IT Pro Verdict
While significant running costs make it unsuitable to high-volume colour workloads, a sterling feature-set and great connectivity mean the Brother HL-L3270CDW is an excellent bet for SMBs with moderate needs
Slow duplex print speeds
From the price tag you would be forgiven for assuming that Brother's HL-L3270CDW was a simple consumer-grade printer. Yet this colour LED desktop unit offers a 24ppm print speed in both mono and colour, a built-in duplexer and both wired and wireless networking - not to mention top-notch mobile device and cloud support as well.
It looks the part too, with a flip-up 6.8cm colour touchscreen and an integrated NFC sensor for tap-to-print mobile operations. Capacity is spread across a single sheet multipurpose tray and a 250-sheet lower tray, which is long enough to take 14in legal paper as well as regular A4.
As usual, you can't use both wired and wireless networking at the same time, but whichever you choose the HL-L3270CDW is simple to configure. The printer connected to our wired network without a hitch, and immediately found and downloaded the latest firmware with a couple of button presses.
Driver installation is nicely handled, too. The Windows installer software loads Brother's iPrint&Scan desktop app for quick local printing, while the iOS mobile version expands printing facilities to cloud accounts, web pages and stored photos, and even allowed us to print directly from our iPad's camera.
Cloud support is a real strength: getting set up with Dropbox was a simple case of visiting Brother's Web Connect portal, registering our Dropbox account, entering the unique 11-digit code at the touchscreen and setting up a PIN. With this done, we were able to browse and print cloud documents directly from the printer's touchscreen, and Google Drive, OneDrive, OneNote, Evernote and Box are supported, too.
Another feature we've always liked is Brother's Secure Cloud Print portal, which lets you send PDFs, images and Office documents to the printer from any web browser. To use it, you simply visit a custom URL, select a file to print, upload it and release it within 24 hours at the printer using an automatically generated six-digit PIN.
For more general access security, Brother's Secure Function Lock 3 lets you create local user lists and decide which print services they can access. The printer supports 100 function profiles, with each covering permissions for mono and colour printing, page counts and access to online features.
While the feature set is strong, print speeds are a mixed bag. Our sample Word document was turned out at 24ppm at both Normal and Fine quality - but switching to double-sided mode pulled that down to just 9ppm.
Performance was also erratic with our colour DTP document: the printer paused several times while processing the job, delivering an overall print speed of just 8ppm. We've seen this before with Brother LED printers, and it seems to be down to a lack of onboard horsepower. When we switched from the standard PostScript driver to the GDI version (which relies on the host PC to do all the rasterising legwork), colour speeds shot up to the promised 24ppm in both quality modes.
Print quality is impressive for such a low-cost printer, too. Even 6pt text is pin-sharp, and mono photos come out with a fair amount of detail, even in the murkiest areas. Reports with large colour graphics were suitably eye-catching as well, and our colour test chart showed smooth transitions across complex colour fades. Photos show good contrast, vibrant colours and very little cross-hatching.
There's just one catch with the HL-L3270CDW: while the purchase price looks like a steal, running costs are relatively high. The drum units, belt and waste toner box will probably last the life of the printer, but even if you use high-yield cartridges, you're looking at 3p for a mono page and 13.5p for each side of colour print.
That makes the HL-L3270CDW printer best suited to small businesses that only need to run off the occasional print in colour. Still, it scores highly for output quality, access security is tight and it won't be beaten for cloud and mobile support.
Dave is an IT consultant and freelance journalist specialising in hands-on reviews of computer networking products covering all market sectors from small businesses to enterprises. Founder of Binary Testing Ltd – the UK’s premier independent network testing laboratory - Dave has over 45 years of experience in the IT industry.
Dave has produced many thousands of in-depth business networking product reviews from his lab which have been reproduced globally. Writing for ITPro and its sister title, PC Pro, he covers all areas of business IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, network security, data protection, cloud, infrastructure and services.