Review: HP CM1415fnw Color Laser Multifunction Printer

by Aaron Weiss

This solid, light-duty color laser multifunction printer offers impressive Internet integration that lets small businesses print from anywhere.

Working at Home

When you think of the evolution in printers, only one word really comes to mind: cheaper. Yes, multifunction printers offer fax, scan, and copy capabilities. Many printers now include networking, even Wi-Fi. Color laser printers -- formerly priced exclusively for corporate settings -- are readily available to small business. But these features have all been around for years now. The trickle-down effect has made more advanced features cheaper to own, but where is the innovation?

HP tackles that challenge with the CM1415fnw (click for the printer specs), a budget-priced ($450 MSRP, $300 street) color laser multifunction printer designed around an innovative software platform that aims to push the printer from the periphery to the center of the user experience. With its 3.5-inch touch screen, the CM1415fnw provides a fully interactive user interface that feels more like operating an iPhone than a clunky printer. But does its user-friendly attitude make the CM1415fnw a good choice for a home or small business?

HP's Color Laser Printer Unboxed

While it offers impressive professional looks, the CM1415fnw is not exactly compact. At 17- x 18- x 16-inches (wide, deep, height) and topping 50 pounds, the unit is best placed on a sturdy table rather than squeezed onto a crowded desk. Fortunately, the built-in 802.11b/g/n wireless networking makes it easier to locate the printer anywhere near a power outlet.

If you don't have a wireless network, you can connect the printer can to the network by Ethernet cable, or you can simply connect it to a single machine using the USB connection. Note though that many of this printer's unique features require Internet access, which is not available through the USB connection.

HP CM1415fnw Color Laser Multifunction Printer
The HP CM1415fnw is a light-duty, color laser multifunction printer with a 3.5-inch color touch screen and impressive Internet integration.
(Click for larger image)

The built-in paper tray supports just 150 pages, and there is no option to expand the paper capacity. Nor is there a manual feed tray for special paper -- like envelopes -- you must place these in the paper tray and adjust the guides accordingly.

The toner tray, located just above the paper tray, contains four cartridges -- black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. With the black toner rated to about 2,000 pages and the color toners rated to 1,300 each, you can't overlook the consumable cost of close to $70 per cartridge, but it's not out of line for color laser printers.

When you first power on the CM1415fnw, it goes through a mysteriously lengthy initialization and calibration process before displaying the main menu. Consider this a bit of foreshadowing, because in normal operation the unit seems to pause for initialization with a somewhat frown-inducing frequency. Thankfully, once the main menu does appear, you are presented with an interface sporting a clarity and ease-of-use that is refreshing in comparison to the many obtuse interfaces seen on other printers.

Setting up the wireless network -- which on other printers often involves multiple dance steps between computer and printer -- is elegantly simple. The touch-screen interface displays detected wireless networks and with a few finger presses, you're connected.

The printer ships with installation CD-ROM's for both Windows XP/Vista/7 and Mac OS X 10.5.8/10.6 users. It also includes both drivers and a supplemental software suite including limited scanning, OCR, and convenience utilities. If you prefer not to install the "extra-ware," the HP installer lets you opt to setup only the necessary drivers, which is a thoughtful (and sadly rare) touch.

Linux users can obtain HP drivers for printing and scanning with the CM1415fnw from the company's HPlipOpenSource.com site. Although HP does not provide phone support for Linux, there are ample online resources available.

Multifunction Color Laser Printer Basics

If you've ever used a printer or copy machine before, you will be productive within a minute using the CM1415fnw. This is not meant to sound glib -- the printer's interface is so intuitive and easy to use that there is no mystery to making copies or scans with the usual bells and whistles like adjusting paper size, print quality, brightness, and magnification.

Using the single front-mounted USB slot, you can plug in a thumb drive or external hard drive. The CM1415fnw can scan the media for support document files, including text, PDF, and most graphic formats, which you can print directly from the USB device. Again, because of the touch screen, navigating the contents of a USB drive is simple and straightforward.

In the reverse direction, you can use the scanner to save images in JPG or PDF format to USB from either the flatbed or 35-sheet single-sided ADF (automatic document feeder). Unfortunately, despite being networked, the CM1415fnw cannot access network shares, which would let you scan directly to network storage. As a result, you either need to initiate a scan from the computer, or use a USB stick as portable media.

Like the built-in interface, the installed HP driver software is clean and easy to understand. Print jobs display clear progress status with toner levels. You can open the printer's built-in Web interface using any browser, which provides a detailed view of printer status and lets you control many of the same configuration options available through the printer's own touch screen settings.

Multifunction Color Laser Printer: Print Speed and Quality

HP rates the CM1415fnw at 12 pages per minute in black and 8 ppm for color. These are both honest and modest numbers, which is to say, this printer is not fast. If you plan print just a few pages at a time, you'll probably be perfectly satisfied with this speed. But if you're needs are more demanding -- printing out hundred-page booklets for example -- the CM1415fnw may test your patience.

Likewise, HP rates the time for first color page at 32 seconds. In real-world testing, it was actually often faster than this. Again, the unit won't be winning any speed demon awards, but the first page performance is adequate for anyone with light use demands.

In spite of its mediocre speed, the CM1415fnw produces excellent print quality. Blacks are crisp and colors are vibrant. At 600 DPI, high-resolution pages look very professional. One is never advised to rely on a color laser printer for photographic prints; likewise, the CM1415fnw would not be the best choice compared to a high-quality inkjet printer for digital photography. But for color business documents, this printer holds its own against more expensive (and admittedly faster) models.

Welcome to E-print and Printer Apps

The real innovation here is less about the CM1415fnw's nuts-and-bolts and more about its integration with the Internet. With the latest HP firmware (you can update the printer by the web if need be), the CM1415fnw supports HP's e-print platform and Web services.

E-print allows you to send print jobs to the CM1415fnw from anywhere with Internet access. Once set up with an e-print account, the printer is assigned a unique email address. Using just about any email client or webmail interface, you can send an attachment to that address.

Assuming that the attachment is in a supported format (like JPG, PDF, HTML, and Microsoft Office formats) -- and that the printer is online -- it will be printed on demand. You can restrict email jobs to white--listed addresses, or leave the printer open to jobs from anyone who knows its email address.

Using the e-print Web site, you can monitor job progress and configure service settings, such as the email white-list. All in all, the service works well and is easy to use. Test jobs that I e-mailed using e-print printed without a hitch. HP also offers apps for smart phones that can use e-print to send jobs without even needing a full-fledged computer.

Speaking of apps, another innovation of HP's Web service are printer-based apps. Like a smart phone, the CM1415fnw can host its own apps. You install and manage apps using the Web services interface through a computer browser. You run the apps from the printer's touch screen interface. What kind of apps would you run on a printer?

Well, if you prefer reading the latest news in hard copy format, there is a USA Today app. Click it on the touch screen and then choose a section of the paper to print, such as "Lifestyle." The printer then connects to the Internet, downloads, and prints content from USA Today, formatted in easy-to-read paper format. It is as if your printer has suddenly turned into a newspaper press.

I particularly like the app for printing pre-formatted pages such as graph paper, college-rule lines, musical scores, and so on. Another convenient app can print blank calendar pages by the week or month. The growing list of apps is available on HP's Web service site, and you can install them to your CM1415fnw with a click on the website.

Admittedly, it is possible that many apps are gimmicky and of limited use. But the few apps that do seem useful light the way to a new and innovative type of user experience that goes beyond the average printer.

Business Printer Limitations

The CM1415fnw color laser multifunction printer really isn't suitable for the larger enterprise or heavy duty user. With its relatively limited 150 sheet paper tray and average-to-slow print speed, you are not going to crank out high volume printing with this unit. Indeed, the housing itself is composed of a lighter plastic that is consistent with its budget price. To be fair, HP recommends a duty cycle between 300-1,500 pages per month, which for a laser printer is strikingly modest.

That said, the CM1415fnw gets the basics right -- copies, scans, and print quality are solid and high quality. And it builds on this with an innovative user experience and impressive Internet integration.

Aaron Weiss a technology writer, screenwriter and Web development consultant who spends his free time stacking wood for the winter in Upstate New York. His Web site is: bordella.com

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This article was originally published on Thursday Feb 17th 2011
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