Hewlett-Packard's LaserJet 1200 is poised to replace the HP LaserJet 1100xi, a low-cost laser we've known and loved for its excellent print quality and its versatile copy/scan attachment. Improving on a good thing can be difficult, but in this case, HP succeeds admirably. The LaserJet 1200 fixes all the things we disliked about the 1100xi and delivers better print quality at faster speeds--all for the same low price. Hewlett-Packard's LaserJet 1200 is poised to replace the HP LaserJet 1100xi, a low-cost laser we've known and loved for its excellent print quality and its versatile copy/scan attachment. Improving on a good thing can be difficult, but in this case, HP succeeds admirably. The LaserJet 1200 fixes all the things we disliked about the 1100xi and delivers better print quality at faster speeds--all for the same low price.
Setting up the $399 LaserJet 1200 is a breeze. The CD-ROM and Getting Started leaflet lead you through every step of the process (including how to manage the tricky cable connections). The printer has both parallel and USB ports; you can even hook up two PCs--one through the parallel port, one through the USB--to the LaserJet 1200 without going to the trouble of networking the printer. The machine is compatible both with PCs (Windows 3.1x, 95, 98, Me, 2000, NT 4.0) and Macs (OS 8.6, 9.0). There's no Adobe PostScript upgrade available, however, just an emulation of PS level 2. The standard 8MB of RAM is upgradeable to 72MB.
The LaserJet 1200's bundled software includes scanning and copying programs, as well as ReadIris Professional OCR, for turning scanned documents into editable text files. The printer's driver includes some unusual features, such as the ZoomSmart function, which works just like the zoom on a copier, and the question-mark icon, which explains when certain driver settings are unavailable (for example, no N-up printing is available when the zoom is set for 400 percent).
Offices seeking a multifunction's versatility might also appreciate the LaserJet 1200's copier/scanner attachment option ($149). This device, which sits on top of the output tray, adds important office functions to the machine, so you won't have to buy separate machines.
Faster, better-looking output
The LaserJet 1200 bested its predecessor on all of CNET Labs' tests. It clocked 10.5 text pages per minute (ppm) at 600 dots per inch (dpi). While this speed is only about two-thirds of HP's maximum claim of 15ppm, it's nevertheless the fastest of any personal laser CNET's tested to date. The LaserJet 1200 slowed down to about 8.3ppm when printing mixed text and graphics, but it was still among the fastest we've tested.
Output quality was even better than output speed. Text samples we printed looked excellent at 600dpi, with crisp, solid black lines on both serif and sans-serif fonts. At three- and five-point font sizes, letters had a slightly moth-eaten quality, but this is unlikely to be an issue for everyday usage, and increasing the resolution to 1,200dpi solved the problem. On graphics tests, the LaserJet 1200 is only the second monochrome laser printer that CNET has tested to receive a score of excellent (the other printer is the HP LaserJet 2100TN). The LaserJet 1200 did a fine job on the line drawings, gradients, and tricky grayscale photographic elements in our test document.
The HP LaserJet is also economical. A 2,500-page replacement toner cartridge costs $62.50, which works out to about 2.5 cents per page--about the norm for personal laser printers. HP plans to offer a 3,500-page cartridge for $64 starting in July 2001.
Sleek and functional design
With a boxy yet curvy new design that drew admiring comments from CNET editors, the LaserJet 1200 looks completely different from the LaserJet 1100xi. Most of the changes are for the better. On the good side, the toner cartridge slides out for easy removal when you open the front panel--no more digging into the printer's interior. But when you do need to get into the guts of the machine, to connect an interface cable or to upgrade the RAM, for instance, you must first open the front toner panel and then pop off the left side panel. While this design puts everything at your fingertips and keeps the cables neatly in check, we found the process unnecessarily complicated.
Not expandable, but networkable
The LaserJet 1200 also handles paper much differently than did its predecessor. The LaserJet 1200 can take 250 sheets of input and 125 output, compared to the LaserJet 1100xi's 125/100. The input tray's clear plastic cover pulls double duty as the manual input for heavy paper and envelopes; a straight-through output path exits at the back of the printer. However, while the LaserJet 1200 takes more paper than its predecessor, we were still a little disappointed that it couldn't expand further to accommodate small but busy workgroups. Users who suspect their paper-handling needs will increase might be better served by the NEC SuperScript 1400 or the Xerox DocuPrint P1210, both of which offer maximum input capacities of more than 800 sheets.
Although its limited paper capacity makes it suitable only for small workgroups at the most, the LaserJet 1200 is in fact networkable. You can attach an HP JetDirect 175X for $199. Network-ready and copy/scan-ready versions of the LaserJet 1200 are available for $599 and $529, respectively.
Free phone support for life
The LaserJet 1200's one-year parts and labor warranty is shorter than we'd like. You can extend it by an additional year for $89. HP's phone support lasts beyond the warranty term and costs nothing, but the call itself is on your dime. Support hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. MT Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The HP Web site offers the usual support options, including current drivers, FAQs, manuals, and troubleshooting tips.
SOHO users and small workgroups who can live with the HP LaserJet 1200's paper-handling limitations will probably be thrilled with everything else about it. Based on its speed and output quality, the LaserJet 1200 is an excellent choice, and its sleek design and optional copy/scan attachment make it even harder to resist.