Low-cost color lasers like the $329 (as of 03/20/2013) HP LaserJet Pro 200 color Printer M251nw are tempting for small-office users who see laser technology as familiar and reliable (never mind that in this price range, a small-office inkjet is a much better deal). Unfortunately, color laser models in this price range tend to be slow and sparsely featured, with expensive toner. The M251nw sticks to that trend, but it also offers some innovative features and better-than-usual image quality. Still not cheap enough for you? The Dell c1660w has an even lower price tag and even better output quality, but it's a lot slower and has pricier toner.
Touchscreen and brushed-black design
On looks alone, the M251nw could win a lot of fans. With a faux brushed-black-metal exterior (it's plastic, but convincing), and a flip-up, 3.5-inch touchscreen control panel, it's one of the handsomest small office laser printers to come down the pike in a while.
The M251nw features all of the three major connection technologies: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and USB. We installed using Wi-Fi with minimum fuss. There's both Wi-Fi Protected Setup and the standard setup wizard. HP’s ePrint cloud-printing services are another bonus, including features like remote printing via e-mail and access to Web-based apps and services.
Paper handling features consist of a 150-sheet paper tray on the bottom of the unit, and an integrated 125-sheet output bin on the top--the classic small laser setup. Duplexing is manual, with step-by-step, onscreen prompts.
High cost per page
The cost per page for consumables with the M251nw is unfortunately quite high, even compared to most entry-level inkjets. The standard 1600-page black cartridge costs $67, for a per-page cost of about 4.2 cents. The cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges last for 1800 pages and cost $85 apiece (4.7 cents per color, per page), so add 14.1 cents for them. A total of 18.1 cents per four-color page is not a bargain. You can reduce that slightly with the 2400-page, $86 XL black cartridge to 3.6 cents per black page and 17.5 cents per four-color page. There are no high-yield color toners. The printer ships with 700-page, starter-size supplies of all four colors.
Its pages may cost a lot, but the M251nw will give your SOHO correspondence a more professional look than an inkjet. Text is super-sharp, and monochrome graphics are smooth and even. Color graphics are also very good for a laser, though slightly on the cool and dark side. There were noticeable defects in the more difficult areas of our brightly lit group photo, mostly in dark patterns and faces. Non-human subjects generally looked quite nice.
Pretty good speed for the price
The M251nw printed text and mixed-text and monochrome graphics pages at an aggregate 9.2 pages per minute (ppm) on the PC and 8.6 on the Mac. That's decently fast considering the unit's small volume design and low price. It was fast with 4-by-6-inch snapshots, printing them to plain paper in 20 seconds (3 ppm) and glossy paper in about double the time. A full-page photo printed on the Mac took 70 seconds, or 0.8 pages per minute.
The M251nw carries a one-year warranty and is recommended for light-volume use of 250 to 1500 pages a month. That's a real-life rating, not the fantastic duty-cycle numbers that vendors often provide. We'd love to steer you to a version of this printer that has automatic duplexing, but you seemingly can't get that until you shop the LaserJet Pro 400 models.
One of the best choices in this price range
Expensive toner and the lack of two-sided printing are typical deficiencies among low-priced color laser printers. While they can add to the cost of ownership, our tests with inkjets show that light-volume users may not feel the ink or toner pinch for some time. Given all that, the HP LaserJet Pro 200 color Printer M251nw is one of the best choices in its class, because of its good output quality, connectivity, and ease of use.