Editor's note: The rating for this product has changed simply to reflect technological improvements made over time. (6/9/05)
Hewlett-Packard's most affordable laser printer, the $199.99 monochrome LaserJet 1012, is reliable and easy to use, turning out crisp text and graphics. This printer picks up the pace, too, printing at almost 13 pages per minute (ppm) in CNET's tests (HP rates the LaserJet 1012's print speed at a snappy 15ppm). And HP packs plenty of useful features for SOHO users, such as double-sided printing and watermarks, into this small and lightweight package. But beware: background applications can interfere with the LaserJet 1012's software installation, and you'll need to buy your own USB cable and pay above-average per-page costs for printing. With its small-capacity paper tray and limited RAM, this printer won't survive as an office workhorse, but it is a quality choice for students and families.
HP designed the LaserJet 1012 for easy setup and use, but the company still has a little work to go in this area, especially when it comes to installation.
The compact LaserJet 1012 (which measures 14.6 inches wide, 9.1 inches deep, and 8.2 inches high and weighs 13 pounds) arrives with a toner/drum cartridge, a printer-media input tray, a printer-priority input tray, and a power cord--that's almost all of the hardware you'll need to get up and running; there's no USB cable, so you must purchase that separately. There are also printed instructions that clearly illustrate how to put the printer together. The installation CD includes a helpful user guide and a customization utility so that you can set network options and features, such as automatic duplex printing.
The printer is compatible with most Microsoft Windows programs (98, Me, 2000, XP, and XP 32-bit) and Mac programs (OS 9.1 and higher, OS X 10.1, and 10.2), but Linux users are out of luck.
Before installing the software, though, you'll want to disable any antivirus or firewall software running on your computer; Norton AntiVirus crashed the installation process on our Windows XP test machine. It would help if HP mentioned somewhere in the documentation the need to disable such background applications during installation. And confusingly, HP insists that you install its software before putting together the printer, but during installation, the software asks you how the printer is connected to your computer. We recommend unpacking and plugging in the printer first, then running the software.
The power button, awkwardly located in back of the printer with the power cord and the USB cable, would be easier to reach if it lived on the front or the side of the printer. After all, many SOHO users will want to squeeze this small printer into tight places.
Once it's up and running, the LaserJet 1012's useful features shine. A simple two-button control panel on the front of the printer lets you print a demonstration or configuration page, control manual-feed operations, or cancel a print job quickly. The three status lights (Attention, Ready, and Go) are also easy to read.
Most impressive, though, is the LaserJet 1012's range of software features. The software allows you to print watermarks, such as confidential or draft, on documents and allows N-up printing, which prints up to 16 thumbnails of pages on one sheet of paper. Using the manual paper feeder, Windows (but not Mac) users can print on both sides of the paper or print two-sided booklets. When printing double-sided documents, images appear onscreen to illustrate how to insert the paper the right way--a nice touch.
You can also tweak print quality by choosing the toner-saving EconoMode, which prints lighter but legible text and graphics. For crisper graphics, the FastRes 1200 option lets you increase the dots per inch (dpi) from 600 to 1,200, but we didn't see any significant print quality difference between these two options. A Web application toolbox, available for most versions of Windows (98, 2000, Me, and XP) and Mac (OS X 10.1 and 10.2), checks printer status, configures printer settings, and displays troubleshooting and online documentation.