Oki C321dn £150
14th Nov 2013 | 16:21
A terrific laser printer for a home or small office
Laser printers, once the preserve of business users, have come down in price to the point where most people can afford one for the home or home office. The advantages of a laser printer over an inkjet are its (usually) low running costs, excellent text output and its fast print speeds, all of which are very important for small office or home users.
On the other hand, inkjets are cheaper to buy and do a much better job of printing photographs. Which you opt for very much depends on your needs.
The laser printer on test here is a low-cost, colour network printer. It's not a multifunction device, so don't expect it to double as a scanner and a photocopier, but its relatively low cost (at the time of writing, you can get one online for under £210) and reasonably compact build make it a fine choice for home or small business use.
Naturally, there are plenty of alternatives. If you're looking for an enterprise-class printer and are prepared to spend considerably more on it, the Xerox Phaser 6180 puts in a great performance, though it will set you back three or four times as much as the Oki 321dn. If you'd rather opt for a multifunction inkjet, which are still the most popular printers for the home, a Canon PIXMA model such as the iP4850 might be more your thing. Brother's HL-4150CDN is another low-cost laser printer, but its image printing doesn't match the quality of its text output, and the paper tray is a little small. HP's LaserJet Pro M175NW is cheap to buy, but its awkward set-up and middling performance means it might prove a false economy.
Inkjet printers have dominated in the home printer scene for years, and to be honest, look likely to do so for years to come. But with low-cost laser printers becoming increasingly common, could they grab a slice of this very lucrative market? The Oki 321dn is unlikely to be at the forefront of this thrust into the home as it lacks too many features inkjet users have come to take for granted, but it's a very credible home office and micro business device.
Oki's 321dn is an A4 printer. It offers USB or Ethernet connectivity, but it's not Wi-Fi compatible. Being designed for small and home office use, it has a generous paper capacity. The main paper tray holds up to 250 sheets of 80gsm paper, with a maximum paper weight of 176gsm. There's a second input, a sheet feeder for letterheads, envelopes or whatever else you might need that can take up to 100 pages at 80gsm with a maximum weight of 220gsm. Its output tray can hold up to 150 sheets of 80gsm paper.
Oki's 321dn is compatible with Windows XP or later, and all versions of Mac OS from 10.3.9 onwards, so if you need a printer that works with older computers that haven't been updated for a while, it's ideal. As stated earlier, it's a colour printer. Under the hood you'll find four toner cartridges; cyan, yellow, magenta and black. The colour cartridges can print up to 1,500 pages, with the black managing a meaty 2,200 sheets.
As you'd expect from a laser printer, the Oki 321dn is impressively speedy. We're promised 20 pages per minute in colour, or 22 pages per minute in black and white. We're also promised a 'time to first print' (TTFP) speed of nine seconds for a colour page and 8.5 seconds for a mono print-out, but if the printer is off or in sleep mode when you start, expect to wait longer; its warm-up times are up to 60 seconds from switching on, and up to 32 seconds from power save. Its deep sleep mode reduces the printer's power consumption to less than 1.1W, and if you regularly print small quantities of pages, you can activate its Eco Mode, which automatically adjusts the print speed and fuser temperature to save energy on one- and two-page jobs.
Control is through a two-line, 5cm LCD. Don't expect anything as exotic as a colour touchscreen. For double-sided printing, automatic Duplex is supported. It can Duplex print on paper of up to 176gsm, so you can print on both sides of thin card if you feel the need.
At 24.2x41x50.4cm, it's nowhere near as bulky as some laser printers, but it weighs a hefty 22kg, so if you're planning to put it on a shelf, make sure it's a strong one.
As you'd expect from an office-orientated laser printer, the Oki 321dn is suitably speedy. It printed our 20-page test document, which is monochrome and text only, in one minute and two seconds. Not a bad pace at all. Text print quality is also very good. We printed another test document that used two fonts and character sizes ranging from four to 18 points. The largest characters proved vivid and consistent, with no greying or bleeding in evidence at all. This is, of course, not surprising for a quality laser printer, but it's laudable all the same. At the lowest point sizes, text remains crisp, clear and readable, with no smudging or blurring.
Printing a two-page flyer using Duplex was simplicity itself, and the quality of the print-out was very good. Text was clear and solid, and images were well realised. Perhaps the colours were a little over-saturated, but overall detail was good on both sides of the paper – you didn't get the bleed-through suffered by some printers. If you regularly print documents that would benefit from using both sides of the page, the Oki C321dn is definitely worth considering.
As you might expect from a laser printer, its photo output failed to match its stellar text quality. Printing our PhotoDisc test image on standard, 75gsm photocopier paper at default image quality, the results left much to be desired. The print-out was over-dark, too red and the greyscale ramp looked banded. Ramping up the quality to its highest setting and printing on glossy photo paper improved matters, but it was still dull, lifeless and a little grainy. Skin tones were poor too. If you want to print a lot of high-quality photographs, you're still better off with an inkjet, especially a five- or six-tank Canon or HP Photosmart model.
Build quality is excellent. It's robust and well made throughout, so even in an office environment with multiple users, nothing's likely to break away or wear out. Our only question mark about the design and build is the second paper 'tray', which is a sheet feeder that opens at the front of the device. It's not as strong as the rest of the printer, and paper left in place is liable to get dusty if not used quickly. It's OK for light or occasional use, but not great if you need to regularly use two input trays. We appreciated the printer setting that let you use the sheet feeder for a document's first page and the main tray for subsequent sheets, though. If you need a letter-headed opening page but plain paper thereafter, this could come in very useful.
If you're planning to buy a laser printer for the home, be aware that this one isn't as feature-rich as we've come to expect from home inkjets. There's no Wi-Fi option, it's not AirPrint compatible and there's no companion app for smartphones.
The Oki C321dn is clearly built with small businesses and home offices in mind, or maybe for a manager's private office in a larger business. Its relatively small footprint means it will fit in most spaces, but it's not light – don't expect to mount it on a flimsy shelf. You can connect it to your computer using USB or to a network over Ethernet, though there's no Wi-Fi option. It's cheap to buy, costing not much more than £200, and running costs are reasonable.
Text quality is stellar, with crystal-clear characters even at low point sizes. It's very fast too, pumping out a 20-page test document in a little over a minute. We've few complaints about the build quality. It's certainly tough enough to take the knocks in a busy office, and it looks reasonably good too. Its 250-sheet paper tray is big enough for the small office, and it has some welcome features such as Duplex printing and the ability to print on the first page of a multi-page document from the secondary tray, and the rest of the document from the main one.
Although great in the home office or for small businesses, it's not so good for in the home. It lacks significant features we've come to expect from home printers, such as Wi-Fi connectivity, mobile printing options and smartphone support apps.
Its photo output leaves a lot to be desired too, with over-dark, grainy prints that are nowhere near as good as even a cheap inkjet. To be fair, it's not designed for the all-round home-use market, though it's worth pointing out that if you're looking for a laser-based replacement for your trusty home inkjet, this might not be the ideal printer for you.
Is the Oki C321dn worth buying? Yes, if you intend to use it in the role for which it was designed, a small office or home office environment, or maybe as a manager's private printer in a bigger business. If you want a fast, cheap laser printer that offers excellent text reproduction and a meaty paper tray, you could do a lot worse than this.
If you need to keep letterheads, envelopes or other such non-standard papers in place on a semi-permanent basis, you might be better off with a model that has a second paper tray instead of a sheet feeder. Like most affordable laser printers, the Oki C321dn is not good at printing photographs. If this is important to you, you're better off with an inkjet.