Review: HP Color LaserJet CM1017 MFP

By Eric Grevstad | Posted April 10, 2007

Printer marketing has a language all its own, and we don't mean PCL or PostScript. Take MFP, for example; it usually stands for "multifunction printer" or "multifunction peripheral," although HP's spec sheet for the Color LaserJet CM1017 modestly translates the acronym as "multi-function product."

Fair enough, but what's the difference between an MFP and an AIO (all-in-one)? At our last HP press briefing, a product manager explained that the former is a printer/scanner/copier built for heavy duty in a busy business, while the latter term implies a more affordable small-office or home device -- usually one based on color inkjet instead of color laser printing technology.

Fair enough, but what's the difference between a regular color laser and an MFP? In the case of the CM1017, it's around $300 -- and while the HP CM1017 is a handsome product, we think that's a bit much.

Whoa, Déjà Vu
Priced at $624, the Color LaserJet CM1017 resembles the Color LaserJet 2600N that we praised in a July 2005 review and that's currently selling for $299 ($399 with a $100 discount through May 12, 2007). Both are rated at 8 pages per minute for both black and white and color printing, with 600 by 600 dpi resolution optimized by HP's ImageREt 2400 resolution enhancement technology.

Both have a 250-sheet, slide-out paper drawer plus an adjustable-width slot for feeding single sheets or envelopes, with a second 250-sheet tray as a $149 option. Both use the same black, yellow, cyan, and magenta toner cartridges, which slide easily into a rack of slots behind the front panel. Both have USB 2.0 and Ethernet ports for solo and team players, respectively, though the CM1017 can also serve as a 10/100Mbps Ethernet print server.

The main difference, of course, is that the MFP has a head on its shoulders -- a letter- and A4-size flatbed scanner with pushbutton controls that let the CM1017 serve as a monochrome or color copier, in addition to scanning documents or photos into PDF or assorted other types of files and e-mail attachments, or importing pictures or editable OCR text into your image editor, word processor or other application.

And while no color laser can match the sharp, vivid photos produced by a higher-resolution inkjet -- for one thing, the classic quartet of CMYK cartridges can't compete with the six or more colors used by photo printers -- the CM1017 has handy flash-memory card slots and a 2.4-inch color LCD screen. The latter helps handle jobs such as previewing the images on a card and selecting one or more to print in a variety of sizes and page layouts. (The device does not, however, join many photo printers in supplying a USB port for flash drives and PictBridge cameras in addition to card slots.)

Sounds good, right? It is, but we've been spoiled by other MFPs. Office-productivity-wise, the HP is a three- rather than four-in-one, with no fax functionality to save the desk space taken by a fax machine. And when it comes to one key convenience, the $624 CM1017 is no better than HP's $80 Deskjet F380: We hate to see any AIO without an automatic document feeder (ADF) to handle multi-page copying or scanning jobs, but CM1017 owners must perform the chore of placing and replacing pages on the scanner glass one at a time.

Sorry, but we can't help thinking about those two omissions without recalling that the premium for a multifunction model over a plain printer in the inkjet world is closer to $100 or $150 rather than $300. (And yes, it's totally out of the CM1017's class, but a couple of weeks ago we reviewed the six-color inkjet AIO priced at $100 with fax and ADF.)

To be fair, HP offers a more affordable sibling of our test unit -- the Color LaserJet CM1015 offers the same basic specs for $449. We think many small-office workers could live without flash-card slots and color LCD, but it also drops Ethernet, leaving only USB connectivity. And as long as we're griping about both models, 8 ppm from a color laser isn't half as impressive in 2007 as it was in 2005.

Almost Too User-Friendly
Once you heft the 49-pound MFP out of its box, setup is a simple matter of yanking free various pieces of packing tape, removing the pre-installed toner cartridges, and re-inserting them after pulling a ripcord that keeps each cartridge sealed for travel.

The CM1017 takes roughly 17- by 20-inches of desk space, a bit more than its Color LaserJet 2600N ancestor. Like that machine, it ejects finished pages face up, but while the 2600N's output tray is the top of the printer itself, the multi-function's pages emerge onto a front-mounted catch tray that juts from a spot below the scanner. (Side note: It's also at a good height for decapitation if you carelessly swivel around after putting the MFP on a right-angled desk or return that's too close to your work chair.)

We ran into one snag installing the driver and other supplied HP software: Our first try seemed fine as far as the printer driver working with all our applications, but HP's diagnostic, toner-level monitor and other utility software couldn't communicate with the printer over our USB connection. A few hours' turnaround on an e-mail to tech support brought instructions to uninstall and try again after disabling our anti-virus and firewall programs, after which things ran without a hitch.

Some of HP's software seems more suited to the company's consumer inkjets than to business applications, such as Photosmart Premier, which combines simple image editing with options for family image sharing and card- or calendar-printing. A Document Viewer utility helps you browse folders and select files for e-mail attachments, though it falls short of a business-class document manger; its thumbnails of images are accompanied by icons, not thumbnails, for PDF, DOC and TXT files.

A little digging, however, turns up a full set of options for everything from setting print and scan defaults to turning scanned pages into word processing documents via the included I.R.I.S. OCR program. And even with your PC turned off, the CM1017 is a capable copier and photo printer. Menus on the LCD and buttons on the control panel below it steer you through setting copy settings including 1 to 99 copies; lighter/darker and reduce/enlarge options for different paper sizes; tweaking images' color balance, sharpness, and contrast and a toner-saving draft mode.

Plug in a memory card, and the HP lets you browse through the images there and select all, individual or a range of photos (such as numbers 4 through 9 of 17) to print or to scan to your PC as JPEG files (HP's PC scanning software adds BMP and TIF output options). If you don't want to click on photos as they pass by on the LCD, you can print a proof sheet of thumbnail images, mark the ones you want to print, and scan the sheet to perform the selection.


HP's Color LaserJet CM1017
HP's Color LaserJet CM1017 scans, copies and prints but, at $300 more than a regular color laser, not well enough to justify the price.

Prompt, If Not Fast, Performance
Making 20 copies of a black-and-white page took the CM1017 two minutes and 30 seconds, while the same number of color copies took 2 minutes and 46 seconds. Colors matched well and details were crisp -- after we bumped up the default copy resolution -- with both the scanning and printing process making enough noise to be noticeable but not enough to interfere with business, unless you put the MFP within a few feet of your phone.

Print speeds were unsurprisingly close to those of other 8-ppm color lasers we've seen, though the CM1017 narrowly trailed its Color LaserJet 2600N predecessor in a few of our stopwatch tests. A one-page business letter with spot-color company logo appeared in 26 seconds, while 20 pages of black-and-white Microsoft Word text took 2 minutes and 39 seconds and a 55-page Adobe Acrobat PDF document printed in an even 10 minutes.

Unlike some competitors, the CM1017 slowed considerably when printing PowerPoint slides with dark backgrounds as opposed to plain white ones: Six of the latter were ready in 68 seconds, while six slides with lighter text and charts over a purple backdrop took 3 minutes and 53 seconds.

Several 8 by 10-inch prints of digital photos arrived in an average of 41 seconds, but were predictably a touch grainier and less vivid than solid-color areas in charts and illustrations -- to repeat the universal rap on color laser printers, photo images looked fine for newsletters and flyers but not suitable for full-size reproduction or framing. Text, by contrast, looked a little bit lighter than some rivals' but as sharp as the best of them, with most sans-serif and even a couple of serif fonts proving legible at sizes as small as 4 points.

The HP gets a thumbs-up for coming with genuine instead of the industry's usual half-full, evil "starter" toner cartridges. A replacement black cartridge, rated for 2,500 pages, costs $75, while 2,000-page cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges cost $83 each. By our calculation that comes out to 3 cents per monochrome and 15.5 cents per color page -- neither a great bargain nor greedy excess compared to similar printers' and MFPs' consumables costs.

Overall, the Color LaserJet CM1017 is a likable enough office hub, with capable performance and good output quality backed by a painless-to-use control panel and software bundle. But both its speed and its price premium over a single-function color laser printer -- especially considering it has no fax or ADF -- keep it from being a keeper.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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