The HP LaserJet Pro 400 M401dn, which retails at £235, is far from the fastest printer in its price class, but if you care more about output quality than speed, it may well be the printer you want. HP’s offering delivers above par quality across the board, scores well on paper handling, and throws in a few extras, including a touchscreen control panel and the ability to print files from a USB memory stick.
Much like the Canon LBP6670dn – which is a bit cheaper, but still roughly in the same circa-£200 price bracket, costing around £180 – the M401dn is aimed primarily at micro and small offices, and workgroups. However, it's also suitable for a home office with unusually heavy duty print needs, assuming you can find room for it. At 366mm x 368mm x 272mm (WxDxH), it's a little smaller than the Canon printer, but still a little large to comfortably share a desk with.
The main reason for the large size is the paper handling, which includes a built-in duplexer (for printing on both sides of a page), a 250-sheet paper drawer, and a 50-sheet multipurpose tray. This should be enough for most small offices, but if you need more, you can add a 500-sheet second tray.
Also worth mentioning is that the printer supports an assortment of mobile printing features, including HP ePrint (for printing through the cloud), Apple AirPrint (for printing from iOS devices), and various web-based printer apps. It doesn't offer Wi-Fi, but HP says that the HP LaserJet Pro 400 M401dw is the same printer with Wi-Fi added (priced at £265). So all the comments in this review should apply to the dw model as well.
Setup and Speed
Setting up the printer was standard fare. For my tests, I connected it to a wired network and ran the tests from a Windows Vista system.
HP rates the M401dn at 35 pages per minute (ppm), which is the speed you should see when printing text files without much formatting. On our business applications suite, however, it was surprisingly slow for the rating. I timed it (using QualityLogic's hardware and software for timing) at an effective 5.9 ppm. In comparison, the OKI B431dn (which costs £255) came in at 11.1 ppm, and the LBP6670dn, which is also rated at 35 ppm, came in at 14.8 ppm in simplex (one-sided) mode. The Canon printer was even faster than the HP printer when printing in duplex (two-sided) mode, at 10.3 ppm.
Output Quality and Other Issues
What the M401dn lacks in speed, it at least partly makes up for in output quality, with above-par scores across the board. Text quality isn't quite a match for the best looking mono laser output, but it's suitable for printing small-size fonts readably. Depending on how demanding an eye you have, you may consider it suitable for desktop publishing applications.
Graphics output is easily good enough for any internal business needs, including printing PowerPoint hand-outs. Most people would also consider it suitable for printing, say, graphics in reports going to an important client. Photo quality, similarly, is better than most mono lasers can manage, which makes it easily good enough for printing photos in a client newsletter or the like.
However, one potential issue for the printer is its running cost. The claimed 2.4 cents (1.6 pence) per page is lower than you'll find with many printers in this price range. The LBP6670dn, for example, claims a 2.8 cent (1.8 pence) per page cost. On the other hand, the HP printer is higher than some others, with OKI’s B431dn in particular claiming 1.8 cents (1.2 pence) per page. Of course, over thousands upon thousands of pages, those relatively small differences add up to pretty big sums in pounds over the life of the printer.
I also ran into an issue with trying to print from Photoshop 7 using the printer's higher quality modes, with the device producing an error message instead of printing. I don't consider this a major issue, however, because the problem doesn't show up at all resolution settings, and moreover, HP has already found a fix for it. HP sent me the current beta version of the upgraded driver. A quick spot check proved that it has no trouble printing with the same files and settings that the current driver chokes on.
The trio of HP, Canon, and OKI Data printers offers a variety of choices. If you need a basic workhorse printer for lots of printing, and running costs are a key concern, the OKI B431dn is probably your best bet from this bunch. If you care more about top speed, the Canon LBP6670dn may be more attractive. (And note that speed may be more of an issue if you plan to print in duplex most of the time, since duplexing takes longer).
If top quality output is most important for you, however, or you want to take advantage of built-in mobile printing features, the HP LaserJet Pro 400 M401dn is the obvious choice, and it may well be the printer for you.