Review: HP Color LaserJet CP1215

by Eric Grevstad

A color laser printer for $300 is a pretty good deal, but with a rebate offer that expires at the end of June, this colorful compact could be yours for as little as $200.

Do you want to buy a color laser printer? Do you want to buy one this week?

We should explain: The new entry-level or bottom-rung model in HP's Color LaserJet lineup, the CP1215, is officially priced at $300. And that's the price you'll see if you look it up on the home and home-office section of the hard-copy Goliath's Web site.

Visit the small and medium business area of the site, however or any of numerous online resellers and you'll find the same printer selling for $200, thanks to a $100 instant rebate. Sadly, the latter expires June 30, 2008, after which ... well, you can shop around.

HP's official price will presumably return to three C-notes, but other sites we visited didn't mention the June 30 rebate yet ranged from $250 at Datavision to $200 at TigerDirect and J&R, with the latter noting, "Price Reflects $80 Instant Rebate thru 8/31/08." Amazon.com pumped up its savings by claiming, "List price $382."

With even a modest cut representing a healthy percentage of the total price, our opinion of the CP1215 naturally rises as its price falls. Still, even at the full $300 it's a cutie, small and (pretty much) quiet enough to share your desk instead of being banished to a remote table or printer stand and delivering high-quality output at tolerable speed.

HP Color LaserJet CP1215
Pricing Bonus: The $100 rebate for the HP Color LaserJet CP1215 ends on June 30.

Don't Push It

HP emphasizes that the CP1215 is a personal or desktop printer instead of a workgroup workhorse. For one thing, its only interface is a USB 2.0 port, with no wired or wireless network connectivity to be had. For another, while the printer's specs rate its maximum monthly duty cycle at 25,000 pages, its "recommended monthly print volume" is a minimal 250 to 1,000 pages.

Along the way, you'll pay a somewhat costly 3.2 cents per black-and-white and a definitely costly 17.1 cents per color page, based on HP's price of $70 for a replacement black toner cartridge rated at 2,200 pages and $65 apiece for cyan, magenta and yellow cartridges rated at 1,400 pages. Also, as you know, the laser and inkjet printer industry, though less evil than Big Tobacco, is evil enough to sell printers with only half-full "starter cartridges" in the box. The CP1215's are rated for 750 pages.

The hardest thing about printer setup is opening the front door, sliding out the toner cartridges' horizontal rack and pulling a sealed-for-shipping ripcord from each before putting it back in place. It should take you about 60 seconds. Taking the color laser printer out of its carton is a one- instead of the usual two-person job, thanks to a weight of 39 pounds.

It's child's play to remove, refill and reinsert the bottom-mounted paper drawer, though we wish it held more than 150 sheets. Pages perform a vertical U-turn to emerge face down on top of the printer, jamming only once during our two weeks' testing. There's no second paper tray or slot for feeding envelopes or other special media, and duplex (double-sided) printing is a manual job of reloading pages as prompted by the software driver.

Install the supplied Windows software and plug in a USB cable (not included), and you're ready to go. The CP1215 isn't as tiny as some inkjet printers nowadays, but if you haven't seen a color laser lately you'll be tickled by its compact 16- by 18-inch footprint and 10-inch height. HP says the unit draws a maximum of 290 watts while printing, falling to 11 when idle and 4.4 watts when having a snooze.

We make a point of mentioning the Windows software because that's all the CP1215 knows like other entry-level lasers it's a host-based printer that uses Windows' (2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista) own imaging facilities instead of a printer language like PostScript or PCL. Mac and Linux users must cross the HP off their lists.

A Low-Volume Printer

If you're used to the windshield-wiper whoosh of an inkjet printhead going back and forth across the page, you'll have to adjust to the more continuous whir of a laser printer and the CP1215 makes more of a medium whir than the annoying high-pitched whine of some lasers. For the most part, we'd say, the HP is quiet enough to keep on your desk, although it will provide some background noise if you take a phone call while it's printing or sometimes, when it's done printing but the whir persists for some seconds during recalibration.

The printer's front-mounted control panel offers half a dozen status lights and only two buttons for continuing a job, such as after running out of and refilling paper and for canceling one. You'll rarely touch them, relying on the software driver HP's usual assortment of presets for everyday, glossy, label, transparency and other print jobs plus manual menu choices for media type, size, and so on. The software pops up a warning when a toner cartridge is running low; oddly, it also once popped up a tutorial screen of general use instructions after we'd printed 200-odd pages.

Handy tabs let you navigate options such as shrink-to-fit, watermarked, N-up, or landscape printing. You can even change color values from the sRGB palette to AdobeRGB mode, though as with every color laser we've used the CP1215's photo prints (taking about 40 seconds for an 8- by 10-) are too grainy and not vivid enough to approach inkjet photo quality.

Speaking of seconds, HP rates the printer for 12 pages per minute in black and white and 8 ppm in color. Our stopwatch tests came reasonably close to those speeds, with 20 pages of black text taking an even two minutes and a 55-page, color-illustrated PDF document arriving in seven minutes and 17 seconds.

Our one-page business letter with spot-color company logo took 30 seconds when the printer was awake, 35 when it had to awaken from sleep mode. Six PowerPoint slides with white backgrounds printed in 69 seconds, while six slides with dark blue backgrounds took 112 seconds.

The Price Is More or Less Right

Assuming you allow for lasers' newsletter-illustrations rather than framed-prints photo output, you won't be disappointed in the HP's print quality. Times New Roman text was legible in sizes as low as 6 points, though fancy script fonts predictably weren't, and black text was darker and crisper than the default output of numerous low-end lasers we've tested.

Bar charts, banner headlines, and other solid-color areas in PowerPoint and PDF documents didn't quite pop on plain paper, but were more than acceptably bright and free of banding or other flaws.

All told, the Color LaserJet CP1215 is a good choice if you rarely print more than 40 or 50 pages a day and have been lusting after a color laser to replace a desktop inkjet printer. Its speed isn't too low; its cost per page isn't (quite) too high; and its output is close to first-class.

That said, we suggest you spend $100 more as this writing, $400 with the same imminently expiring discount trimming it to $300 for the next-step-up Color LaserJet CP1218ni model.

Matching its sibling in speed and consumables cost, the CP1218ni adds a slew of desirable features including Ethernet; PCL and PostScript 3 emulation; memory-card slots and HP PhotoREt 3600 rather than 2400 interpolated resolution for digital camera pics; 96MB rather than 16MB of buffer memory; a single-sheet priority feed slot; and a front-panel LCD readout. It also comes with a suite of HP Marketing Resource software including useful templates for creating small-office, in-house marketing materials ranging from flyers to business cards. Low prices are great, but penny-wise can be pound-foolish.

Adapted from Hardwarecentral.com.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Jun 25th 2008
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