Imagine a colour laser printer that delivers above-par output, copies in colour as well as scans and faxes via USB, Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Imagine this printer also looks great, is small and light enough to sit on your desk, and costs under £250. Imagine no more – Samsung’s CLX-3175FW (from £241) delivers on almost every front and is good enough to send shivers through the spines of every small-office inkjet printer.

The CLX-3175FW’s compact yet sophisticated design (415×373×342mm, 15.4kg) is suited to the most modern working environments. Having said that, it’s wholly black appearance could look a little out of place in a brightly coloured room and the glossy control panel (courtesy of stick-on panels) is a fingerprint magnet. Luckily my entire office is made up of white and black peripherals (even my desk is white), which gave the CLX-3175FW a striking presence. The unit has a very small footprint considering it consists of a 4-colour laser printer, scanner, copier and fax machine, but it is taller than most inkjet-based all-in-one printers. This shouldn’t be an issue, but should be considered if you intend to slot the unit under a fixed-height bookshelf.

The CLX-3175FW includes most of the features a relatively busy office requires. You can print up to A4-size pages with a resolution of up to 2400×600dpi on machines running Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista as well as Linux and Macintosh systems. Print speed is not the CLX-3175FW’s strongest selling point – it outputs up to 16ppm for A4-sized paper in monochrome and just 4ppm in colour – but a monthly recommended maximum duty cycle of up to 20,000 pages should be more than enough. More disappointing is that the input tray only accommodates 150 A4 plain paper sheets (75gsm, 20lb bond), and the ridiculous output tray (how flimsy!!!) holds just 80 face-down pages, both of which are the minimum you’ll find in a modern printer.

The clip-on ADF is good for scanning just 15 sheets of paper for one job, which isn’t great either. The CLX-3175FW doesn’t support additional input or output trays, which isn’t practical for high-throughput printing. On the bright side, the input tray supports plain paper in various sizes: letterhead, envelopes, labels, custom-sized media, postcards, and heavy paper. The machine can hold special sizes and types of print material, but you need to load only one size of print media at a time in the tray.

Samsung’s driver software includes some useful features. Most notable is the ability to print watermarks, allowing you to customise documents with words, such as ‘Private’. You can also print posters, where the text and pictures of each page of your document are magnified and printed across the sheet of paper and can then be taped together to form a poster, as well as use pre-printed forms and letterheads with plain paper. To save paper, you can print multiple pages on one single sheet of paper, and you can print on both sides of the paper (double-sided printing).

When it comes to copying you can print multiple image copies from the original document on a single page at up to 600×600dpi, and there are special functions to erase catalogue and newspaper background. Furthermore, the print quality and image size may be adjusted and enhanced at the same time. You can also scan in colour up to 4800×4800dpi (enhanced) and save in JPEG, TIFF and PDF formats, as well as send files to multiple destinations (including e-mail and PC). When faxing, you can specify a certain time to transmit the fax and also send the fax to several stored destinations. After the transmission, the machine may print out the fax reports according to the setting. Lastly, the CLX-3175FW automatically conserves electricity by substantially reducing power consumption when not in use.

The CLX-3175FW has other usability highlights. There’s a dedicated button on the control panel that lets you can copy both sides of an ID Card (such as driver’s license) to a single side of paper, and the Direct USB button allows you to directly print files stored on a USB memory device when it is inserted into the PictBridge-compatible USB memory port on the front of the printer. The 2-line display isn’t the easiest to use, but it effectively shows the current status of the unit and prompts during an operation, and the toner colour LEDs shown below the LCD co-works with the display messages to inform you when individual toner cartridges are running low. For instance, if a toner cartridge is low or needs to be replaced, the Status LED turns red and the display shows a message. This a neat touch as it means you do not have to rely on software feedback to monitor toner levels.

To avoid print quality and paper feed problems resulting from worn parts, and to maintain the CLX-3175FW in top working condition, a number of parts needs to be replaced after the specified number of pages, or when the life span of each item has expired. Sadly, this is a common feature of laser printers which makes them a little more time consuming to maintain in the long run. The imaging unit (fuser unit, transfer roller and transfer unit) is good for around 100,000 black pages or 25,000 colour pages (£100 replacement), while the waste toner container has a shorter life expectancy of 10,000 images (£10 replacement). The supplied black toner cartridge (£30 replacement), incidentally, should last for around 1500 standard pages, while the yellow, magenta and cyan cartridges (£25 each) are good for around 1000 standard pages. When the life span of the imaging unit has expired, the Smart Panel program window appears on your computer, indicating the imaging unit needs to be replaced. Otherwise your machine stops printing.

Scanning, copying and faxing independently from your computer is a snap thanks to the three shortcut buttons, number keypad, 5-way menu button and various other controls. There’s an Address Book button that allows you to search for stored e-mail addresses, and a Redial/Pause button which in ready mode, redials the last number, or in Edit mode, inserts a pause into a fax number. The On Hook Dial button engages the telephone line, and the all-important Stop/Clear button stops an operation at any time. Also important are the Black and Colour Start buttons, which unsurprisingly let you start a job in black and white or colour modes – an imperative feature for conserving toner.

If you intend to use the CLX-3175FW on a network you need to set up the network protocols on the machine to use it in the network environment. You can print a Network Configuration Report from the machine’s control panel that will show the current machine’s network settings. This will help you to set up a network and troubleshooting problems. Firstly, when using a wired network, you have to set up an IP address for network printing and managements. In most cases a new IP address will be automatically assigned by a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol Server) located on the network. In a few situations the IP address must be set manually. This is called a static IP and is often required in corporate Intranets for security reasons. IP settings can be input using the printer’s control panel.

The rising use of wireless printing is largely due to the significant flexibility it offers, enabling users on the same network to conveniently print from anywhere. Whether printing from a desktop at home, the office or from different mobile devices, including laptops or handheld PDAs, wireless connectivity is making it easier for workers to be productive and effective at their jobs. In addition, wireless printing saves valuable time and space by eliminating the clutter caused by cables and wires. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a cool technology to show off to your mates.

Setting up the CLX-3175FW over a wireless network is not as Ethernet because you need to select between Infrastructure and Ad-Hoc modes and choose an SSID (Service Set Identifier) and WLAN security encryption type (WEP or WPA). Infrastructure is the most common wireless network configuration in a home or office consisting of a wireless router, or an access point, that connects all the computers and other networked devices into a common local area network, while an Ad-hoc mode network provides peer to peer communication. In an Ad-hoc mode network, wireless devices and computers communicate directly with each other, without using an access point. The CLX-3175FW receives print jobs from wireless computers directly. In my tests I encountered no problems connecting to either a wired or wireless network, but as the printer remained close to my PC I opted for no-fuss USB for the long-term.

The CLX-3175FW is a full-featured wireless colour laser 4-in-1 solution that allows for printing, copying, scanning and faxing, all in an elegantly-designed, matte-black cabinet. The model is also equipped with high-speed USB 2.0 and Ethernet for instant plug-and-play capability, and its text printouts are crisp, sharp and smudge-free. Photo printing isn’t as good as dedicated colour lasers and scan quality isn’t anywhere near as good as a dedicated flatbed photo scanner, but for general office performance you can’t complain. Those in a hurry should note that it takes around 14 seconds for the first monochrome print to emerge and almost double the time for the first colour print.

The 360MHz processor and 128MB of memory make light work of complicated print jobs, and the ability to scan to and print from a USB flash drive is a neat usability feature – as it the control panel which monitors toner levels. Lack of memory card reader is notable and its inability to automatically duplex print is surprising and confusing. If you are looking for a sleek and compact colour printer that does pretty much everything without breaking the bank, the CLX-3175FW is a good choice. But remember those consumable costs!

Reviewed by Christian Harris