Many people don't need fax and scanning features -- they just want a cheap printer that will reliably pump out page after page at a reasonable running cost. Brother's entry-level HL-2130 monochrome laser printer seems to fit this bill, and it won't put too much of a dent in your bank balance, as it can be picked up for around £80 online.
The HL-2130's petite dimensions are a real boon. It's much smaller than most laser printers, measuring just 368 by 183 by 360mm. The design is plain, but reasonably stylish, and the off-white finish doesn't look as boring as the grey colour of many competing models.
Some cost-cutting is in evidence on the control panel -- or rather the lack of one. Instead of the usual two-line display and four-way control pad, this printer simply has three LEDs covering general, toner and drum errors, as well as a green 'ready' light. Beneath this, there's a big, green button marked 'go' that seems to do little other than instruct the printer to produce a test sheet.
Despite its small size, the HL-2130 still manages to house a proper paper tray at the bottom that can hold up to 250 sheets of paper at a time -- more than enough for most home-office requirements. Above the main paper tray, there's a slot into which you can feed single sheets. This will primarily be used for envelopes and other irregularly shaped materials. The printed results are fed into an output tray that's formed of a cut-away in the top of the printer.
Unlike many of today's printers, this one doesn't offer any networking support, so there's no built-in Wi-Fi and you won't find an Ethernet socket on the rear either. Instead, on the back of the machine, there's a standard USB port.
Setting this model up to work with your PC really couldn't be more straightforward. Once you've taken it out of the box and removed the protective tabs, you just take the toner cartridge out of the slot, rotate it to make sure the toner is evenly distributed in the cartridge, and then replace it. Then it's just a matter of loading up the drivers from the included installation CD and connecting the printer up to your computer using a USB lead.
The print quality of black text is very good. The printer produces dark, black characters that look very clean and crisp. Even when you enable the toner-saving mode, text still looks very strong and bold, so you can use this setting for pretty much everything bar the most important documents.
The HL-2130's graphics performance isn't quite as hot, though. While dark lines and arrows are well defined and quite sharp, the output is less impressive when it comes to grey fills. Often these look quite stippled and, in larger areas, there's noticeable banding.
The HL-2130 uses a two-part cartridge consisting of the drum and toner well. The toner part lasts for up to 1,000 pages, whereas the drum is good for 12,000 sheets. At current prices, the running cost works out at around 4.3p per page, including 0.7p for paper costs. That's quite expensive by laser printer standards. By way of comparison, the Samsung ML-1865W will set you back around 3.9p per page.
Still, the printer is reasonably fast for such a low-cost model. It took 39 seconds to print out our ten-page black and white text document, and 41 seconds to produce ten copies of our black and white graphics sheet. Our ten-page business presentation took a little longer, at 45 seconds, but even that is a perfectly acceptable speed.
The Brother HL-2130 may not offer the last word in print quality, and it's not the cheapest laser printer in the long term. But its petite design, fast print speed and low price tag all work heavily in its favour. For those with less demanding printing needs, it's definitely worth checking out.
Edited by Charles Kloet