There are some very good contenders but in the lower cost - <$300 - range Brother is the class leader with more features and lower print costs than its competitors.
First a printer primer …
What to look for in a SOHO printer
Most home workers mistakenly use a cheap home grade printer instead of a SOHO one. Two things happen. It ‘falls-over’ all too easily when confronted with volume printing, and the cost of the ink is inverse to the cost of the printer - it will send you broke. Here is what to look for in the ideal printer.
Factor the number of pages you will print in a year into the purchase price
A typical sub-$99 inkjet using a tri-colour (cyan, magenta, and yellow ink in the one cartridge) usually costs over 30 cents per page - yet a fully featured $799 SOHO quality printer has a page cost of 7 cents. In typical SOHO use of just 4000 pages (8 reams per year), the $799 printer will cost nearly $300 less than the $99 inkjet - yet print significantly faster, produce better images, and it will last a few more years.
Buy genuine ink –refills and generics are Russian roulette
At least during the printer warranty period as it ensures maximum life and best print quality. SOHO printers usually have optional high capacity cartridges - look for online discount bargains from reputable companies like Inkstation or Hot Toner. Brother’s multi-function (reviewed later) costs 21 cents per page at full price yet a four pack of high capacity cartridges costs 8 cents.
Inkjet or laser?
It is all about style. Colour livens up your presentations and the kid’s homework -- laser produces the best colour on plain paper. The Brother Inkjet is close to laser quality.
Do you need to print A3?
Do not underestimate the occasional need for A3 for posters or presentations. Yes, you can always run down to the local printer but the Brother covers that.
Print quality depends on paper
Cheap bond copy paper – 75-80gsm (grams per square metre), soaks up ink like a sponge -- but even the lowest cost printer can produce an acceptable photo image on 250gsm gloss photo paper. Always have some coated and heavier paper on hand for that special job.
What features do you need?
Look for new features including duplex scanning (scans both sides of the bank statements or bills), duplex printing, and networking - some with Wi-Fi - to hook up to a home office network shared by Windows and Mac computers. Some have the ability to print wirelessly from smartphones and tablets too.
The printer that comes closest to all criteria is the Brother A3/A4 MFC-J4710DW inkjet.
This new generation from Brother is a well-designed, well-priced, class-leading, multi-function printer.
It has impressive specifications: 35-ppm mono, 27-ppm colour; A4 duplex scan/print; fax; 9.3cm colour touch control panel; USB, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi N connectivity; direct print from USB/SD/CF cards; dual trays for up to 220gsm paper; 32/64 bit Windows/Mac/Linux drivers; and lots of included software.
It uses AirPrint - an iOS feature that allows iPhone/Pad/Pod and Mac to print via Wi-Fi without installing drivers – it works from my iPad mini over the netowrk.
Brother iPrint&Scan is a free app that enables Wi-Fi printing of JPEG images from iOS, Android and Windows Phone and scans from the printer to be sent to your smartphone.
Set up is incredibly easy – plug it into USB or preferably an Ethernet port or Wi-Fi, install the Control Centre 4 software and you are done. The photo above shows it with manual tray open and the bottom tray set for A3 paper.
The driver software:
Scanning to image, OCR, Email and File and will output to JPEG or PDF in resolutions up to 1200x1200 – for most scanning of documents 150x150 dpi is best and produces a smaller file.
Copy: Colour, mono, 2 and four in one and custom
Photo: print from file or USB, SD or CF cards with lots of customisation
Fax: Send an image, scan and send an image (or document) and view received faxes from a PC
Very low, total cost of ownership belies this full featured, SOHO class printer that has a certain style – a good addition to any home office or even a workgroup.
- Duplex scan and print -- not usually found in this price bracket
- Well made, attractive design
- Low cost per page (using high capacity ink)
- A3 paper capability
- Meets SOHO requirements for speed and reliability
Cons: Largish footprint 480 (w) x 290 (d) x 254mm (h) to accommodate A3 paper
Cost: RRP $299 – it can be found online for as low as $203 plus freight
Print cost: 8 to 21 cents per page depending on whether high capacity or standard cartridges are used.
Total cost of ownership at 4000 pages - $616.
The following table graphically illustrates the total cost of ownership at 4000 pages – lower page costs really overtake lower purchase price.