The Dell 1250c color printer uses LED technology instead of the more-common laser to create equally crisp results. Priced at just $230, it makes color output seem attainable even for a home office. Unfortunately, exorbitant toner costs make this printer unbearably pricey in the long term.
Printer vendors often charge lower-volume users less for the printer and more for the toner, but Dell has set a new record with this model. The printer ships with standard-size, 700-page supplies. The black toner costs $50 (7.1 cents per page), while each color costs $55 (7.9 cents per color, per page). A page with all four colors would cost almost 31 cents. Those prices would look expensive even compared with the costs of a color inkjet printer. The higher-yield supplies, at $70 each, are merely onerous: The black toner lasts 2000 pages (3.5 cents per page), and each color lasts 1400 pages (5 cents per page). A four-color page would cost 18.5 cents.
Further disappointment lies in the skimpy design and features. The control panel consists of a couple of clearly labeled buttons and a lot of lights, the meanings of which can vary depending on the color they show and the speed of their blinking—yes, you have to figure out whether it's a fast or slow blink. You need the documentation to interpret them.
The unit has just a 150-page main input tray; pages exit onto the top output tray. The tray parts are somewhat flimsy, as is typical for this price range. Duplexing is manual only, which means that only committed users will use it to cut down on paper costs, but at least the on-screen prompt is clear. A rear door opens to provide access to the paper path. A side door reveals the toner supplies, which insert easily and are keyed to prevent mixups.
Lower-cost laser printers also tend to be mediocre performers. In our tests, the 1250c posted a below-average (but typical for this price class) speed of 7.5 pages per minute printing monochrome documents consisting primarily of black text and simple, grayscale images. Graphics speed was just above average, reaching 2.3 ppm when printing snapshot-size color photos on letter-size paper. To its credit, the image quality exceeded my expectations. Our text samples looked dark gray rather than truly black, but they were crisp and precise otherwise. Color images appeared vivid and realistic, though a little grainy-looking. Note that Mac drivers are available via download only; we will update our review soon with those test results.
The help you'll get for this printer is mostly good. The 1250c comes with a standard one-year warranty; extensions up to five years total cost an additional $35 to $140. The HTML-based user guide that accompanies the printer is thorough and clear, but in a few instances we ran into dead ends because of clumsy navigation, namely links that led to mostly blank title pages with no guidance in the right direction.
Macworld's buying advice
The Dell 1250c puts quality color printing within range of lower-budget users. Unless you plan not to print much, however, your budget will quickly be busted by this model's high toner costs.