By Kyla K. Carlson

Office managers no longer need to pinch pennies to get a capable laser printer. With the Brother HL-1850, you get an affordable workgroup printer with enough speed, features, and expandability options to meet the needs of any bustling small office. But considering the printer’s price and target audience, we would have liked to see it offer a larger standard paper capacity straight out of the box. Click here to check the latest prices on the Brother HL-1850.

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 16 MB of memory for a total of 32 MB. Additionally, both models can support up to 144 MB of RAM.

Figure A
The Brother HL-1850 offers fast print speeds, outstanding text quality, and an integrated duplexer. CNET editors rated it 8 out of 10.

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 super fast 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.

Speed sells
With a rated engine speed of 19 ppm (pages per minute), we expected peppy performance from the HL-1850, and we weren’t disappointed. The printer cranked out 13.3 ppm of text in CNET Labs’ tests, which was just a tad slower than the 13.5 ppm turned in by the Phaser 3400. The Brother’s combined text and graphics speeds, at 11.2 ppm, pulled way ahead of the Xerox’s 7.8 ppm.

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 1,200 dpi 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 9:00 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.

Performance charts
In speed tests, the Brother HL-1850 fell just short of the Xerox Phaser 3400 when printing text as shown in Table A. 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 (Table B).

Laser printer speed

Table A
Pages per minute; longer bars indicate better performance.

Laser printer quality

Table B

Complete specs
Click here to check the latest prices on the Brother HL-1850. Table C lists the complete specifications.

This review was originally published by CNET on April 9, 2002.