Ready to roll
An illustrated Quick Setup guide made for easy installation of the $550 HL-1850. The printer works with Microsoft Windows 95, 98, Me, NT 4.0, 2000, and XP, as well as Mac OS 8.5.1 or higher. It can connect via parallel or USB ports, though it ships sans cables. The printer's front panel includes a three-color LCD readout and four buttons that let you change paper, interface, setup, or quality settings. Other buttons let you make reprints, cancel jobs, or pause printing. An electronic user guide explains the printer's many features and includes troubleshooting and maintenance tips. If you want to network your printer, the $699 HL-1870N has all the features of the HL-1850 but also boasts built-in Ethernet and an extra 16MB of memory for a total of 32MB. Additionally, both models can support up to 144MB of RAM.
Take the bad with the good
The HL-1850's paper handling has its pluses and minuses. One major disappointment was the printer's minimal paper capacity. The printer holds just 350 sheets: one 250-sheet tray and a 100-sheet multipurpose tray. For $200, you can buy another 250-sheet tray, upping your capacity to 600 sheets. However, this still falls short of the 1,200-sheet capacity (with the optional $189 550-sheet tray) offered by the $649 Xerox Phaser 3400.
The HL-1850's coolest paper-handling feature is its integrated duplexer, which is superfast and requires no user intervention. The software driver lets you choose between flipping the paper on the left, right, top, or bottom edge. The four well-organized tabs let you adjust the usual settings such as paper type, paper size, and print quality. Each tab includes a Default button to reset any of your changes, but the driver lacks a button to restore global defaults.
With a rated engine speed of 19ppm (pages per minute), we expected peppy performance from the HL-1850, and we weren't disappointed. The printer cranked out 13.3ppm of text in CNET Labs' tests, which was just a tad slower than the 13.5ppm turned in by the Phaser 3400. The Brother's combined text and graphics speeds, at 11.2ppm, pulled way ahead of the Xerox's 7.8ppm.
The HL-1850's text output looked stunning. The letters were crisp, clear, and defined, with no loss of detail even at minuscule point sizes. Graphics output, however, wasn't quite as strong. Solid black areas appeared a bit splotchy, and overly rough photographic images lacked detail. When we selected the 1,200dpi-class option, photos improved significantly, but solid blacks were still problematic.
Pricing it out
The HL-1850's cost per page is in line with that of its competition. According to Brother, a 6,500-page toner cartridge will cost you $90, or less than 1.5 cents per page at 5 percent coverage.
Brother provides a one-year warranty on parts and labor and a year of the company's express exchange policy. Live, toll-free technical support is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET. The Brother Solutions Center Web site provides updated printer drivers in addition to more support information.
With its ease of use and fast print speeds, the Brother HL-1850 should do just fine in most small offices. While we wish it offered a larger standard paper capacity, we liked the integrated duplexer for reducing consumption. Still, if you have a small budget and can sacrifice some expandability, consider the $299 Lexmark E320.
|Laser printer speed|
Pages per minute; longer bars indicate better performance
|Laser printer quality|
In speed tests, the Brother HL-1850 fell just short of the Xerox Phaser 3400 when printing text. However, when it came to mixed text and graphics, the HL-1850 outpaced the Phaser 3400 by a significant margin, giving it overall faster print speeds.