Most laser printers use a cartridge system that combines toner and drum in a single unit that can be easily and cleanly replaced. Consequently, some owners look to save money by refilling them, or by buying refilled or remanufactured cartridges.
But just as there has been a drift towards bottled ink or high-capacity tanks or bladders in the inkjet market, we're starting to see a return to bottled toner for laser printers, as used for xerographic copiers back in the 1960s.
The HP Neverstop MFP 1202nw is an A4 laser all-in-one with a toner 'filler cap' next to the output tray, and a 'fuel gauge' indicator on the front of the printer. The gauge shows one of four states: full, room for one bottle of toner, room for two bottles, and so low that nothing will be printed until toner has been added.
The 'Neverstop' name seems to come from the way you can refill the printer without opening it and without waiting for it to run out of toner.
Physical setup is minimal: remove the packing tapes and the lightproof sheet protecting the drum; fit the fixed paper tray, load with paper, and fit the cover; and connect to the mains. Kudos for HP: this model has an internal PSU rather than a plug pack, so it's easy to substitute a longer mains lead if necessary.
The downside of not having a removable paper tray is that adjusting for a different paper size is fiddlier than usual, although in practice most people will only use A4 paper. But there's only a single tray, so take this into consideration if you want to print envelopes.
The paper tray feels flimsy, and we're not sure if it would merely detach or break if it were allowed to overhang a desk and someone walked into it – and weren't brave enough to find out.
The tray holds 150 sheets, which is a bit low for a small office printer, especially one that's supposed to be good for up to 2500 pages a month - that level of use would require reloading the paper most days. We would have been happier if duplex output was supported, as that reduces paper consumption. The upper limit of 120gsm is adequate for most office purposes.
The setup leaflet provides a link to download software from HP's site, and if you're using a Mac that in turn points you to the HP Smart app in the Mac App Store.
If the computer has an active Wi-Fi interface, it finds the printer. But we ran into the usual problem with our mixed 2.4/5GHz router, because like most printers, the 1202nw is 2.4GHz only. The normal fix would be to use a temporary USB or Ethernet connection, but we tried setting it up from a Windows notebook, and that got the printer onto the network.
Once the printer was online, the HP Smart app could add it to the Mac.
The print speed for our usual two-page test document was 23 secs if the printer was sleeping, or 16 sec if it was already awake. Ten very simple pages churned out in 41 sec, with a run-on speed of 3 sec per page, which is consistent with HP's claim of "up to 20 ppm" and a first page out as fast as 8.5 sec, or 15 sec from sleep.
The print quality is fine. Yes, that does sound like an example of damning with faint praise, but shouldn't be taken that way. We didn't look at the output and think "that looks really good," but neither did we think "oh, that's not really up to the job." It's perfectly adequate, but generally unremarkable. The toner is pleasingly matte, and there's only the usual amount of paper curl.
We timed the copying speed at 13 sec for a single page. There is no ADF, so you have to copy or scan one page at a time. A timesaving touch is that lifting the scanner cover wakes up the 1202nw.
Even though this is a monochrome device, it is fitted with a colour scanner. We scanned a high-quality glossy published page and printed on a colour all-in-one, and the result was an impressively close match in terms of colour rendition. Compared with a copy made entirely on that other device, the reds were slightly lighter, but the shades of green were more accurately reproduced.
If you like the Neverstop concept but want a printer rather than a multifunction, HP also offers the $449 Neverstop 1001nw.
The 1202nw is supplied with a claimed 5000 pages worth of toner supplied. Refills cost $37 singly, or $65 in dual packs. Each refill is said to be good for 2500 pages.
We didn't print anywhere near 5000 pages during testing, so can't say whether it's as easy to refill as HP suggests, but it does look straightforward and as clean as possible – the refill resembles a large syringe that injects the toner into the printer.
Apart from paper, the other consumable cost is the $169 drum said to be good for around 20,000 pages. So the toner and drum cost for 20,000 pages is $429, or just over 2c a page, excluding paper. That compares favourably with HP laser printers that get 10,000 pages out of a 76X toner cartridge at a cost of more than 4c a page.
Or you could compare the Neverstop's claimed toner cost of approximately 0.75c per page with Epson's Ecotank inkjet models with a claimed cost of less than 0.5c per monochrome page.
At $579, the 1202nw is squarely priced for its segment, ie, SOHO all-in-ones with low running costs. We know many people who print infrequently prefer laser printers over inkjets as there is no wastage when switching off and on, and no risk of drying out if left unused for an extended period.