If you think of design award winners, one immediately pictures elegant Maseratis and minimalist iPods. However, at first glance, the purplish-grey box that is the Samsung CLP-300 seems to do nothing to justify the Red Dot Design Award 2006 sticker it proudly wears.
With the CLP-300 Samsung are aiming to make colour laser printing a viable option for home users and small offices, although they're not the first to give it a shot. HP already has its colour LaserJet 1600 on the market for AU$499. Like they did with mobile phones, Samsung are hoping to muscle into the market with a mix of competitive pricing -- the CLP-300 also retails for AU$499 -- and innovation.
The CLP-300's first hook is that Samsung have squished a colour laser printer into the space normally occupied by a run-of-the-mill mono laser printer. It is, they claim, "the world's smallest colour laser printer". To further help it appeal to mums and dads, as well as small business operators, Samsung have replaced the usual bulky, cumbersome and dusty toner cartridges with a set of colour-coded cylinders. Replacing toner is simply a matter of flipping down the front panel, pulling out the old cylinder and slotting in the new.
Running costs should be competitive, as the larger black cartridge (AU$99) should be sufficient for about 2,000 pages and the smaller colour cartridges (AU$89) about 1,000 pages each.
In order to bring in the printer at this price point, and fit it into a smaller footprint, a number of compromises and design quirks have snuck in. For example, the adjustable paper input tray can fit up to 150 sheets of A4 but the output tray can only hold 100 sheets; so, vigilance is required when printing lengthy documents. There's no LCD status display -- its control panel consists of a simple status light (green for okay, red otherwise) and an orange button to cancel any current jobs. Most disappointing though is that printing colour requires four passes, cutting output speed from 16 pages-per-minute (ppm) in monochrome to just four ppm in colour.
The CLP-300 is built purely for printing from your computer; there's no memory card reader, PictBridge support, scanner or fax to add cost or bulkiness. It connects to either your PC or Mac via USB 2.0; however, as is the custom, the cable has to be purchased separately. Office users who don't want to have an always-on computer acting as a printer server should consider the AU$100 more expensive CLP-300N which has a built-in 10/100 Ethernet card.
Powered by a none-too-muscular 300MHz processor and with only 32MB of on-board memory, the CLP-300's output speed is dependent on your computer. Additionally, its lack of a LCD status window means that all warning and error messages are delivered to your desktop via the installed drivers.
Performance and Image Quality
During our testing the CLP-300 regularly spat out monochrome text documents at 14 ppm, just a bit shy of Samsung's claimed 16 ppm. Some found its text reproduction acceptable; others found the output to be tiring on the eyes as it was soft and indistinct.
Like most colour laser printers, the CLP-300 doesn't excel at reproducing photographs. As expected, dithering is quite obvious, while highlights had much of their detail bleached out. In fairness the CLP-300 isn't meant to produce studio quality prints, but provide a splash of colour to documents, reports, presentations or school projects. Its raison d'ÃƒÂªtre is hurt, though, by its four-pass design. As noted earlier, the merest hint of colour drops output to four ppm.