- good photo quality for a laser;
- good manageability.
- Colours lack brightness and saturation;
- not cheap.
Hewlett-Packard's latest A4 colour laser has all the things you'd expect from HP -- speed, manageability and connectivity -- but succeeds where many lasers fail: photo printing. While not your first choice as a photo printer, the ability to get good quality images in your reports and presentations can only be a good thing.
The LaserJet 4600hdn is the highest specified model in the 4600 range, based around a 600dpi, 17ppm single-pass engine, to which is added a duplexing unit, a 10/100Mbps Ethernet print server, an extra paper tray and a hard drive. This is clearly a workgroup printer, and to that end only a parallel connection is provided for direct attachment; there's no USB. A fast infrared (FIR) transceiver can be plugged into the printer for handheld users, but other than that it's network printing only.
Since this is a single-pass colour laser printer, you'd expect it to be large, but what HP has done is to make it tall rather than wide or long. Fitted with the extra paper tray the 4600hdn stands over 70cm tall, with a footprint of 48.3 by 54.9cm. Stick this printer on a standard desk and the average person is collecting printouts at eye level.
This monster printer has two paper trays plus an all-purpose tray at the front. The two paper trays hold 500 sheets of 80gsm paper each, while you can get 100 sheets in the all-purpose tray. The LaserJet 4600hdn can handle a pretty standard range of media -- paper from 60gsm to 163gsm, transparencies, envelopes, labels -- but nothing out of the ordinary.
As with most of HP's business laser printers, you can adjust the printer's registration, so that your printouts are in the centre of the page, and the front and back line up. Each paper tray is adjusted individually, since they have different paper feed paths. You can also adjust the density of each of the process colours, so that if one toner cartridge is running low and producing less output, you can compensate for it. This will almost certainly interfere with any colour matching you've done, though.
Where the LaserJet 4600hdn is surprisingly good is in photo printing. Although the basic resolution of the print engine -- 600dpi -- is no higher than we've seen on other colour lasers, the halftoning used does seem to be finer than we're used to from a laser. This can produce jagged edges on solid blocks of colour, so you have an option in the printer driver to choose smooth, rather than sharp, halftoning. The colours aren't as bright or saturated as you'd get from a solid ink printer from Xerox/Tektronix.
The LaserJet 4600hdn's job retention feature allows you to send jobs to the printer and have them stored on the built-in 10GB hard disk for later output. This includes the ability to PIN-protect documents, so that sensitive printouts don't get seen by people who aren't meant to see them. More commonly, the hard disk can be used to store regularly-used forms or documents, such as company brochures.
As with virtually all new office laser printers, the LaserJet 4600hdn is manageable through a Web browser once you have it set up on the network. You can do basic monitoring of the printer, such as watching paper and toner levels, and more sophisticated mangement, such as configuring print handling options all the way up to the network settings. It's also possible to enable SSL access to the printer, so that you can manage it across the Internet without compromising security.
Some of the networking protocols supported include Service Location Protocol (SLP), allowing any SLP-enabled client to discover the printer without additional software. SNMP v3 -- the latest, more secure version of the management protocol -- is also supported. You'll need to set up secure Web browser access to the printer to use this, but since that's so simple to do, this doesn't represent an extra burden.
If you don't need this amount of printing capacity, there are cheaper, smaller models in the 4600 range, from the basic LaserJet 4600 with no network or duplex capabilities, through the 4600dn with both network and duplex, and the 4600dtn which is the 4600hdn without the hard drive.
As is often the case with HP's printers, there are similarly specified machines available from other vendors for less money, but probably with fewer paper input options and certainly worse photo image quality. We're not suggesting you adopt the LaserJet 4600hdn purely for photo printing, but if you need a workhorse colour printer with a decent turn of speed, good paper handling and manageability, consider the LaserJet 4600hdn carefully.