At a Glance
This basic office printer balances good pricing, speed, and print quality with a sometimes-awkward design.
Brother takes a major evolutionary step with the HL-4040CN: This is the first color laser designed by the company itself, rather than a rebranded model from another manufacturer. It's a decent first effort, offering good overall speed and print quality for a competitive price. The design sometimes falls short on ease of use, unfortunately.
The setup process is easy and thoroughly documented in a printed guide as well as in animated videos on the included CD. Find a buddy to help you lift the printer, though: At about 63.7 pounds (according to Brother's specs), it's heavier than most comparably equipped color lasers.
At default settings the HL-4040CN printed competently. Its speeds--average overall--ranged from 19.3 pages per minute for plain black text to 4.2 ppm for graphics. Text in all tested fonts looked perfectly crisp. Color images erred on the yellow side; photos looked grainy, especially on glossy laser paper. Using the driver's "Fine (2400 dpi class)" setting improved images noticeably.
Brother deserves kudos for its software, which includes a comprehensive, well-illustrated user guide (in HTML and PDF) and interactive help files, as well as a dynamic status monitor. The driver offers a good supply of printing options.
The hardware, on the other hand, needs work. The control panel's LCD is great, as it can tilt 0 to 90 degrees, glows green when things are normal and red when things go awry, and communicates in plain English. But the menu buttons didn't always make sense to me: The up-arrow/plus button is for scrolling backward and the down-arrow/minus is for scrolling forward, while the "Go" button is also for pausing. The 50-sheet multipurpose tray is unmarked and hard to find (it folds out from the front of the printer).
Most odd, the toner cartridge bays are not keyed to prevent insertion of the wrong color. Brother says that such a mistake will not damage the printer, and it didn't when I intentionally switched two colors. But the printer should, at least, have recognized the mistake at the start and refused to print. Instead it printed a bizarrely colored page.
Cost per page (based on Brother's specs) is very good. The high-yield cartridges have a page capacity of 5000 for black and 4000 for each color and cost $93 and $130, respectively. A half-page of black text, therefore, will cost less than 2 cents' worth of toner to print, and a color page (using a small amount of black plus all three colors) will cost less than 12 cents. Standard-capacity cartridges with shorter page lives (and thus higher costs) are also available.
The HL-4040CN is designed to be, and is priced as, a low-end machine. Shoppers seeking more features (such as additional paper capacity) might consider its higher-end cousin, the HL-4070CDW.