As much as the tech journalism scene likes to think otherwise, there are certain classes of products that don't review well in a week. Sure, you can get a handle on an iPhone case, or Bluetooth speaker in a very short period of time, but laser printers defy quick reviews. Earlier this year, HP released a new family of laser printers, including the M277dw wireless all-in-one color laser printer. We'll just get this out of the way -- this is the first laser printer that I'd consider printing photos on, but its not perfect -- read on to see what we thought.
Laser printer reviews are tough. You list the specifications, like this: resolution is up to 600DPI in color, or black. The printer is rated for up to 30,000 pages per month, feeding from a a 150 page tray, and a single-feed "override" slot. Connectivity is provided by a USB 2.0 port, a Gigabit Ethernet Port, and 802.11n networking. Print speeds are up to 19 pages per minute in black, and 12 in color. The printer has four print cartridges, as most do, with standard yields of 1400 pages for "normal" JetIntelligence print cartridges, and 2800 pages for the high-yield cartridges.
After you list the specifications, you run down how the printer performs, according to published metrics. In the M277dw's case, it checked every box, with style. The 1400 page-ranked cartridges hit about 1250 pages before the printer complained that the cartridges were getting low, and 1650 pages before being truly empty. Black pages printed on the average at 17 pages per minute, with the first page spitting out at about 13 seconds after print initiation. Color was actually a bit faster than advertised, approaching 13 pages per minute. Duplexing was very nearly as fast as single-page printing.
After a factual description of the metrics, then the reviewer delves into opinions generated while hammering away at the printer. We like HP printers -- other than some notable exceptions back in the day, the printers are quiet, and don't disturb a relatively silent home or office. We didn't have any problems with overly textured or slick paper (like glossy photo paper), which we've struggled with a bit in some other models.
Driver support for the printer is excellent, with all features of the printer supported down to OS X 10.5.8, and Windows XP SP 1. Out of the box, the printer is set to look across the network for an IP address with DHCP, and given the new auto-setup technology, all a purchaser has to do is plug it in to power, plug it in over USB or the network, and go. After about three minutes, and some godawful (yet normal!) grinding noises as the seals are broken on the toner, the printer is ready to go.
The scanner is a nice example of what an all-in-one should include, but isn't a substitute for people who have high-volume needs. The scanning process is controlled through the touchscreen on the printer, or through the network scanning interface provided with the driver package. However, there is no way to do duplex copying, other than manually flipping the page, and scanning pages out of a thick book is problematic just because of the hinge on the printer's scanner bed. Neither of these are show-stoppers, as the scanner does exactly what it says it will, at high resolution, and sufficiently fast for the targeted audience of the printer.
Test pages that spit out of a printer at a showroom at the press of a button cheat. They use very carefully selected images, designed to maximize the printer's strong suit, and minimize weak spots. We've tested a lot of color laser printers over 20 years, and up until now, our recommendation for color photos was inkjet all the way, with no exceptions. Today, is the first exception. The HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw does an utterly fantastic job at complex color prints! Registration, and brightness are excellent -- HP says that this is an advantage of the JetIntelligence technology, but it does come at a cost...
The pivot point of the review - JetIntelligence
HP claims that JetIntelligence cartridges deliver up to 33 percent more prints per cartridge, as well as "protection against counterfeits with innovative anti-fraud technology." This all sounds excellent, and for most consumers, it is in fact a good thing. JetIntelligence insures is that users purchasing toner online aren't going to get refills, or knockoffs of "official" cartridges passed off as the real thing from Internet vendors. In fact, a very quick perusal of the internet this morning shows no third-party options for the printer.
Shoppers have often turned to other region's markets for toner. For example, a toner cartridge sold in the Polish or German markets are typically sold at a different price than they are in the US market, and savvy, patient shoppers can take advantage of this in a large amount of other models, including some of HP's.
However, a side effect of JetIntelligence counterfeit detection is the lock-out of international cartridges in a US-based printer. I'm of a mixed mind about this. I have had problems in the past with iffy refills, but the problems aren't common. JetIntelligence will pose no issue for probably 90 percent of laser printer owners who shlep down to Staples and buy what they need, but for the user that typically hits up eBay a month before the toner runs out, this will be a bit of a shock.
Looking at cost per page alone, we're not that happy with JetIntelligence cartridges. At full retail of $67 for a black cartridge, we've found the cost per page to be about $0.046. Color prints are higher than we want to see as a target, at about $0.22 per page. We've found that the high-yield cartridges lower this a bit, cutting black prints to around $0.034 per page, and color at $0.166 per page. This is still a lot per print, though.
However, when you evaluate a printer, it's not all about cost per page. One-quarter the color per-page cost as the M277dw is worthless if what you get out of the printer is bad image quality. During our review process, we had several long periods of time where the printer sat idle . The inkjets in our lab all needed ink replacements after about six weeks of sitting alone, but the M277dw's toner was fine, as you'd expect it to be. We're not sure that the image quality and near-infinite life of toner when idle makes up for the cost per page going through the entire toner cartridge, but it is a possibly mitigating factor.
Then, the reviewer wraps it all up
In the press release trumpeting this line of printer, the vice president of the laser printer division at HP Tuan Tran said that JetIntelligence "represents our most significant laser printing re-engineering since the introduction of the first LaserJet in 1984." It may be -- but the verdict is still out on that. We're not fans of the cost per page on the printer, as compared to other laser printers in the class. JetIntelligence never promised to lower print cost, but it is increasing the number of prints per cartridge, which, coupled with a very low power demand from the printer, does make the printer more eco-friendly than earlier models.
We adore the color print quality, however. The lower electrical demands from the printer are outstanding for a device in the class. A bonus feature, barely mentioned in the advertising for the printer is the auto-setup capability that the printer has, which means no more pulling out those orange-tabbed plastic toner-coated strips out of a cartridge any more.
Overall, the HP M277dw is a solid, low-profile color laser printer, that runs high in cost per page, but that may not be an issue as it can sit around for months, and have no impact on the consumables for the printer. MacNN has tech-aware readers, who often get sucked into setup and configuration for relatives and friends. This is a model that you can recommend to those you support, and you can count on it them getting set up properly, the first time, with no intervention required -- and that is no small accomplishment for a printer.