HP Laserjet Pro 200 m251mw review

We just upgraded our lowly HP Laserjet P1102W with the HP Laserjet Pro 200 m251mw to print color brochures, flyers and mailers. We’re not getting rid of the P1102W, as it’s a great little desk printer that snaps to attention in a second when printing from iPads and iPhone as well as our Mac computers.

Overview of HP LaserJet 200

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LCD interface

After working on the wireless settings for a bit, we were able to set up the connection to the router. That was pretty easy to do following the wireless prompts. Setting up the direct connection was a little more challenging only because I didn’t realize I had to click through three follow-me prompts. Once I got that part down, the iPad connected to the printer without a hitch.

The printer is heavy, weighing in at 40 pounds. It’s not a little desk printer unless you have a whopper of a desk. It’s best on its own little place. It has network, USB, wireless and all the other expected connections for printing. It’s a nice black box, much more attractive than the beige HP printers we’ve had for decades. The aesthetic is good. But that’s not why we bought it.

Competitor

4 toner cartridges - yeah

4 toner cartridges – yeah

We looked at the comparable Brother model HL-3170CDW as a worthy competitor. It has 600×1200 resolution and real duplex printing, something I really wish the HP 200 had. The HP can’t do single sheet flow-through feed. That almost pushed us to the Brother, but our experience with Brother products has been poor, so overcoming the negative history was difficult. But the Brother was reported to be difficult to work with Apple products and also the toner cartridges report being out based on page count, not an actual toner measurement. There are tricks on the web to get around this issue but we don’t have the inclination to fool around, we just want to print and get things done. The HP won.

Installation

My Mac did the install for me, all I did was plug in the USB cable

My Mac did the install for me, all I did was plug in the USB cable

I plugged the USB cable into my Macbook Pro and, as expected, OS X downloaded the driver, set the printer up and I was ready to go. No searching for drivers, wasting time figuring out irritating (HP) websites, analyzing why the driver didn’t work, and so forth. This is why we use Apple – sure it’s expensive, but at $100/hour, the “savings” of a PC gets eaten up in time wasted pretty quickly.

Heads and Tails

So far the print quality has been pretty amazing for an inexpensive 600DPI laser. It has a few gripes but nothing we can’t get past, at least for now.

[ezcol_1half]Positives

  • Print quality
  • Direct print speed
  • LCD interface

[/ezcol_1half]

[ezcol_1half_end]Gripes

  • Toner cartridge price
  • iPhone/iPad print speed
  • Paper tray size (150 sheet)

[/ezcol_1half_end]

Discussion

Printer with paper tray open

Printer with paper tray open

The print tray only holds 150 sheets for a printer this big, that’s embarrassing. Even my HP Laserjet 4P held more 20 years ago and it was smaller. The lack of feed through printing for card stock, envelopes and such is also a horrible omission. Maybe it’s too difficult with the feed path design, so who knows.

The toner cartridges are wretchedly expensive. Replacing 3 color (cyan, magenta, yellow) will set you back $210. Yes, that’s right. The extended black cartridge is another $80. Owch. But our experience with laser printers tells us this that printing $0.13/page compared to the liquid gold price of inkjets makes the laser win hands down.

The laser can sit for a year, fire up and print without issue. This is not a minor consideration. Ink jets clogged up just after 6 weeks of no use and require wasted time/$$$/frustration with nozzle cleaning. This cleaning process eats up huge amounts of ink and time. And, invariably, you’ll begin a print before you realize the jets are clogged. The ink jet wasn’t a consideration at all. Laser print resilience is far better, as one drop of water ruins ink jet prints whereas color laser prints are as tough as monochrome laser prints.

The print quality on this machine is amazing. It’s no 2800DPI photo printer but it holds its own far better than I ever expected. Its quality is far better than the P1102w in black and white, too.

Performance straight out of the box

This first image is printed from this PDF resolution test file on Staples 20 pound 89 brightness copy paper. The image was taken with an iPhone 6 under tungsten lighting – not the best representation for the quality of the image. And it’s generally dark, so the iPhone image is grainy, so note that for your image quality review.

The lighting caused the color shift as seen on the paper, but looking at the actual image, it’s amazingly good. At 0.25pt, the Red (MY) print shows some waviness in the Red. Apparently this can be calibrated out. If that’s the case, I expect the printer to look even better than it already does. (click for full-resolution image)

Printer test page

Printer test page on Staples 20lb 89 brightness paper, under tungsten light with an iPhone 6

The second print page (again tungsten lighting, iPhone 6 image) comes from this JPG image test file. Again, the quality is amazing. We’re comparing the image to the original file viewed on a Macbook pro retina display and though the color isn’t perfect, it’s very near to the original. Since the printer is CMYK, there’s no way it can represent the color gamut of an sRGB file, so that’s fair. But just looking at the strawberries, I keep looking and am just amazed how good it looks. (click for full-resolution image)

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Print out on Staples 20lb 89 brightness paper, under tungsten light with an iPhone 6

Our best sub-$1000 ink jet printers looked TERRIBLE when printed on basic laser paper at high quality. At low quality, the ink jet was a joke. We’d always have to put in expensive paper, spend time, $$$, and irritation just to get to something matching this basic quality. Sure, the inkjet easily surpassed the resolution of this laser, but only when we used $1/page paper and a fortune in ink. So sure, the ink jet might seem better, but when you pour that much ink onto cheap paper, it ripples and is instantly damaged by water (think someone’s spittle hitting the paper – oops).

I’ll say it again – this is on cheap copy paper. Not expensive paper. So sure, you might see that your inkjet cartridges are cheaper, but to look good always, you have to use expensive paper. The HP 200 looks good on $0.01/page copy paper. Put that into your calculator when you’re figuring print quality/cost/volume.

The area where I can see the resolution catches up is in the electronics image and the the baby on the right hand side. At normal viewing distance (12 inches) the people look very good, though there’s a tiny bit of pixelation. The electronics image with darks and fine diagonal lines show the printer resolution limit. But you can still read “FULL AUTO STOP” without issue. The A’a lava looks really good for being a nearly black item.

Here’s a flyer we made up for photography tutoring. It’s much more interesting and eye-catching with color, a big upgrade from the black and white (yawn) we were using. Again, these shots are the same conditions as above. (click for full-resolution image)

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Photo tutoring flyer

But here’s the amazing thing. Even though I’ve not calibrated the Red so there’s no waviness in the 45 degree print, you can actually still read the FX badge on the Nikon D800.

The FX badge is readable

The FX badge is readable

This gives you a good idea of at what size the FX badge is relative to the entire brochure. I was amazed (again) how good this looks on cheap copy paper. Have I belabored the point? I can see the FX and read it at 12″ without glasses. For basic mailers, flyers and such, this is awesome. My main gripe is that I can’t send cardstock through the printer to make heavyweight brochures. I’ll still have to have that done elsewhere. Then again, if I wanted that ability, I could have stepped up and spent $500. And if I’m doing that much volume, I hire it out anyway, so I’m not going to waste toner to make 100’s of brochures on this laser paper.

Issues

The gamma isn’t correct on the printer but we’re not worried about that. It’s not a photo printer and we know that. The black zone below 16 (out of 255 steps) is indistinguishable from the black. And values above 243 (out of 255 steps) are indistinguishable from white. These all sound bad but it’s actually very difficult to tell in a photo image.

Wait, did I say no single sheet feed?

Conclusion

For $169, this printer is an amazing steal. As long as it doesn’t blow up with 2 years of use, I’ll be happy. I won’t be happy if it does die, but consider this: Staples charges $0.59 for basic color copies and $0.69 for high quality paper copies. It only takes 462 color pages printed off the laser to pay for itself in color copies from the store. We’ve already printed up 20+ pages on the first day. I expect we’ll cover the price differential very quickly. Plus, we can print at off hours and don’t have to drive anywhere to get these done, thus saving more money and allowing us to work at the normal crazy hours.

I’d buy it again. That’s my final analysis, even without duplex or feed-through printing.

Is this the end-all color printer? No, absolutely not. But at this price, it’s a steal for us.

We’ll update this page as we learn more.

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