Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/03/31/review_laser_printer_canon_i_sensys_lbp3100/

Canon i-Sensys LBP3100

Cheap and better than cheerful

By Simon Williams

Posted in Hardware, 31st March 2009 10:16 GMT

Review Laser printers have been nudged out of the personal, one-per-desk market by the continued growth of inkjets. For straight black print, though, there’s nothing to touch laser copy, and Canon has fortified its entry-level mono laser range with the i-Sensys LBP3100, a small machine with a couple of interesting design tweaks.

Canon i-Sensys LBP3100

Canon's LBP3100: stylish and compact

For starters, the LBP3100, one of the smallest printers in the i-Sensys range, has a footprint when closed similar to that of a 15in laptop.

Decked out in ice-white, with a glossy white lid and pull-down cover at the front, the printer looks unprepossessing, but because of that it fits in easily with most home and office decoration.

To print, the machine has to be opened up, and the lid folds forward to become the output tray. The front folds down to become a 150-sheet feed tray, but the clever part is that there’s a hinged cover behind the front panel, which folds out to cover and keep dust off the paper. Many personal printers have separate covers for their feed trays, of course, but most are separate fittings which have to be stored independently when the printer is closed.

Controls and indicators are sparse, with a single green LED for power and data, set to the left of the top cover, along with a Resume button. The main power button is in the front panel. At the back of the machine is a single USB socket, the only connection provided.

Canon i-Sensys LBP3100

Th integrated drum and toner cartridge is easy to load

Setup and installation are straightforward, as the combined drum and toner cartridge slots in easily through a hatch in the printer's top surface and requires minimal priming before it's ready to print. Software support consists of a driver which provides multiple pages per sheet, but no support for watermarks or overlays.

We're so used to manufacturer's speed claims being wildly outlandish that it came as something of a shock when we tested the LBP3100. Canon claims a top print speed of 16ppm, and a five-page text print completed in 26 seconds. This is mainly due to a very fast first page out and is equivalent to 11.5ppm, in real terms – that is, including processing time and printing in normal print mode.

Canon i-Sensys LBP3100

There's a multipurpose feed above the paper tray – unusual in this class of printer

When we tried a 20-page text print, where processing time represents a smaller percentage of the total print time, the speed went up to 15.2ppm, very close to Canon's headline figure. A 15 x 10cm photo print took just 15 seconds to complete.

These speeds are very impressive for an entry-level laser printer and we've seen slower machines under test, whose manufacturers claim higher speeds for them than Canon does - and ask higher prices as a consequence. One of the reasons for the LBP3100’s speed is that it takes very little warm-up time and its "instant-on" fuser is pretty much that. By the time the first page has been rasterised, the engine is ready to print.

Perhaps it's because Canon has been less enthusiastic in talking up the speeds of its printers, that it's the first company we've seen to adopt the new ISO 24734/35 speed test standard in its literature, which should bring all speed claims down to Earth with a bang.

There's not much point in producing pages quickly, of course, if their quality is questionable. In general, that's not the case here. Black text is dense and clean cut, with no signs of toner spatter or other artefacts which would spoil the effect.

Things aren't quite so good with greyscales. Although they’re reproduced well, with no signs of banding, there isn't enough differentiation between different tones. Our test page includes business graphics using colours which have a good greyscale differential, but these were sometimes hard to distinguish on the prints from the LBP3100.

Canon i-Sensys LBP3100

The paper-tray cover folds out when the front cover’s opened

Our sample photo print, reproduced at the machine's highest resolution, 600dpi enhanced up to an effective 2400 x 600dpi in software, still showed a noticeable dot pattern in areas of sky, with some shadow detail also lost. Foreground detail in bright light is good and the overall results are reasonable for a mono laser at this price.

One place where Canon’s specs don't tie up with reality is in the noise level of the machine. Canon quotes 50dBA, which is about right for most of the print cycle, but there's a loud clunk as each page is taken up by the feed roller, which peaks at 63dBA. This is quite loud for a machine you're going to have sitting next to on the desk and it's a shame the feed mechanics let the rest of the engine down.

Canon i-Sensys LBP3100

Compact and clean-lined when stowed

The combined drum and toner cartridge is the only consumable in the LBP3100 and is rated at 1500 ISO pages. However, the one in the box is a 700-page ‘starter’ cartridge. How much to you imagine the trade price of an 800-page pile of laser toner is? Our guess would be a fiver at most, so there little excuse for not including a full cartridge.

Especially since the starter cartridge isn't smaller - it's just a half-filled – or in this case less than half-filled - regular cartridge. There’s only one reason for including it: so you have to start buying consumables sooner. If you print 100 pages a month on the LBP3100 - not an unreasonable rate for a home or personal laser - you'll pay out in total around £110 in the first year, rather than the £75 you'd have to cough up if a standard consumable was included.

Canon isn’t alone in providing starter cartridges, of course, and they’re more common in lower-priced printers, as you might expect. In fact, using the best price we could find for the drum and toner cartridge gives a cost per ISO black page of 2.4p, which bears up well against other entry-level lasers.

Canon i-Sensys LBP3100

It should come with a full-capacity cartridge not a 'starter' pack

You can see from this figure, though, that black print from entry-level lasers isn't necessarily cheaper than from an equivalent inkjet. Depending on model and the price you can find for consumables, black text inkjet print can be close to the 2.5p per page mark. Comparative black text quality from the two technologies is a different thing, of course.

Verdict

If your needs are simple and your pocket shallow, you won't do much better than the Canon i-Sensys LBP3100 for day-to-day correspondence printing. It prints quickly, produces excellent text, is cheap to run and folds away to a compact unit when not in use. Pretty much all the boxes ticked, then. ®

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