In the ever-crowded printer market, it can be hard to distinguish between competing printers and choose the best one for your needs. In most cases, printers are a dime a dozen (unless you start looking at ultra-expensive all-in-one devices designed for large offices). Finding a great home or home office printer on a budget can be especially difficult – there just aren’t a lot of options for an affordable price.
In the budget printer market, which I define at around $300 or less, you’ll usually end up settling with a high-end inkjet printer. The problem with Inkjet printers, however, is that the ink cartridges can be extremely expensive, and if you get so much as a drop of water on your documents, they’re ruined. Brother looks to shake things up a bit with one of their latest printers. Say hello to the Brother HL-3170CDW – a full-featured color laser printer with automatic duplexing, and other advanced features usually found on more expensive printers, all for less than $300 retail ($279.99, link).
The Brother HL-3170CDW is also a proud supporter of the Post-PC Era – with built-in AirPrint and Google Cloud Print support, the HL-3170 can print directly from most smartphones and tablets – as well as Macs and PCs, of course. It’s great to see more devices becoming available with full support for mobile devices – it’s a key competitive factor in a world where PCs are slowly becoming less and less relevant.
Printers aren’t exactly pretty. That’s just a fact. However, Brother’s most recent printers drop many of the boxy, boring beige design cues that have become hallmarks of printers in general for decades in favor of a somewhat more streamlined design, a more modern-looking dark blue front and top panel. While Brother is known for their excellent corporate and large business copiers and printers, the HL-3170 lacks that “corporate” look in favor of something that will look a bit less out of place in your home.
I’ve used Brother’s laser printers for years, and one of the things I love most about them is the way they manage toner cartridges. To install or replace a cartridge, just lift the top of the printer, and gently press the cartridge into place. Removing cartridges is also nearly effortless – just lift up on the cartridge and it slides right out.
In terms of construction and build quality, the HL-3170 is also certainly no slouch. One of the things I noticed right away when I received this printer is that it is VERY heavy. It’s also extremely sturdy – almost as if it were built to withstand a buffalo stampede. While this does add a great deal of weight to the product, the fact of the matter is that for an object destined to sit on a desk or shelf, weight isn’t too big of a concern. The quality and durability that result from that extra weight are well worth it.
Setup and Ease of Use
Getting started with the Brother HL-3170CDW is almost shockingly simple. Brother provides two setup options – you can set it up using your Mac or PC with the software on the included DVD, and a USB cable, which takes about 5 minutes, OR, for those of us living in the Post-PC era, you can also manually set up the printer on your wireless network using the control buttons. This is also extremely fast and simple (providing that you know your WiFi password), and took me only 3-4 minutes.
The entire setup process took me less than 20 minutes, from the time I took the printer out of the box to printing my first document from my iPhone. It’s simple, and it just works. I remember the days (back when I was a Windows fellow) when installing a new printer was a horrible experience – hunting down drivers, installing software on each PC the device would connect with, and spending hours configuring the machine to work exactly the way you want. Those days are long gone – with the HL-3170CDW, the same process that could take 1-2 hours using Windows XP and a standard laser all-in-one of that time period took me less than half an hour.
Features & Performance
Despite it’s extremely affordable price tag, the HL-3170CDW comes backed with features – including, as I noted before, support for Apple AirPrint printing from iOS devices, Google Cloud Print, Brother’s own iPrint&Scan app for mobile devices, and WiFi direct. The 3170 makes it fast and easy to connect, set up, and print to the device from nearly any modern device in existence.
The connectivity features are just the beginning – the printer also features automatic duplexing, allowing you to print on both sides of the page without any additional effort, a 600 x 2400 dpi resolution, which is high enough to product very crisp text and sharp color graphic. Even photographs look pretty amazing – although I would still use a professional printing service for any photograph I intended to frame or keep around. To top it all off, it cam print in either black or color at speeds up to 23ppm – although in my experience, it actually averages somewhere between 17 and 20 pages per minute in normal everyday use.
- Warm-Up? What’s That?
Unlike many laser printers (including almost all printers available just 3-3 years ago), the HL-3170CDW does not need to warm up before being used. Simply power it up, wait about 20-30 seconds for it to “wake up,” and it’s ready to go for the foreseeable future.
Last buy not least, the Brother HL-3170CDW is also extremely environmentally friendly – after just a few short moments of non-use, the printer enters a Deep Sleep mode to save energy (uses less than 1W of energy when in Deep Sleep). Best of all, it can wake up from sleep at a moments notice whenever you send a print job. It’s extremely responsive and extremely fast.
Perhaps the best feature of all of the 3170 is its very economical purchase price, and very affordable toner cartridges. The printer comes with “starter” toner cartridges capable of churning out around $100 pages. Replacing all of the ink cartridges at once costs a pretty significant price of nearly $300 (links: 1, 2, 3, 4), which gets you 2200 more pages worth of toner in all colors. By comparison, to purchase enough HP 60 ink cartridges for 2200 pages (by HP’s own estimation, which tends to be rather optimistic), you’d have to spend a whopping $320 for just the black ink (11 of these at $29 each) – and around another $440 to add the color ink (13 0f these at $34 each).
While the ink/toner cost represents a shocking savings over an inkjet, the cost of the printer itself is also extremely economical. The HL-3170CDW retails for $279.99, while the cheapest color laser printers from either HP or Canon with all of the features that the HL-3170CDW has (including automatic double-sided printing) start at $500 (HP, Canon).
In short, the Brother HL-3170CDW offers the biggest bang for the buck I could find for any current-model color laser printer from any manufacturer – by quite a large margin.
Between the huge number of features packed into the HL-3170CDW, it’s very affordable purchase price, the low overall cost of printing compared to an inkjet, and the printer’s fast set-up and ease-of-use, I struggled to find anything about the printer that I didn’t appreciate (especially for the price range). For breaking into an all-time low price barrier, and doing it with quality, features, and style, I award the Brother HL-3170CDW a full 5 out of 5 stars, and award it with our Editor’s Choice award!
- Affordable purchase price
- Low cost of maintenance and low cost-per-page for printing
- Supports Apple’s AirPrint, and printing from most Android or iOS-based smartphones or tablets
- Automatic duplex printing is a nice bonus
- Speedy printing – an average of 17-20PPM in either color or black
- Easy set-up and toner installation and removal
- Not well-suited for photography
- Does not include a front USB port for printing from a UDB thumb drive