Review: Brother HL-1470N
Requirements: Mac OS 8.5, Mac OS X, or Windows; Ethernet or USB
My HP LaserJet 4ML had been with me for years before it finally croaked, making an awful grinding sound when it attempted to suck paper through, and stubbornly refusing to be fixed. It was only via a Farallon EtherWave adapter that I was able to use the printer over the network anyway, since the printer shipped only with a serial port. I needed a new networkable laser printer. The challenge? It had to be cheap. Speed, DPI, memory…all that was secondary. I needed something that would work with Mac OS 9 and X, and there were very few options out there within my meagre price range.
Flipping through CDW’s site, I found three possible matches for my needs. There was Panasonic’s KX-P7110, but I couldn’t find any mention of OS X compatibility, and I couldn’t find any drivers at all for the printer on Panasonic’s Web site. Another option was Samsung’s ML1651N, but the fine print on the Web site warns “If you wish to print from your Macintosh to a ML-1650 (with NIC card) or ML-1651N printer on the network, you need to also purchase the optional PostScript SIMM module for the printer.” That would bring the price up too high.
The third option was Brother’s HL-1470N. I had at least a little experience with Brother; I’d bought a USB laser printer of theirs maybe a year or two before for a coworker, and while it wasn’t trouble-free, overall it was (and still is) a decent printer. Brother’s Web site offered current OS X drivers, and openly declared the printer’s Mac compatibility. References to not just OS X but to version 10.2.1 let me feel confident that Brother is serious about supporting the platform. So it turned out to be a pretty easy decision.
Interestingly enough, Brother’s Web site lists this networkable printer under the category of “Personal” printers, as opposed to “Office.” It makes sense, though, to offer a networkable printer for home use; many families have more than one computer, already networked together to take advantage of high-speed connections. Brother is offering a single printer that the whole family can use.
Inside the box was the printer, a power cable, a CD, and about the poorest excuse for printed documentation I’ve ever seen. It consists of two fold-out poster type sheets, one a “Quick Setup Guide” and the other a “Quick Network Setup Guide.” Apparently you are supposed to install the software on your computer before hooking up the printer, and you are never warned about all the little bits of tape sticking to the printer that must be removed before use. The documentation answers no questions and provides no troubleshooting section.
Brother also includes two PDF manuals with the printer, cryptically named “Usreng.pdf” and “Nwusreng.pdf.” The former is a generic manual for several Brother printers in the same family, and the second is a Network Users Guide which includes a single 6-page chapter about the Macintosh, explaining installation of the drivers under OS 9 and how to select a printer either in the Chooser or as an LPR printer for TCP/IP printing.
Neither manual is at all well indexed, forcing you to search through in the hope that you’ll chance upon something useful. Worse, the manuals are poorly organized. Chapter 7 of the Networking manual makes reference to using a Web browser to configure the printer, but doesn’t explain at all well: you’ll need Chapter 9 to learn about Web Based Management. The first page of Chapter 9 warns that you’ll need to refer to Chapter 10 “to learn how to configure the IP address of your printer.” Yet it assumed the IP address was already configured back in Chapter 7 where TCP/IP printing was discussed. Maybe I should have read the manual backwards?
Some of the configuration methods offered in Chapter 10 require you to know the printer’s Ethernet address, but nowhere are you told how to get this information. You’ll have to look in the other manual for that; it’s in the index—not under Ethernet address, MAC address, or Configuration, but under Print Configuration. Well, at least I found it. And good thing, because it’s so overly complicated, I’d never have chanced upon it without the manual. (Brother’s online FAQ says, “To learn how to print a configuration page, click here,” but there’s no link!)
No OS X drivers are included on the CD, in spite of it saying right on the box, “PC and iMac/iBook/G3/G4 drivers included.” How long has OS X been around? A lot longer than the printer, which was manufactured in June 2002. But I’d checked out Brother’s Web site before buying the printer, so I knew drivers were available there.
Once I got the driver installed (and installed the driver from the CD on my OS 9 computer) and had the printer plugged in to the network, printing over AppleTalk was a breeze. But AppleTalk? Officially, my company’s network hasn’t supported that antiquated protocol for years. And if I can give the printer an IP address, I can easily print to it from anywhere.
Here’s where the fun begins. No application is included for configuring the printer from a Macintosh (either 9 or X). I was able to use HP’s LaserJet Utility to rename the printer, but I wasn’t able to assign an IP address from there.
Brother’s documentation makes reference to connecting to the printer’s default IP address over a Web browser in order to configure it, but connection failed from browsers running under OS 9 or X. The documentation offers other methods of setting an IP address, including the Unix arp command. OS X is Unix based, so I tried it. Result: “arp: socket: Operation not permitted.” The documentation doesn’t say anything about that.
Frustrated, I called the company’s 800 number, provided on a bright yellow sheet begging me to call them rather than return the printer to the vendor if I have a problem. Well. Calling the number and pressing 1 for printers only played a recorded message saying that they have too many people needing help and to call back later, and stating their busiest times, which didn’t happen to be when I called. Gee, thanks.
I called again, and this time didn’t press 1 for printers. Eventually it put me into the “hold for our next representative” loop. Half an hour later someone picked up. After taking my phone number, name, address, and company, the representative had a little extra time so he figured he’d ask what product I was calling about, and what problem I was having. He realized I had a Mac the third time I mentioned it, and put me on hold briefly. When he came back, he said the only way to assign an IP address with a Mac is to connect the printer to the Mac with a crossover cable and use a Web browser to contact the default IP address of the printer. Needless to say there’s no crossover cable included with the printer. (There isn’t even a USB cable!)
No problem, I thought. I don’t have a crossover cable, but I’d read that current Macs have the ability to auto-detect the network connection somehow, making a crossover cable unnecessary. I plugged my Ethernet cable between my Macintosh and the HL-1470N, and tried connecting. Nothing. I restarted the computer, cycled power on the printer, and tried again. Still nothing.
Then it occurred to me, maybe I have to change my network settings for this to work? I searched on the Internet for help and what to my wandering eyes does appear but a link to ATPM’s Networking column that showed me exactly what I needed. (Thanks, Matt!) After changing my Mac’s Network settings, I was able to connect to the printer (“crossover cable” method) and change the IP address. That done, I could no longer connect to the printer directly, but once I hooked both it and my computer back into the network, restored my computer’s network settings, and restarted my Web browser, connection to the Web-based administration functions worked again.
As expected, there wasn’t much configuration to do. I changed the default administration password so no one could change my settings, and turned off unwanted protocols, such as NetWare and NetBIOS. I was also able to change the sleep time, so the printer doesn’t drop into energy saving mode after a mere five minutes of idle time.
Hey, it’s a printer review, so I guess I should say something about how HL-1470N prints. On the box it promises “Up to 15ppm print speed” and “1,200 x 600 dpi resolution.”
I printed a page from BBEdit under OS X, and it came out of the printer very quickly (under 10 seconds); I’m quite impressed. PDFs mixing text and graphics also come out at a reasonable speed. My initial print from OS 9, however, took about 40 seconds to spit out a page with the word “test” written on it. Since subsequent print jobs were substantially faster, my guess is the font had to be downloaded to the printer. I also experienced dismally poor print speed the first time I printed a few pages from the HL-1470N’s manual (it took about three minutes per page), but as with the BBEdit document, subsequent prints were substantially faster. I haven’t seen anything approaching 15ppm, but if print speed is an issue for you, you should spend more than $500 on your networkable laser printer anyway.
Print quality is fine. 600 dpi is plenty of resolution for most purposes, even in a typical office setting. Graphics in the PDF manual came out all right: readable, but not beautiful. Upping the resolution to 1,200 does make a noticeable difference; that’s a printer option you can select from the print dialog (and it’s available in both 9 and X).
The HL-1470's manual print feed is really manual: there’s no tray, so you’ll have to stand there feeding the printer single sheets. Its print tray holds 250 sheets (huge compared to the 100 sheet tray on my old 4ML), and a second 250-sheet tray is available as an additional option.
I remember being the only house on the block with a computer; now many households have several computers, all linked together on an intranet. In spite of the difficulties I had configuring the HL-1470N, I think this would be a great printer for a small home network. Print quality is fine for any but the most professional purposes, and it’s easy to get the latest drivers from Brother’s site. There are certainly better printers out there, but you want a cheap, networkable laser, Brother’s HL-1470N is a good choice.