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HP Color Laser MFP-179f review: An affordable laser printer, but flawed

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
217
inc VAT

Laser quality at affordable prices but serious drawbacks spoil the day

Pros 
Compact design
Competitive price
Good print, scan and copy quality
Cons 
Slow speeds
Poor paper handling
No auto-duplex
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Not so long ago, the printer choice for small businesses and the home office was pretty much cut and dried. While you might have found the budget for a small, slow, personal laser printer, the larger, business-grade models were out of your class.

Given the rise of good, fast, affordable business inkjets, this wasn’t exactly a disaster but anyone wanting to print reasonable quantities of professional-looking, full-colour documents might have felt priced out of the market.

Today, the distinctions have blurred. You can buy high-quality business inkjets where printing in colour isn’t astronomically expensive and you can buy fully featured, business-ready lasers without spending more than £250. With the HP Color Laser MFP 179fnw, you also get something that can handle all your copying needs, too, without taking over half the office.

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HP Color Laser MFP 179fnw: Design and setup

I wouldn’t go as far as to describe the MGP179fnw as compact. It’s still a hulking block of plastic that stands over 34cm high. However, it is compact by colour laser standards, with HP shrinking the footprint to just 406 x 363mm, so it doesn’t take up much desk space. Finished in a two-tone off-white and dark grey palette, it’s a smart-looking piece of office equipment; businesslike, sure, but hardly ugly.

HP has done some clever engineering to minimise the bulk, with the 150-sheet input tray slotting in at the base of the device, while prints emerge into an almost concealed output tray beneath the scanner unit at the top. The scanner unit has its own 40-sheet ADF at the top, or you can place documents directly on the A4 glass flatbed. The hinges extend to allow you to scan and copy thicker magazines, catalogues and books.

It’s all controlled from an old-fashioned push-button control panel, with a simple two-line LCD display, cursor controls, one-touch mono and colour copy buttons and a numeric pad for entering fax numbers (if you still need to use them) or WPA keys, if you set the wireless connection up from the device. This is one of the few areas where you might miss the big colour touch screens of HP’s consumer and office inkjet printers. I prefer the simple, menu-driven approach, though, and it’s always possible to configure and manage the printer through a browser-based control panel on your laptop or through HP’s Smart Print app.

For connectivity you have a choice of either direct USB connection, Ethernet or Wi-Fi across the network. If you need to print from your smartphone or tablet, then HP’s Smart Print app makes it easy, and you can also print directly from social media networks or cloud services, including Dropbox, Instagram, Facebook, Google Drive and Google Photos. PC-free scanning is also supported, although HP’s business-focused MFP Scan Windows app gives you more control and features, including integrated conversion of scanned pages into an ePub format eBook, a useful inclusion given the high-capacity automatic document feeder.

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HP Color Laser MFP 179fnw: Performance

There are some areas where we still expect a laser printer to have the edge over office inkjets, and speed is definitely one of them. Sadly, the MGP189fw underwhelms here. The maximum speed we reached with black-and-white documents was only 14.45ppm (pages per minute), with the first page taking nearly 15 seconds to emerge. Colour prints – particularly with complex graphics – arrived at a rate of 3 to 5ppm, complete with long pauses while the printer had a little think. 

It’s reasonably speedy for printing photos, at around 30 seconds for a full A4-sized print, but if you’re looking for high-speed printing for your club or small business, then you won’t find it too hard to find something faster. For instance, the Epson Epson WorkForce Pro WF-3720DWF reaches speeds of 19.2ppm (mono) and 5.6ppm (colour), while the £300 Xerox VersaLink C400DN will put out black-and-white or colour pages at speeds of roughly 25ppm.

On the plus side, print quality is excellent. At normal quality settings or with the Document or Business Graphics presets enabled, black text looks fantastically crisp and dark; place it side-by-side with “laser-quality” output from a business inkjet and you can quickly see which one is the real deal. Colour logos, charts and tables are beautifully-rendered, with superb handling of fancy gradient fills and fades from one colour to another.

Even photos look good at smaller sizes, although you don’t quite get the detail or tonal range you get from the best inkjet printers, with some colours looking dim and others slightly too saturated. For the purposes this printer will be used for – professional documents, reports, flyers, brochures and the rest – it puts in a first-class effort.

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There is only one issue that might put you off. Whether it’s the compact design or the heat of the mechanisms, paper handling isn’t what it should be. We experienced several paper jams during testing, along with one phantom paper jam where the printer kept throwing out error messages even though we’d cleared all accessible areas.

The output tray doesn’t do a great job of holding the output in place – even with the flap extended, new sheets had a tendency to push previous sheets out. Meanwhile, some pages emerged a little curled and crispy. Speaking personally, I can live with a printer that takes an extra minute to deliver a 24-page document, but I’m not so happy to live with one where that print job might fail halfway through.

It’s also worth noting that the MFP 179fnw doesn’t support automatic duplex printing, though it tried to make up for it with a guided manual process. It’s a strange omission even for an entry-level business laser, especially when even mainstream inkjet printers will print double-sided these days.

We didn’t experience any problems with the scanner and the ADF and the scanner is actually pretty speedy, taking 14.6 seconds to dish out a 300dpi A4 scan and completing a 600dpi photo scan in less than 17 seconds. For copying speeds, you’re looking at 13.5 seconds for black-and-white and 33.2 seconds for colour, both of which are reasonably competitive. Both scans and copies look clear with vibrant colours, although the same limitations that apply to photo printing also appear, to some extent, here.

HP Color Laser MFP 179fnw: Running costs

This might be a cheap laser to buy but it isn’t a particularly cheap laser to run. With black cartridges costing around £30 inc VAT and each of the three colour cartridges at around £36 each, you’re looking at a cost-per-page of 2.9p in black-and-white and 15.5p in colour.

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HP Color Laser MFP 179fnw: Verdict

The Color Laser MFP 179fnw looks like the perfect entry-level laser for small businesses or the home office. It’s small by laser standards, surprisingly affordable and well kitted out for all the printing, scanning and copying tasks its potential audience would want it to handle.

Yet everywhere you look there are negatives that let it down, whether it’s the lack of duplex printing, the higher-than-average running costs or the dubious paper handling. The print quality is good enough to forgive the slow-ish print speeds but performance is far from the only area of concern.

All budget laser MFPs have their compromises and limitations, but the Color Laser MFP 179fnw has too many in the places that matter most.