Introduction, Design Features
It’s a question that never seems to go away: Do you want a laser printer, or an inkjet printer?
At the extremes, the decision is more or less clear-cut. If you print mostly text-based documents and need that text to be typeset-quality (or close to it), you’re better off with a laser. If you print mostly photos or documents with photos in them, and you want those photographs to look as good as they can, an inkjet is what you need.
But what if you’re somewhere in between? That’s where it gets tricky, and you have to do your homework to sort through the various trade-offs. We keep hoping for the ultimate printer that encompasses all the benefits of both technologies. Sadly, we’re not there yet. The good news? Some get close.
In most respects, the Canon Color ImageClass MF731Cdw is a fairly typical color laser all-in-one (AIO) printer. It’s relatively fast. The per-page print costs are good, but not great. And it has most of the features you would expect from a sub-$500 model. (The list price on our review unit was $489.) The key ones it was missing: It doesn’t have auto-duplexing functionality on the ADF, support for faxing, or wireless NFC tap-to-print capabilities.
Where the MF731Cdw stands out is with its print quality, especially with business graphics and photographs. You can’t expect color laser printers to match inkjet models for graphics output, but this one comes closer than most in terms of color, contrast, clarity, and detail. The colors aren’t as heavily saturated as with a typical inkjet printer, but they’re strong enough to provide a very good impression, much like a non-glossy photo in a quality magazine.
And because this model has a laser print engine, the text is near-typeset-quality. That’s important, because the near-typeset-quality text can be combined on the same page with what might best be described as near-inkjet-quality graphics.
If you lean heavily toward laser printers in the great printer-tech divide, but graphics output has always been a sore point, then this will be a strong AIO for you. This model would be a particularly good choice for brochures, sales flyers, newsletters, or other documents that combine text with photographs. Just keep in mind that you won’t be able to print pages with borderless graphics. For that, you would need the edge-to-edge print capabilities of an inkjet printer.
The Canon Color ImageClass MF731Cdw doesn’t look unusual, apart from its extended LCD panel. Looks can be deceiving, though, because the unit is relatively compact, given its 50-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF), 250-sheet standard paper-input tray, and 50-sheet multipurpose paper input tray.
That said, at 18.1 inches high, 17.8 inches wide, and 18.5 inches deep, it may be too large for some home offices or corporate workgroups to situate just anywhere. Fortunately, this model has built-in Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), as well as Ethernet compatibility, so you can place it far away from your desk or work space, if need be.
Though most of the outside surface is covered by hard plastic, the cabinet felt sturdy and durable. At 54 pounds, this AIO is certainly no lightweight. In the printed Getting Started guide, Canon helpfully shows how two people should carry the unit by inserting their hands into the appropriate side slots. We suggest you take that advice.
One potential snag is the LCD panel, which sticks out on a sort of an arm. It tilts up and down, but it doesn’t retract. So it sticks out from the printer, no matter how you angle it…
Our concern: If you place the printer in a corner location with a significant amount of foot traffic, people may snag it accidentally when they walk by. Otherwise, it’s a definite plus to be able to adjust the control interface to an optimal angle.
You may be looking at the LCD panel quite often. The 5-inch color touch screen is bright and easy to read, even when viewed from a side angle. In fact, the screen is so bright and clear, you can easily read the text and recognize the icons from a distance of 10 feet in front of the printer.
Canon has done an excellent job of paring down the icons to the key functions and frequently accessed utilities. Along with the usual Copy, Scan, and Memory Media Print, you have quick access to the Paper Settings (handy for one-off documents), ID Card Copy (which includes onscreen positioning instructions), Secure Printing, Home Screen Settings, and the Operation Guide.
The more technical utilities and deep configuration settings are clustered together under a generic Menu icon. That makes good business sense, as novices and non-techies can take a hands-off approach regarding those more challenging options.
Setup Paper Handling
The Color ImageClass MF731Cdw was especially easy to set up because the toner cartridges are pre-installed. All you have to do is remove some packing materials from around and inside the unit, plug it in, turn it on, and configure the settings that are presented on the LCD panel. If you plan to operate the printer wirelessly, you’ll have a chance to input your network settings using an onscreen keyboard. Alternatively, if your Wi-Fi router supports a Wi-Fi Direct Connection, you can have your network configuration settings transferred automatically.
Canon provides a CD-ROM for installing the printer drivers and associated utilities. The utilities include a Scan Utility that lets your computer receive scanned images or documents from the printer, in order to save them to your hard drive or attach them to an e-mail message. There’s also a Toner Status utility that queries the printer for the remaining amount of toner in each of the four toner cartridges.
We had no problems configuring the initial settings from the LCD panel or with installing the drivers and utilities from the CD-ROM. Both processes were smooth and uneventful.
The Color ImageClass MF731Cdw has two onboard paper-input trays. The standard tray at the bottom of the unit can handle as many as 250 sheets at a time. And a multipurpose tray pulls out vertically from the front to handle as many as 50 sheets at a time…
There’s also an optional 550-sheet paper input tray that attaches to the bottom of the unit. It costs $199 and raises the height of the unit an additional 5.3 inches. Here you can see the unit stacked atop the extra tray; we did not receive this tray for review, however…
The acceptable paper requirements are very similar across the three input trays. The standard and optional trays can handle paper in sizes from 3.9×5.8 inches to 8.5×14 inches, while the multipurpose tray takes sizes from 3.5×5 inches to 8.5×14 inches. Similarly, the standard and optional trays are compatible with paper up to a 43-pound bond weight, while the multipurpose tray extends that a bit further, to 47 pounds.
Both the standard and multipurpose trays have sliding paper guides, so they can accommodate a wide selection of paper sizes. That said, you may want to favor the multipurpose tray when printing onto legal-size paper, like so…
With the standard tray, using legal-size paper makes the tray stick out a few inches, adding to the front-to-back depth of the printer. That could be an issue for businesses that frequently print onto legal stock and need to keep it loaded at all times. The printer does ship with a plastic dust cover that fits over the portion of the tray that juts out. Since most people don’t regularly print onto legal-size paper, that would seem to be a fair trade-off for making a more compact unit possible.
The paper-output tray can handle 150 sheets. That should be adequate for the 300-sheet capacity from the two onboard input trays. However, it could be restrictive if you add the optional 550-sheet paper tray, which boosts the total input capacity to 850 sheets.
We had no paper-handling issues with any of our test prints. There were no paper jams, and nothing came out misaligned, misprinted, or crumpled.
While the paper handling was wrinkle-free, in both figurative and literal senses, the print costs are more uneven. Here, the MF731Cdw is about average for its page costs for both text and color mixed-text-and-graphics documents. And as you would expect, you’ll need to buy higher-priced high-yield cartridges to keep those print costs at a moderate level.
The black standard-capacity cartridge has a manufacturer’s suggested price of $83. It yields approximately 2,200 pages, which works out to roughly 3.8 cents per page. That’s rather high for a page of black text. The black high-capacity cartridge has a manufacturer’s suggested price of $138, but it yields 6,300 pages. That works out to roughly 2.2 cents per page.
That’s a significant difference in page costs between the two types of cartridges, but bear in mind that even the lower 2.2-cent cost is far from the lowest that we’ve seen. The HP PageWide Pro 477dw, a very good business inkjet that is designed to take on color lasers like Canon’s, would cost just 1.4 cents to print that same page of black text. (Though the text print quality would be better on the MF731Cdw.)
The situation is similar with color documents. Each of the three standard-capacity color cartridges (cyan, magenta, and yellow) costs $110 and yields approximately 2,300 pages. A typical color page of mixed text and graphics (which might use all three colors, as well as black) would cost you roughly 18.1 cents. However, if you were to choose the high-capacity color cartridges that cost $190 each and yield roughly 5,000 pages each, you could lower the cost of that mixed-text-and-graphics color page to 13.6 cents.
That 13.6-cent color page cost is about average for the color-laser category. If you print a relatively large number of color pages each month, and the page cost is more important than the print quality, you may want to favor a model with a lower-than-average print cost.
It’s worth noting that the MF731Cdw ships with a set of reduced-capacity color cartridges. The black cartridge is rated for 2,200 pages, which matches the yield for the standard-capacity black cartridge. However, the color cartridges that ship with the unit are rated for just 1,200 pages, as opposed to a yield of 2,300 pages for the standard-capacity color cartridges.