Lexmark C3224dw review: Cheap, but not necessarily good value

A cheap colour laser with great output quality and plenty of features, but running costs are very high

Price
£93 exc VAT
  • Razor-sharp text
  • Handy settings and features
  • Great speeds
  • Expensive to run

Lexmark’s new “GO Line” family of printers sets out to bring enterprise-class reliability, security and features within reach of smaller businesses. And the entry-level C3224dw is certainly affordable: even though this 22ppm colour laser features an integrated duplexer and supports wired, wireless or USB 2 connections, it costs only £93 exc VAT.

As you’d expect, for that money, the design is quite basic. The C3224dw sports a two-line backlit LED control panel, but doesn’t include an NFC sensor for tap-to-print operations. And while the 250-sheet lower tray may be fine for a light office printing role, you can’t add extra trays to increase choice and capacity.

Still, the printer has a decent web interface, which you can use to set up wired or wireless connections (note that, as usual, you can’t use both at once). Alternatively, we were also able to use Lexmark’s Mobile Assistant iOS app to link our iPad to the printer and use that to configure a wireless connection to the main network.

Once the C3224dw is online, it only takes a minute to install the driver software. The installer automatically locates the printer and installs a handy status monitor tool. You get plenty of print settings to play with too, including options to print single or double-sided, create booklets or posters, and add watermarks to selected pages.

If you need multiple copies of a document, you can set it to pause after the first run, so you can proof the output before releasing the rest of the copies. And for sensitive print jobs, you can assign a PIN, so the pages won’t be released until you walk up and enter the right code – although since the printer lacks a numeric keypad, this can be a lengthy process. 

Still, performance is on the money. Our 22-page test Word document was produced in 59 seconds, with a wait of 11 seconds for the first page. The C3224dw also breezed through our challenging 24-page DTP-style Word document, this time averaging precisely 22ppm.

Quality is good, too. The driver defaults to a proprietary 4800CQ resolution, which is designed to provide a balanced mix of speed and quality. You can customise the driver to get a 600dpi option, but this doesn’t seem to make any visible difference.

Thankfully, it doesn’t matter, as the C3224dw produced razor-sharp text at default settings, even at font sizes down to 6pt. Mono photos revealed plenty of detail in darker areas, while our colour chart showed smooth transitions across complex fades. That means you can look forward to eye-catching reports and great colour photos, with barely a hint of banding.

Mobile support is another strong point. The C3224dw supports AirPrint and Wi-Fi Direct, and the Mobile Print iOS app makes it a breeze to print documents or web pages. We were also able to print photos from our iPad’s camera and link the app to our Dropbox account for direct printing from the cloud. 

The big catch with the C3224dw is running costs. The largest toner cartridges you can buy are rated for a mere 1,500 pages, and when you also factor in the cost of periodically replacing the waste toner bottle, you’re looking at an average cost of 4.1p for mono pages and a wallet-bashing 17.7p for colour. 

With printing costs this high it’s a must to keep colour printing strictly under control, as overeager staff could easily waste thousands of pounds per year. Thankfully, you can completely block public access to both mono and colour printing, and set up local user accounts on the printer that govern precisely which features each individual is permitted to access.

Even so, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Brother’s HL-L3270CDW is only around £40 more and offers lower running costs, plus a colour touchscreen and a superior spread of features. But if you’re looking for a cheap business-class laser for very occasional colour printing, the Lexmark C3224dw delivers decent performance and superb print quality for an exceptionally low initial outlay. 

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