“I’m thinking printers,” said Tim Cook as he first took the reins as Apple CEO. “Laser, ink-jet, double-sided, color, black-and-white — the future of technology is in printers. I am absolutely convinced of that,” he said.
OK, not really. The above quote was actually taken from an Onion parody article written shortly after the resignation of Steve Jobs.
But all jokes aside, and despite the popularity of Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Your Paperless Office, Second Edition,” we still need printers. While every other technology seems to have improved by leaps and bounds, printers are still as terrible as they were a decade ago. In some ways they’re even worse, with cartridges specifically designed for early failure, ink being nearly twice as expensive as Chanel No. 5 perfume, and most printers not even including a cheap USB cable in the box.
(TidBITS publisher Adam Engst tells me that printers in the early days of the Mac were actually pretty good, with dot-matrix ImageWriters being built like tanks, and a variety of excellent, if pricey, laser printers from Apple, HP, and others.)
When I purchased my first iPad in 2011, I thought I was done with printers. “I can just save documents on my iPad to carry with me, no printing required,” I thought. That worked great, until I needed to print a shipping label. You can’t tape an iPad to a package.
I got by for a long time by using one of the many laser printers in my office, but I lost that option when I started working from home. We had an old HP Deskjet 3050A multi-function inkjet (print, scan, and copy, though no faxing), which even supported AirPrint, Apple’s zero-configuration protocol for printing from iOS devices. I thought I was happy with the HP Deskjet 3050A, until a fresh black cartridge expired after a month and about 30 prints. That’s the problem with nearly all inkjets — fail to print regularly, and you’ll end up with dried-out cartridges and clogged print heads at the worst possible time.
That was the last straw. After what seemed like years of consideration, I broke down and bought a black-and-white laser printer: the Brother HL-2270DW (such a euphonious moniker!), which has long been recommended by the Wirecutter. When I purchased the Brother, it was on sale for $75, but even at its usual price of about $110, it’s a good deal.
To be brutally honest, like most printers, the Brother HL-2270DW stinks. But it stinks less than most of the competition, and it’s cheap. For starters, it’s noisy. Fire up the printer, and it will emit an annoying hum for several minutes until it goes back to sleep. The printing itself is slightly louder, but I expect that. The minutes of humming afterward grinds my gears. But once it’s asleep, it’s absolutely quiet.
As with most of its kind these days, the Brother HL-2270DW does not include a USB cable, which isn’t all bad, since it’s Wi-Fi enabled (it also has a wired Ethernet port). But my advice is to spend an extra $5 for a USB cable if you don’t have one lying around, as the wireless setup on the Mac is excruciating. I spent a couple of hours trying to get it to work, to no avail. However, after hauling my MacBook Pro across the room to connect it to the printer, re-running the setup application, and choosing the USB option, I was up and running in minutes, Wi-Fi and all.
Speaking of Wi-Fi, I should note that this printer sadly does not support AirPrint. Initially, I thought I might be able to work around this by plugging it into my AirPort Express base station and sharing it from there, but no, Apple hasn’t seen fit to layer AirPrint support on top of the AirPort base station’s wireless printer sharing. So if you frequently use AirPrint, the Brother probably isn’t the printer for you.
If you print only occasionally from an iPhone or iPad, you could instead run handyPrint (free) or Printopia ($19.95) on your Mac, either of which provides a virtual AirPrint printer that can route print jobs to your wireless printer. The downside of these options is that your Mac must be powered on whenever you want to print.
Like almost every printer, the Brother ships with a “starter” toner cartridge that prints only up to 700 pages. I don’t intend to print much, so I can live with this, even though it’s clearly a way of increasing revenues from the printer while maintaining a low list price. Replacement toner cartridges run about $45 and yield 2,600 pages, which is less than $0.02 per page. The drum unit, which transfers the toner to the paper, has a lifespan of about 12,000 pages. Given that the drum unit costs about $110, about the same as the printer itself, I’ll probably just buy a new printer when that day comes.
But what about printing itself? That’s where the Brother shines. Once the printer wakes up, it fires out sheets of paper at 27 pages per minute. Text is crisp, as you’d expect from a laser printer, thanks to its 2400-by-600 dpi resolution. It has a 250-sheet paper tray for letter or legal size paper, and a manual feed slot for thicker paper. Finally, the printer features a duplex mode that prints on both sides of a page automatically, but using it tends to result in slightly curled pages, so if you’re a heavy duplexer, this probably isn’t your printer.
What about color prints? I realized that I very rarely need to print in color. In fact, the main time I require color is for photos, something that inexpensive inkjets do poorly anyway. Sure, a high-quality Epson inkjet can print dazzling photos, but by the time you buy the printer, good paper, and Epson’s official ink (knockoff inkjet cartridges often work badly or not at all), the cost per page is excessive. My local Walgreens prints photos for pennies, and they’re ready to pick up in minutes.
For now, then I can recommend the Brother HL-2270DW monochrome laser printer for many people. Like every printer, it has its problems, but it’s wireless, fast, solidly built, and inexpensive to purchase and operate. Printers may not be sexy enough for Apple to revisit, but for millions of regular people, they’re a necessary evil.