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From printing and copying in color to quickly scanning, the HP Color LaserJet Pro M277dw ($309) does it all — and for a reasonable price. Among features like an auto duplexer for double-sided copies and multiple networking and connection options, the printer's real standout capability is how it keeps text printing costs low by using a high-yield cartridge. Print quality is high across the board, even if it takes a bit for those prints to come out.
Considering that the M277dw houses four toner cartridges and a duplexer, its footprint is small — at 15.4 x 16.4 x 12.7 inches, it's on a par with most monochrome laser multifunction printers. An input/output tray unit at the very top lets you load multipage documents for copying and scanning. When you lift up the tray, you'll find the scanning bed, which you can also lift for better access to the print output tray.
In case you want to print documents that aren't on a networked device, you can plug the printer into a USB 2.0 port on the front panel. Using the USB print option on the 3-inch color touch screen, you can print files from a USB thumb drive, for example.
One downside to the M277dw is its relatively low 150-sheet-capacity paper tray, which slides out from the bottom of the printer. Some other multifunction printers, like the Brother MFC-L2700DW and the Canon MF229dw, offer a 250-sheet tray.
Using a USB connection, the M277dw printed a five-page monochrome text document in 27 seconds, roughly 4 seconds slower than the average laser printer we tested. At 51.8 seconds, the M277dw was the slowest to print our six-page graphics document in black and white, taking 11.5 seconds longer than the average. However, it was faster than average at printing a black-and-white photo on plain paper. Surprisingly, printing the same photo in color was 1 second faster, at 14.7 seconds. The same photo printed on the company's letter-size glossy brochure paper took 35 seconds.
Printing from a smartphone lagged behind printing from a USB-connected PC, as it did for the other laser printers we've tested: Printing a single text page took about a minute.
Print quality for the M277dw was very good across the board. Text looked very crisp and dark, and black-and-white graphics pages were similarly attractive, although some slight banding was visible in flat areas. A letter-size photo printed in black and white showed some minor banding in flat areas, but it was not as distracting as that from some other models.
Color prints also cleared a high bar, on both plain and glossy brochure paper. Graphics pages looked sharp, with vivid colors. Full-page photos printed on glossy brochure paper looked very sharp and colorful. A full-page still life of colorful food looked wonderfully sharp, saturated and delicious.
Portraits, however, showed the limitations of laser printers in skin textures and other smooth areas that looked a little rough. Similarly, an outdoor landscape was a little short of the quality of a professional photo print, revealing a tendency for dark shadows to look flat. In some cases, they were blocked up with shades of blue, leaving a flat mass with no depth. Still, the M277dw's prints were certainly up to par for the business brochures you're likely to produce with it.
Text copies looked very sharp, although the text did appear a little heavier than that in the original. Copies of color photographs were also high-quality, although they did not translate all the fine details and textures well. Shadow areas, in particular, tended to look flatter, with some blue tinges in the darkest areas.
Scans of photographs looked very attractive; colors were well saturated, and details looked crisp. Scanned text did not look as sharp as in the original. Although the M277dw prints of text scanned to PDF looked good, they were more akin to those from an inkjet printer, with the text forms having lost a little of their razor-sharp edges.
Toner Cost and Yield
The standard toner cartridges for the M277 are rated to print 1,400 color pages or 1,500 black-and-white pages. At a little less than $305 for all four cartridges, this translates to 4.4 cents per text page and 21.7 cents per color page. Spending an extra $85 on high-yield cartridges increases print yields to 2,800 and 2,300 for black-and-white and color pages, respectively. This drops the cost per page to 3.2 cents for a black-and-white page, which is on a par with monochrome laser models. Color pages drop to 16.9 cents each with the high-yield cartridges.
Copy and Scan Speed
The M277dw produced a black-and-white copy in 12.7 seconds — a couple of seconds slower than average. The M277dw made a color copy almost as quickly, in 15.2 seconds. Using the M277dw's input tray to copy multipage documents will quicken your copy times to about 5.5 seconds per page: Our five-page text document copied in 27.3 seconds, while a six-page graphics document copied in 32.8 seconds. In both cases, the M277dw copied a little more slowly than our averages of 24.1 seconds (text) and 27.9 seconds (graphics).
Out of the laser printers we tested, the M277dw was the quickest at making a 600-dpi color scan, doing so in 24.4 seconds — 13 seconds faster than the average. You will get much quicker times at lower resolutions. A color scan to PDF at 300 dpi finished in 9.2 seconds, and a JPEG scan took 8.2 seconds. Scanning a black-and-white PDF took 7.5 seconds. In addition to scanning to a networked PC or connected USB device, the M277dw offers scan-to-email and scan-to-the-cloud functions.
It's easy to set up the M277dw: Just remove the protective strands of plastic and tape. Using the Setup Wizard, I quickly added the printer to my Wi-Fi network in a few steps, using only the 3-inch color touch screen on the front panel (though the printer also supports direct Wi-Fi printing).
I had mixed results when establishing an NFC connection to the M277dw. Using a Samsung Galaxy S6, I could connect, but I couldn't change the print setting from portrait to landscape before my phone went back to a "Searching for all printers" message. Things worked out better with a Galaxy SIII, which allowed me to connect and print files. Other than the glitch with the S6, though, HP's print service plugin for Android over Wi-Fi worked very nicely.
Of the laser printers we tested, this model was the slowest to start up, taking a well-above-average 36 seconds. Other printers averaged a startup time of just less than 21 seconds.
The M277dw comes with software for printing, scanning and copying. It covers all the bases, especially OCR software for recognizing text while scanning to convert it to an editable text document. In addition, the HP Print Service plugin for Android let me print documents from my smartphone.
I like the way it's set up: Rather than relying on an app you have to launch, you simply select Print for a document in its native application and then select the HP printer. This is more intuitive than the process on some other smartphone printing apps, where you have to open the application first and then navigate to the document.
However, you can't just hit Print on your smartphone and be done with it (like on a PC). You'll have to confirm at the printer by tapping the OK button on the touch screen — and you'll have to do it twice.
In addition to scanning to a networked folder or device, you can scan to email or the cloud. Here, HP touts its JetAdvantage Private Print, a cloud-based program designed to share and print documents securely between HP devices.
This feature-rich color laser printer's high print, copy and scan quality in both black and white and color makes it a good deal for the $329 price tag. With Wi-Fi, an auto duplexer and fax capability all built in, alongside the ability to print on glossy paper, the HP M277dw offers a lot of bang for the buck, especially when you consider its high-yield cartridges that put text printing costs in line with those of a monochrome laser model.
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Eric Butterfield is a freelance writer and musician from California. His work has appeared in PC World magazine, CNET, Taproot, and Alter Action — plus Tom's Guide, of course — while his music has appeared in more than 260 TV show episodes for major networks such as NBC, Hulu, BBC America, and more. You can check out his work on Spotify.