Dan Ackerman leads CNET’s coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he’s also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of “The Tetris Effect” (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. “Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth. the story shines.” — The New York Times
If there’s one truth about every printer I’ve ever owned, it’s that I’ve dreamed of pulling an IniTech: Taking each one into an empty field somewhere and beating it into pieces with a baseball bat. If you don’t identify with this sentiment, chances are you’ve never owned a low-end consumer inkjet printer. I’ve had several over the years (I won’t name and shame the specific brands), and end up stuck in the same unpleasant cycle every time.
The Bottom Line
Editors’ note, : The Brother HL-L2395DW is once again on sale at Amazon for $99, while the color HL-3170CDW is on sale for $175, both as of Aug. 19. More details on these discounts can be found here .
First, I’m lured in by a low starting price, usually under $80 or so, but the setup is a pain, the printer only sees my laptop over Wi-Fi when it’s in the mood, and output ranges from fine to spotty, with colors and tones all over the place. Of course, the ink runs out shockingly soon, and sometimes my expensive replacement inkjet cartridges aren’t recognized or fail to initialize properly. Take too many trips down that troubleshooting rabbit hole and you’ll be ready to go back to legal pads and No. 2 pencils.
If any of the above sounds familiar, you’ll understand why I set out to find a half-decent printer that didn’t cost too much, was easy to use, and — most importantly — actually worked at least most of the time. My biggest benchmark was this: I’d consider it a success if I didn’t want to throw the printer out of a window after a week.
The quest for a nonannoying printer
I consulted some of my CNET colleagues who have faced similar frustrations, looked up different models with widely varying lists of features, and searched for reports of problems from purchasers. The price, both upfront and ongoing, was also a major factor.
Eventually, I landed on the Brother HL-L2395DW. It has almost 2,000 customer reviews on Amazon, nearly all positive, and it’s a favorite over at Gizmodo, too. It’s a monochrome laser printer that includes a scanner (printer people call this a “multifunction” printer), and it’s the sequel to the Brother HL2380DW, which has been employed in the CNET Labs for months, faithfully printing shipping labels without skipping a beat.
But here’s the key part: While the official price is $169, it’s on sale on Amazon at least once per quarter for $99, or AU$199 in Australia. Wait for it to go on sale and you’ll feel like it’s $99 well spent (it’s semidiscounted right now, at $129 on Amazon). Brother doesn’t offer this exact printer in the UK, but comparable models start at ?142.
It’s important to note that I didn’t set up and formally test multiple similar products, like we do for reviews of laptops, TVs, phones and so on. Instead, this was a personal quest where I picked the model that looked like it had the best reputation from consumers at the price I was looking for. There are other laser printers that can get down to around $99 during sales, and many of them are probably just as good, so don’t me with your favorite. (Actually, please do.)