For a budget color laser printer, the Samsung CLP-550 offers some top-of-the-line features, including a built-in duplexer, an LCD on the control panel, and decent paper capacity. Unfortunately, these features don't make up for the Samsung CLP-550's lackluster print quality and slow print speeds. For the same price range and feature set, we recommend the instead. Although it sticks to the typical boxy shape of workgroup lasers, the Samsung CLP-550 contains one unusual design quirk: instead of front and center, the orientation of the paper trays is shifted to one side. When you face the front of the printer, the output tray is a quarter turn to the left, as is the multipurpose tray. The control panel remains in front. While this arrangement doesn't affect usability much, you will have to allow for more side-to-side space instead of the usual back-to-front clearance. The four toner cartridges have also migrated to the left side but are stacked like drawers, making them easy to change.
Budget color lasers often eschew LCDs, but not the CLP-550. The easy-to-navigate screen takes you through a full range of layout and paper-handling options, color calibration, and PostScript 3 and PCL 6 font lists so that you can print exactly what you see on your monitor. There's also a little diagram of the printer on the front panel with strategically placed LEDs that alert you to paper jams and empty trays. The Samsung CLP-550 printer includes a 250-sheet paper-input cassette. An additional 500-sheet cassette is available for $299 via Samsung's Web site.Arguably, the Samsung CLP-550's best feature (given its bargain price) is its built-in duplexer. All you have to do is select top-edge or side-edge orientation in the driver, and the printer will save you reams of paper by printing on both sides of each page.
The CLP-550 connects to your Mac's or PC's parallel or USB 2.0 port (cables not included). You can buy a network-ready version of the same printer (the CLP-550N) or add a wired or wireless network solution later for about $199. Although the CLP-550 is ostensibly a small-workgroup printer (assuming you put it on a network), it has no network management software. If you need a printer that sends e-mail error alerts and tracks such things as usage and firmware via a Web interface, check out the instead.
The Samsung CLP-550's drivers are feature filled but very easy to use. Aside from the usual adjustments you can make to paper size and layout, scale, resolution, and watermarks, there is also a range of color calibration features, from basics such as contrast and saturation to tone tuning, a sophisticated color calibration tool that lets you make fine adjustments to tone curve by tweaking gamma correction and the brightness and contrast of light and dark tones.
Toner prices for the Samsung CLP-550 run high for color printing. Replacement color cartridges cost $120 each. Using the vendor's estimated yield of 5,000 pages with 5 percent coverage, that works out to about 7 cents per page--a bit more than twice the average. A replacement black toner cartridge costs $100 and is rated by the vendor to yield 7,000 pages at 5 percent coverage, which works out to a more reasonable average of 2 cents per page.
On a more positive note, the CLP-550 is remarkably quiet. It helps that the drawer-style configuration of the toner cartridges makes for less movement, and therefore less noise, when printing.Overall, the Samsung CLP-550's performance disappointed us, especially its color print quality. During our CNET Labs tests, the CLP-550 suffered from occasional paper jams, and its printouts sometimes were spotted with ink, as though one of the cartridges sprayed ink arbitrarily.
For monochrome printing, however, the Samsung CLP-550 performed admirably. In our tests, the CLP-550 pumped out 13.8 pages per minute (ppm) for text. Most interestingly, it managed to improve its score with monochrome graphics: 14.7ppm. These scores put the CLP-550 among the top four in our color laser chart in terms of noncolor print speed. Unfortunately, the Samsung's color print scores did not live up to its monochrome performance, with just a little above-average score: 4.4ppm for both text and graphics.