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Review: Brother's HL-3170CDW color laser-class printer is inexpensive, but graphics are mediocre

Jon L. Jacobi and Melissa Riofrio | July 23, 2013
The Brother HL-3170CDW color laser-class (LED) printer offers good speed and adequate print quality for an inexpensive purchase price, plus, its toner costs are reasonable. However, users seeking better output quality should look at a business inkjet.

brother printer

You want a color laser printer, but you don't have a lot of cash. How does $280 sound? That's the price of the Brother HL-3170CDW, and in exchange it delivers reasonably good prints. Not pristine, evocative color graphics—move on to another printer for that. But good text and decent spot color, it can do, and the toner costs are tolerable as well.

Here's the real decision: Do you pick this all-around-average machine, or do you pick this other, like-priced color laser, the Dell C1760nw, which has much better color 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.

Bulky profile, basic features, and duplexing
Measuring 16.1 inches wide by 18.3 inches deep by 9.4 inches wide and weighing 39 pounds, 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 color printers run low on one color, 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 colors. 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.


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