The HP Color LaserJet 1500L has the compact, pot-bellied shape common among HP color lasers. Its soft, blue-gray-on-gray contours are more homey than the drab, putty-colored plastics of office printers. Overall, it has a sensible, sturdy look and feel.
A carousel holds the color toner cartridges.
Unlike some color lasers, which have all four toner cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) arrayed along the inside bottom of the printer, the LaserJet 1500L's engine uses a carousel that rotates to lay down each color separately. On the control panel, four lights--one for each toner color--indicate when toner levels run low. To change a cartridge, open the front panel, press a button on the side control panel to rotate the carousel, then lift out the expired cartridge.
Setup is simple. The printer has a USB interface, but unfortunately, the cable is sold separately. In our tests, both Windows XP and Windows 2000 easily recognized the new hardware and prompted us to install the drivers from the included CD. The 1500L also is compatible with Windows 98 and Me and Mac OS 9 and X. Installation takes a few minutes and asks you some basic questions, such as whether you want to share the printer on a network. The LaserJet 1500L is also Mac compatible.
As the entry-level model in HP's home/small-office color laser line, the Color LaserJet 1500L is a bit short on features. The provided input tray, located along the base, holds only 125 sheets--fewer than many home inkjets hold. Unlike with the Color LaserJet 2500 series, to which you can add either a 250-sheet or a 500-sheet input tray, the Color LaserJet 1500L offers only a 500-sheet-tray addition--for a whopping $399. You can't upgrade the printer's standard 16MB of RAM, and neither the PCL nor the PostScript printer languages are supported--just computer-based printing. The Color LaserJet 1500L can be networked via an external HP JetDirect Ethernet ($249) or 802.11b ($239) print server.
The Color LaserJet 1500L doesn't come with any productivity software per se, but if you choose the full installation from the included CD, you get HP's useful printing toolbox, which shows up as a separate icon on your desktop. Clicking it launches a Web browser interface that provides a detailed printer status display. You also get copious documentation. The toolbox links directly to HP's online tech support and can be configured to request supplies when, for example, it senses low toner levels. It may seem as if only IT managers can enjoy these features, but HP's clear, simple interfaces make it easy enough for most everyone.
In CNET Labs' tests, the HP Color LaserJet 1500L averaged 11.17 pages per minute (ppm) on black text, making it the fastest of the color lasers we've tested--nearly the same speed as some sub-$500 personal monochrome lasers and fairly close to the 16ppm top speed that HP advertises.
Color printing is slower, in part because the printer must make one pass per color. With the LaserJet 1500L, we also noticed a 30-second delay before the first printed page appeared. Most of this time seemed to be spent "thinking" about what to print. The actual printing took seconds; our tests showed an average color graphics print speed of 3.4ppm, which is very close to HP's advertised 4ppm.
Given that some of the speediest inkjets we've seen are equally fast, the LaserJet 1500L's advantage is in its cost per color page. Where inkjets will typically cost 25 to 50 cents per page of mixed text and graphics, the 1500L's color toner cartridges (though expensive at $83 for black and $100 for each color) yield 5,000 and 4,000 pages, respectively, which works out to 1.6 cents per black-text page and 2.5 cents per color page.
The LaserJet 1500L's print quality was generally good. Black text was as sharp and clear as a monochrome laser's. Grayscale graphics showed good detail, but photo elements appeared overexposed, and the printer was unable to reproduce the lightest grays in our test document. Color graphics were about as good as those we've seen on other recent color lasers. The LaserJet 1500L struggled as much with color shading as it did with grayscale, however, and photos showed visible dithering, that is, the mixing of colors was obvious.
Color laser printer speed Pages per minute (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Inkjet printer quality|
The HP Color LaserJet 1500L comes with a typical, if short, one-year warranty. For $300, you can upgrade to three years of support with next-day exchange service. Toll-free phone support is available 24/7 for the length of the warranty. When we made a test call, it took us less than three minutes to connect with a courteous, helpful support technician who easily solved our problem.
The HP technical support site offers additional options, such as a dedicated tech-support page and information about how to recycle used toner cartridges and hardware. Under the Collaborative Support section, you'll find links to discussion groups, e-mail support, and Web chat with HP's technicians.