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Cheap color laser prints + expensive toner = you get what you pay for
on July 10, 2010
I've had this printer for several months and would overall rate it as mediocre, but the base machine now sells for ~$250 online so you get what you pay for. Compared to prior Brother lasers, the KM is very noisy, slow, counter-intuitive to set up, crippled in a Mac OS 10.6 environment, and has largely dismal support online and by phone. So, be certain you're willing to accept these trade-offs in return for decent color prints, adequate scans, and OK faxes. Otherwise, pay a few hundred dollars more for a more user-friendly machine.
As others have noted, a set of OEM toner replacements costs more than the entire printer, so this is the Gillette model: give away the razors but make your profit on the supplies. Refilled toner cartridges are about half the cost of OEM and available online; refill kits, if you want to put up with the mess, could drop the costs further. One particularly annoying feature is that it's virtually impossible to cancel a print job using the buttons on the front. If there's a printing error in one document of twenty, the only to stop the machine from spitting out garbled pages filled with costly toner is to power it down and then hit the Cancel button repeated as it powers back up. I've called customer support from time to time and finally figured out that they do have some good reps who can be very helpful, so if you get a bozo, just politely thank him for his efforts and call back on the same number. It usually takes 4-5 calls in a row to find an experienced tech but it's worth the effort: they will know the limitations of the machine, which helps you avoid trying to find a workaround for inherent problems in the hardware or software.
As a color laser printer alone, I would rate the quality of the images as good. I run a small business and print 80% B&W and 20% color so this machine is adequate for my needs. In fact, I used the driver features to set up different virtual printers [B&W draft quality, color draft quality, B&W hi res, color hi res] and find that for most tasks the draft quality is indistinguishable visually from the hi res setting. I presume this is saving significant toner costs, as it did on my Brother machines, but it's possible that the reason is that this software feature doesn't do much. You probably would want to use hi res for photo images.
I've read the user manual ten times and it is really marginal: sometimes confusing, lacking in depth, and almost useless in trouble shooting. Combined with the poor customer support, this means you are pretty much on your own in figuring how to set up this machine. Fortunately, my Mac OS 10.6 software had no trouble recognizing this printer via USB connection, and then my Time Machine network recognized it too. I also figured out how to have Windows XP in a virtual environment recognize the print function if I hook it up to a USB port on my MacBook Pro. I gave up on net printing after wasting a few hours although I have implemented this on other printers without such hassles.
As a Mac user, the greatest drawback is that despite over a year of misleading sales as a "Mac Compatible" system, KM has still not released scan or fax drivers for OS 10.6. In other words, this printer is only compatible with outdated Mac OS: none of the other "multifunction" features work with Snow Leopard. I did finally figure out how to save manual scans to a USB stick using the port on the front of the machine, but after two scans is saves them skewed about 30 degrees. I'm assuming this is a hardware defect but the quality of the scans is low enough I will probably use my trusty Brother machine for scanning and faxing.
I did install the duplex adapter that also required adding a large capacity paper tray. It seems to work but the large capacity tray makes the scanner bed so high up I had to move it off of my desk to a lower table nearby. Paper handling features are rudimentary: it will not accept 8.5 x 14 or sizes smaller than a personal envelope. So, I use my trusty Brother to print deposit slips and scan or print legal-sized documents.
In summary, the KM 1690MF is the least expensive color laser printer available because it has a number of limitations. But, if you are on a tight budget and don't print many pages per month, it could fill the bill if you use Windows or an outmoded Mac OS.