You could spend $5,000 on a color laser printer, but why? A mere $500 can buy you the fast, high-quality, network-ready Lexmark C522n, which is great for small workgroups.
The C522n's boxy taupe-and-brown shell stands 19 inches high and is 16.5 inches wide by 14.5 inches deep and weighs only 57 pounds. A control panel on the printer's "forehead" provides buttons to navigate easily through the logical menus and select settings. The entire front wall swings out on sturdy hinges to expose the toner cartridges and other imaging components. The components are easy to remove and replace; better yet, they line up in a single-pass design that improves speed and reduces moving parts. Lexmark provides 128MB of memory and Ethernet standard with the C522n, but you can expand its memory to 640MB and add Wi-Fi capability.
IS managers can monitor the C522n through the printer's embedded Web server or with Lexmark's MarkVision enterprise-oriented printer-management software, while befuddled end users can quickly print a guide to color quality, a booklet on media, or simply a menu map. The printer also comes with several well-written PDF manuals.
The C522n is good but not flawless. The slanted inside wall of the main paper drawer prevents paper from sticking together but makes adding and removing paper awkward, and no catch at the end of the tray's rails means it's easy to pull the tray out--and drop it on the floor. Instead of a full-featured auxiliary tray, the C522n has only a single-sheet, hand-fed bypass slot; to keep two kinds of paper available, you'll need to buy the extra 500-sheet drawer for $299. Also, the control panel LCD is not backlit, making it hard to read in nonoptimal lighting conditions.
But those are relatively minor concerns. In performance and print quality, the C522n excels. It printed CNET's plain text document at 14.4 pages per minute (ppm), approaching the 16.2ppm average for all color lasers, including top-end models, that we've tested in the last year, and it hit 12.3ppm on color graphics, much faster than the 7.9ppm average. Our print-quality jury also liked the C522n. Its plain text was a dark matte black with no fuzziness or rough edges, so that even 2-point type was legible. It captured good detail and shading on grayscale photos. Color graphics and photos did not come out quite so well: accurate colors and good detail were somewhat marred by crosshatching and blotchiness.