We see plenty of colour printers retailing for under £100, and a good many costing some £400 or £500. However, we haven't seen many recent models hitting the £250-£300 bracket. That, conveniently, is where this rather fine colour laser machine the CS410dn from Lexmark snuggly nestles.
Lexmark used to be big in inkjets. Having pulled out of that market, they're now concentrating much of their fire on lasers instead, and the CS410dn is a very proficient example of its kind.
In typical laser style, it's not exactly small or light - although its 20 kg weight is a far cry from the heavy-duty corporate models wedged into the corners of medium and large businesses. This model, in contrast, could happily fit onto a sturdy desk. The 2.4in LCD screen is in full colour, and tries not to overpower you with vast menus full of countless functions. If anything, the interface is a little terse and unwelcoming. But it's easy to navigate to the basics. And USB drive support makes it easy to run through a storage device and print off a picture without needing to touch a computer.
You can also hook up the CS410dn to mobile devices. The network port is a 10/100, while Wi-Fi is available only as an option.
The Lexmark can hold up to 250 sheets of paper as standard - a single-sheet manual feed is also available. 250 sheets isn't an amazing amount, and wouldn't allow the CS410dn to compete with many £350+ models. But it's an adequate starting point for a printer that would be best suited to small to medium-sized businesses.
It can be signficantly upgraded, with two additional 550-sheet paper trays, plus a 100-sheet feeder all available. Having said that, if it's superior paper handling you want, you should probably be paying an extra £125 or so for the CS410dtn, as this comes with a standard capacity of 900 pages.
An ample 256 MB of memory is included as standard, and this can be boosted to 2304 MB, should your needs be particularly demanding.
Armed with its 800 MHz dual-core processor, the Lexmark is a powerful beast. Its speed is good, even if it makes no attempt to keep up with the models in the price bracket above.
At its fastest, we recorded speeds of 23.1 pages per minute when generating black text. The lettering was a little faint here, though, and when we insisted on more toner being used, the speed fell to 21.1 ppm. That is including the eight second start-up time, though, and this printer can produce around 26.9 ppm once up and running. Over longer document, it'll get fairly close to Lexmark's estimated 30 ppm.
Once more toner is being used, the printer produces very capable text, with nicely-defined characters. The text isn't amazingly thick, but it looks very nice. There is an auto-duplex mode as well, and speed here drops to 12.8 ppm - a sizeable fall, but one that the extremely cost-conscious may feel they can make do with. Auto duplexing is turned on as standard, so you may find yourself using it even without realising.
The Lexmark promises excellent colour matching, with Pantone calibration allowing for accurate shades. We liked its palette, and found its fuzzy greens and deep blues made an enchanting job of our graphics. Those who like their colours intense and lowering may feel the need to adjust those settings a little. Nonetheless, its light but crisp shades are very fine for a colour laser.
Speed is decent, too, turning out pages at the rate of 13.6 ppm. That's nowhere near to the figures tossed out by good £400 models. But the Lexmark is a clear class above the sluggish inkjets and cheap sub-£150 colour lasers.
Price is a bit of a thorny issue with this printer. Lexmark quotes £289 inc VAT for it, and we've gone with Printerbase.co.uk's pricing of £268. However, at the time of going to press, there were other reputable sellers offering it for under £150 - a huge discount. It's early days for the CS410dn, and we're inclined to ignore the low prices. However, watch this space, as it's possible this is a model that could become highly affordable very quickly.
That's unlikely to help its running costs, though, which are reasonably high. Almost 1.8p a page for mono text is relatively pricey for a laser, but 9.5p a page for colour is very painful - if not atypical for colour lasers.