Brother HL-3170CDW review: A laser fit for a small office, with or without wires

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.6
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Value: 7.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Brother HL-3170CDW boasts office-friendly features like automatic double-sided printing, wireless and wired networking options, a generous monthly duty cycle, and two separate trays for standard and thicker-than-average paper.

The Bad The photo quality lacks detail and the fixed control panel can be awkward to operate.

The Bottom Line Despite its photo printing shortcomings, the Brother HL-3170CDW is a capable color laser printer that meets all the major requirements for a small office workgroup.

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The HL-3170CDW is Brother's office-friendly workgroup printer that uses the company's Digital LED print technology for black and color outputs at up to 600x2,400 dpi resolution. While that limits its usability for offices that print a lot of photos, the lack of moving parts in LED printers compared with traditional laser devices is certainly a boon for IT professionals with long-term sustainability at the top of their shopping list.

As you would expect, the HL-3170CDW supports automatic double-sided printing, a collection of cloud-printing options including Apple AirPrint and Google CloudPrint, and multiple connection points for wired and wireless customers. These features make it a worthwhile business purchase at its standard $279 retail, but you can get it at OfficeMax for just $199.99. At such a low price tag for a wealth of productive features, the Brother HL-3170CDW is a no-brainer recommendation for offices that value both black and color prints in a reliable laser printer.

Design and features

Sarah Tew/CNET
Nobody would consider the Brother HL-3170CDW a small printer, but at 9.4 inches tall by 16.1 inches wide by 18.3 inches deep, it's not much bigger than the similarly equipped HP LaserJet Pro 400 M401dw. Still, you probably won't want to move the 39-pound HL-3170CDW around the office, so pick its position wisely and keep it there.

Sarah Tew/CNET

On that note, you might be disappointed to find that the display on the front is fixed to the machine; in other words, it doesn't allow for incremental viewing angles perpendicular to the chassis in the manner of the pricier HP LaserJet Pro 500 M401dw. The result is that you're forced to look down at the Brother printer, with no option to raise the screen to an easier viewing angle.

The top of the printer echoes the bare-bones theme painted across the entire printer; aside from the simple monochromatic LCD and a small collection of Start, Stop, Cancel, and Select buttons, the rest of the front-facing edge is relegated to the output tray and a small tab that lifts up to corral outbound prints.

250-sheet main feed tray Sarah Tew/CNET

Users get two separate trays for inserting paper, but I suspect that most offices will use the main 250-sheet tray most of the time. Just in case, though, Brother also includes a single-sheet, manual paper-feed tray for atypical media like envelopes and thick card stock.

Manual feed tray.

Keep in mind, however, that although the 30,000-page monthly duty cycle should be good enough for SMBs, Brother doesn't offer the ability to add a paper tray to the bottom of the device as you can with other printers. If you plan to go through several reams of paper a day, this is not the printer for you; perhaps your high-output workflow would be better matched with the HP Officejet Pro X576dw.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Brother's latest addition to its line of business printers is a charge toward features that attempt to draw less power. The HL-3170CDW is one of the first units to include what Brother calls "Deep Sleep Mode." Users can adjust the amount of time during latency periods before the printer engages this feature, which then uses less than 2W to save energy -- and of course, decreases your next bill.

Automatic double-sided printing is another feature that endeavors to help out the environment by cutting down on the amount of paper used per print job. The setting is easily engaged through the control panel menu, and an autoduplexer inside will flip over each sheet before proceeding to the next piece of paper.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A number of options are available for office IT professionals or individuals to connect to the device. The easiest, of course, is a hard-wired connection using a USB cable, but you also get a wireless option through Wi-Fi Direct or network-wide access via the Ethernet port on the back of the unit.

Additionally, Brother encourages mobile printing and quick access for guest printers using cloud-based apps like Apple AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, and Brother's iPrint & Scan smartphone app. Check out CNET TV's instructional video for more on how to use these services.

The limited selection of consumer-level color LED printers is just cause to throw a collection of single-function, monochrome, and color laser printers into the mix for comparison with the Brother HL-3170CDW. While it bested the competition, including the HP LaserJet Pro 400 in the plain black text and graphics sheet tests, it was outperformed by its linemate, the Brother HL-5450DN in the presentation speed test that includes both graphics and text, likely due to its limited resolution output that also renders less-than-desirable results in print quality.

While the HL-3170CDW had no problem printing solid black text lines with clean edges and uniform character spacing, the graphics page needs improvement. Suffering gradation issues and malformed consistencies in the finer lines, I wouldn't use this printer to output portrait or even snapshot photos onto a greeting card. On the other hand, I don't doubt its ability in the boardroom for simple handouts and presentation documents. You won't likely be disappointed as long as you're not expecting perfect color reproduction.

Service and support
Brother stands by all of its printers with a one-year Express Exchange limited warranty in addition to offering a toll-free customer service number for troubleshooting information.

Aside from its inability to reproduce photos as well as an inkjet printer, the Brother HL-3170CDW carries all the necessary features to maintain a productive office environment, including multiple connection points, mobile access via the cloud, and Earth-friendly efforts like Deep Sleep Mode and autoduplexing.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Interface 802.11n
    Ethernet 10/100Base-TX
  • Connectivity Technology wired
  • Printer Type Workgroup printer - LED - color
  • Max Resolution ( Color ) 600 x 2400 dpi
  • Max Speed 23 ppm
    23 ppm