Saturday, January 19, 2008

Brother4070CDW - One Sweet Ride

To me: printers are milestones.

As a boy, we snuck into the University computer lab to work on our project and use their printers to generate reams of documents every day. The first thing I financed was a dot matrix printer from Radio Shack. Ten years later, my first major purchase with my wife was a Canon inkjet printer. I bought a new printer (regrettably another Canon—an S400) to output the book from my first book deal. Each step of the way, it seems like the dollar-to-feature ratio improved, but the quality of the experience dropped. My Radio Shack printer spit out hundreds of clear and salable pages—by the time I got to the S400, the pages were crisp and clear but for every page it output, it mangled another one and spit out three blanks. Radio Shack: go to the video arcade and come back to a manuscript. Canon: ride it and baby-sit it for three days for 400 pages. To me: “printer” had become a 4 letter word (I can prove it—at least once the printer smeared the word into a 4-letter tangle).

Fast forward to 2007. A couple months ago I was given the chance to try the Brother 4070CDW color laser printer. After years of inkjets and end-user support for temperamental HP laser printers, I was skeptical. Part of me was excited—part of me feared a laser-equipped beast with a penchant for paper.

It arrived. It Arrived. The courier (a guy who spends his days dealing with all sorts of boxes of all sizes) knocked on the door empty-handed. “Oh, good. You are here,” he said, relieved. He went back to the truck and began to unload something the size of a mini-fridge and the apparent weight of Mini-Cooper. The Brother 4070CDW. We lumbered it into the house, I signed for it and he was off. That night, the two of us manhandled it up to the office. It’s a physically imposing printer, but it’s not like it’s a Soviet contraption: it has a generous tray, a manual feed slot, duplexing capacity and four large toner cartridges. Add in the heavy-duty machinery and you net a big, heavy, battle-ready printer.

This was not your mother’s inkjet printer. The hardware set-up instructions were a little cryptic but still I followed them with faith—the cartridges were color-coded and numbered. It was a 20-minute paint-by-numbers experience. At the end, we found the power switch (not in the most obvious spot) and powered it up. It hummed and churned and committed itself to a self-diagnosis.

We tasked it to spit out its self-diagnostic reports: everything from part usage, toner life and paper trays to its IP addressing and receptive services. The amount of detail it provides of itself is impressive.

We plugged it directly into the Ethernet hub (good-bye to needing a print server of any variety). Between the set-up guide and the easy to navigate console options, we were able to set-up the IP address and subnet mask in a few minutes. It was clear, flexible and easy to use. We had a wealth of options available: from IP address, Ipv6, printing via WLAN to an option to print from SMTP—mail your print job to the printer (somehow). Set-up right, you could park it on your network, open a hole through your firewall and any one could deliver a print job via the Internet. Beyond that, the mundane options are open to us: parallel port and USB printing. For us, this network ready printing was a Godsend. Otherwise, we would have to get a uni-tasker computer; making our print jobs dependant on the status of one of our computers (“sorry I crashed your Photoshop—I have to print this through your machine”); or spending $80-150 for a print server unit.

The print jobs it did were superb: they were clear and crisp. For simple text runs, this printer spits out pages like a paper-powered machine gun. For color, it chews on it for a while longer (not crazy long, just maybe a few seconds longer than black text) then starts to fire clear and vibrant pages. We tested different paper qualities and thicknesses and the Brother 4070CDW stood up to the test. Coming from inkjet land, I am gun-shy of printing color-saturated pages—they so often emerge like used blotchy, paper towels. Not so with the Brother: as long as you used 20lb. paper or better, the colors held fast. That said, photo paper experiments did look better than regular bond—but both looked impressive. The printer handled duplexing like it was second nature—it took a 200 page duplexed e-book and output it in less than 20 minutes.

Where I was impressed was with the direct printing options. Though this will not accomplish every imaginable task—it will do quite a bit. I took my Canon XTi camera and plugged it directly into the printer via a USB cable. The Brother4070CDW recognized its connection to the camera, I scrolled through photos on my camera and found the image I wanted to print, set it to print and the Brother did the rest. I was impressed with the interoperability of the two devices. I was impressed with the quality of the output. What I didn’t like—and I lay blame at the feet of the Canon people—is that all of the pictures came out in landscape on a portrait page leaving the top and bottom thirds of the paper un-used. This included photos that I had reoriented on the camera prior to this experiment. Next, I plugged a USB flash drive directly into the printer. A moment later, the Brother’s LCD display showed me the first item on the drive—a directory. I had the option of scrolling down the list of files and directories, or descending into a directory and working from there. When I found the file I wanted, I hit okay. It merrily interpreted it and output it. It handled PDFs flawlessly. It took my JPEGs and filled the page with the best match of paper to image possible—it did a much better job of working with the file than it did with the Canon XTi output. What it couldn’t do: it could not process GIFs, Word documents, HTML files or text files. What it does, it does great; but it couldn’t work with a lot of common formats.

The Brother4070CDW stood up to what thought was a punishing regimen of large print jobs, high quality jobs and different paper formats. It handled its jobs better than the HP Laser printers I had become accustomed to. I felt I could have drilled deeper into the potential of this printer, but it frankly had features I would rarely tap into. Is that a weak point? No: it comes bristling with capability and capacity. As a home printer, it is much more expensive than an inkjet but I think the Total Cost of Ownership is much closer: factor in the endless babysitting; the perpetually empty inkjet cartridges and the anemic results you see from most inkjets. The price for the Brother4070CDW is worthwhile—even for the home user who has modest to heavy print demands. For business, it’s a no-brainer: if I were to set up an office, this would be a de facto purchase. I used to be someone who avoided work that involved a print job. The Brother4070CDW has turned me into a printer-user again. Ctrl-P.

No comments: