HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw

BY M. DAVID STONE

If you need a color laser printer for heavy-duty personal use or light-duty shared use in a micro office, the HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw ($299.99) is a terrific fit. Along with fast speed and high-quality output, it offers mobile printing, both Ethernet and Wi-Fi for connecting to a network, and even the ability to print from a USB memory key. The combination makes it our Editors’ Choice personal or light-duty color laser printer for a micro office.

The M252dw’s$159.00 at BUYDIG.com key strength is that it beats most of its competition for both speed and output quality. That’s a notable feat, considering that most color lasers in this price range tend to score well in only one of those categories. When I reviewed the Brother HL-3170CDW$248.94 at Amazon, for example, I pointed out that although it comes up a little short on output quality, it made up for that with its speed. The M252dw not only delivers higher-quality text, graphics, and photos than the Brother model, it’s convincingly faster, too.

Paper handling is the one area where the M252dw can’t match some other models in the same price class. It’s not hard to find printers, including the Brother HL-3170CDW, that offer a 250-sheet page capacity plus a single-sheet manual feed. The M252dw is limited to a 150-sheet tray plus a manual feed. That’s fine for most personal use, but a little low for a shared printer, which is what makes the M252dw best reserved for light-duty shared use even by micro-office standards. One helpful extra, however, is the built-in duplexer.

Mobile Printing and More
The M252dw offers other features that go beyond the basics, including its ability to print from a USB memory key. In addition, if you connect it to a network by Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and assuming the network is connected to the Internet, you can print through the cloud and can use the front-panel touch-screen to take advantage of HP Web apps. The Web apps let you print information from select websites, including Dropbox and Google Docs. You can also connect to the printer through an access point on your network to print from Android and iOS phones and tablets.

If you connect to a single computer via USB cable, you won’t be able to use HP’s Web apps or print through the cloud, but thanks to the printer’s Wi-Fi Direct, you’ll still be able to connect directly from your phone or tablet to print. For mobile devices that support NFC, you can also establish the connection simply by touching the device to the NFC logo on the front of the printer.

 

Setup and Speed
At 9.3 by 15.4 by 16.4 inches, and a hefty 27 pounds, the M252dw is on the big-and-heavy side for a personal printer, but still small enough to share a desk with and light enough for one person to move into place. Setup is standard fare. For my tests, I connected it to a network using its Ethernet port and installed the software on a system running Windows Vista.

The print speed is a definitive strong point. HP rates the M252dw at 19 pages per minute (ppm) both for color and for black and white, which is the speed you should see with text or other documents that need little to no formatting. On our business applications suite, I clocked it (using QualityLogic’s hardware and software) at 8.3ppm. That makes it surprisingly fast for both its price and its rated speed.

As a point of comparison, the Brother HL-3170CDW has a 23ppm rating, which in theory makes it roughly 20 percent faster than the M252dw. But its speed on our tests was 6.8ppm, which actually makes it more than 20 percent slower. The M252dw is even faster on our tests than the HL-L8250CDN$308.40 at Amazon, which Brother rates at 30ppm, but on our tests managed only a leisurely 6.6ppm.

Output Quality
Overall output quality is above par for a color laser, thanks primarily to the graphics output. Text is a match for most lasers, making it easily good enough for almost any business need. Colors in graphics are a touch dark in terms of a hue-saturation-brightness color model, but still suitably eye-catching and well saturated, and a step above the norm for the category.

Photo quality falls in the middle of a tight range that includes most color lasers. From two or three feet away, you could easily mistake the output for traditional photos, especially if they’re framed behind glass. Within that context, however, they aren’t very high quality.

Colors in the M252dw’s photos tended to be a little dark in testing, as was the case with its graphics but more so. Most people would consider the text and graphics good enough for marketing materials like one-page handouts and trifold brochures. The photos aren’t really suitable for that, although you could use them if you don’t need top-tier photo quality. On the other hand, photos quality is easily good enough for any business use.

Conclusion
If you need a shared printer for medium- to heavy-duty use in a micro office, be sure to consider the Brother HL-3170CDW and the Brother HL-L8250CDN. Both offer a higher paper capacity than the HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw, and both are fast enough for most micro offices, despite being slower than the HP printer. If you’re in the market for a personal printer, however, or a shared printer for light-duty use, and want fast speed, high-quality output, suitable paper handling, and convenience features like mobile printing and being able to print from a USB key, the M252dw is hard to beat, making it an easy pick as our Editors’ Choice.

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