printers “laser-class” devices, rather than simply laser printers, there’s a technical reason. “True” laser printers use a laser mechanism inside to draw the page image to be printed onto the printer’s drum (which then picks up and transfers toner to the page). LED-based machines, on the other hand, charge the page image onto the print drum with an array of light-emitting diodes. Mind you, this isn’t a ploy by manufacturers to make knock-off laser printers; substituting LEDs for lasers simply allows printer manufacturers to make smaller and lighter printers with fewer moving parts. All else being equal, LED models tend to cost less to manufacture than do their laser counterparts. Aside from the economics involved, though, LED-based printers function much the same as laser devices do, and they act identically from the outside; hence, we call them “laser-class” printers.
No matter what they have inside them, though, this class of printers, in general, has become—due primarily to pressure from high-volume, business-centric inkjet models—less and less attractive from a bottom-line perspective. At one time, small and home offices chose laser and laser-class printers over inkjet models because they printed faster, turned out near-laser-quality text, and cost less to use per page on an ongoing basis. However, these low-cost laser-class devices no longer outperform some of today’s high-volume inkjets enough to justify their somewhat higher up-front cost. Plus, some of them cost significantly more to use than many of today’s business-centric inkjets.
It’s that last item—the high cost of the toner—that concerns us most. As we often contend, seldom should the up-front price of a printer be your first consideration when buying a printer for business use. Unless you print very little, how much you’ll pay to keep the printer supplied with ink or toner is much more important. (We’ll show you why in the Print Quality & Conclusion section near the end of this review.)
Where the Brother HL-3140CW outshines not only inkjet printers, but also most other color-laser-class devices in this price range, is in speed. In our tests, it outpaced most entry-level color-laser-class machines we’ve tested. However, what itdid print was a notch or two below the norm for laser-class output. That’s not to say that the print quality was bad, by any means. But we’ve seen better from some other lasers and LED printers.
Overall, given the high cost per page, lack of support for automatic two-sided printing, and slightly below-industry-standard output, we found ourselves lukewarm about the HL-3140CW, especially when you can buy the HL-3170CDW (with auto-duplexing and twice the RAM) for just $30 more. And, in fact, that’s our recommendation. If, after reading our review, you decide that the HL-3140CW is the right printer for your small or home office, we suggest that you jump over and read our take on its higher-end sibling, the HL-3170CDW. It’s just a better value.
See the entire review at Computer Shopper.