Dell's Smart-Printing Color Smart Printer S5840cdn Laser

Brightly colored and detailed text and graphics

Dell's Color Smart S5840cdn single-function laser printer
Dell's Color Smart S5840cdn single-function laser printer. Photo courtesy of Dell

Pros:

  • 150,000-page maximum monthly duty cycle
  • PostScript and PCL emulation
  • Good print quality overall
  • Large color display
  • Massive paper capacity and expansion options
  • Competitive cost per page

Cons:

  • Wi-Fi is optional
  • Huge and heavy for what it does

Bottom Line: This great-printing, low-running-cost, single-function laser printer churns out exceptional prints, even photographs, at a highly competitive cost per page.

Introduction

It’s not often that single-function laser printers impress me, primarily because you wind up paying more for what you can get with similar (and sometimes better) quality and speed from a high-volume inkjet. But that’s not always the case. Take, for example, the topic of today’s review, Dell’s ($999.99 MSRP) Color Smart Printer S5840cdn. Not only does it print quite well and relatively fast, but it does so relatively inexpensively—when you purchase the correct toner cartridges, it can save you on the per-page cost of toner, and that can be very important on a printer rated to print up to 150,000 pages per month.

Design and Features

Dell printers, at least on the outside, are slow to change. Most of them, whether single-function, print only models or multifunction (print, copy, scan, and fax) machines, such as the S2810dn Smart Mono Printer, are boxy, uninteresting cubes made up of primarily flat planes and surfaces.

The S5480cdn, on the other hand, (while compared to several HP LaserJets, it’s not really that stylish) looks more modern and attractive.

It’s topped off by a 4.3-inch color touch screen sitting next to a small array of navigation buttons, as well as a 10-key, phone-like keypad. The matte-black chassis is, at 18.7 by 19.7 by 16.4 inches (HWD) and weighing a chunky 82.6 pounds, humongous.

You’ll need to find it its own table, bench, or other sturdy location, which is complicated somewhat because, out-of-the-box, you don’t have Wi-Fi, instead only Ethernet and USB. (Remember that connecting your printer directly to your PC via USB does not constitute an Internet connection; many of the cloud and other mobile features won’t work without an Internet connection.)

You can get Wi-Fi for this printer in the form of a $130 network card, which I did not test. You can also print from USB thumb drives (one of the few real walkup, or PC-free options available), network drives, and the Dell Document Hub app helps you interface with various cloud sites, such as Google Cloud Print, and several others, on both the Android and Apple iOS platforms.

By default, the S5840cdn uses PostScript 3.0 emulation, which, on the right printers can churn out excellent quality documents and graphics. It also emulates HP’s PCL6, another excellent page description language (PDL). In addition to providing excellent print quality (when starting with quality content, of course), these two PDLs are also compatible with most typesetting and printing press equipment, making this a strong device for proofing content headed for hard copy presses.

Performance, Print Quality, Paper Handling

Dell rates the S5840cdn at 40 pages per minute (ppm) in duplex (double-sided) mode, and 50ppm in simplex (single-sided) mode, which is what I got when printing straight black-and-white text files. But as I loaded up documents with graphics and photos, print speeds bogged down considerably, which is not uncommon—even though this one did slow down by nearly a fifth (or five times slower), which is a lot. Suffice it to say, though, that it prints plenty fast enough for what it is.

Print quality, too, on our test documents, was… well, exceptional. The text was very near typesetter-quality, and business graphics held up well, too, with only minimal and occasional detail issues, such as, say, hairlines that are difficult to make out, or a slight graininess in gradients and other fills.

But these truly were infrequent and perhaps noticeable only because I was looking for them.

But photo output was the biggest surprise. It’s not often that we see such good image quality from laser printers. Granted, there is the occasional graininess you get from this being a lower-resolution device, but that, too, is usually something you have to look for to notice. The value of owning a machine that prints this well is that you can use it for churning out small runs of high-quality marketing material, such as tri-fold brochures, flyers, proposals, and so on, with confidence in the print quality, making that one less thing to worry about.

The S5840cdn comes ready to print. Out-of-the-box you get a 550-sheet main cassette and a 100-sheet multipurpose tray, for a total of 650 pages from two separate sources, which isn’t bad. You can add up to three more 550-sheet trays ($299.99 each), for capacity configurations of 1,200-, 1,750-, and 2,300-pages from up to five separate sources. With the right planning, you may never have to take your printer out of service again, at least not just to reconfigure input sources.

What makes this all the more palatable is the S5840’s low cost per page, or CPP, coming up next.

Cost Per Page

It’s always a pleasure when all of the components—performance, print quality, a competitive per-page cost of operation—required to dub a printer as truly “high-volume.” One of the more confusing aspects of this printer is the slew of accessories, in the form of toner cartridge bundles, drum kits, and others, that figuring out the correct combination to get an accurate CPP was a bit of a chore.

In any case, when you buy the highest-yield (20,000 pages) black toner cartridge from Dell it costs $269.99. The highest-yield (12,000 pages when combined with the black cartridge) three-color (cyan, magenta, and yellow) cartridges sell for $245.99 each. Using these numbers, the black-and-white cost per page comes out to about 0.009, or nine-tenths of a cent, and the color pages run about 7 cents each. These are, especially the monochrome CPP, highly competitive numbers, greatly increasing the overall value of the printer itself. For an explanation of just how important this can be, check out this "When a $150 Printer Can Cost You Thousands" article.

The flip side of this is that the cartridges themselves are quite expensive. If you must replace all of them at once, the total cost for all four is $1,007.96, at the current rate of sale from Dell. That’s about $9 more than the price of the machine itself.

The End

The Dell Color Smart S5840cdn is, frankly, a very nice color laser printer, and with a list price of $1,000, it should be. It prints well, in both black-and-white and color, for a strikingly low monochrome cost per page of 0.009. At less than one cent per page, you can churn out receipts, proposals, presentations, even PowerPoint handouts, for a relatively low cost. And the color CPP is low enough that you can print color documents for under 10 cents, which really is a good deal.

I’m not thrilled with the lack of Wi-Fi, but charging extra for wireless is surely not unusual for this class of printer.

Missing also are Wi-Fi Direct and Near-Field Communication, or NFC, two peer-to-peer protocols for connecting mobile devices to your printer without either device being connected to a network or router. Frankly, it’s unusual not to find these features on a printer this costly, but then too, you have to wonder just how much these mobile protocols would be used on this office device.

In any case, the highly expandable Dell Color Smart Printer S5840cdn does what it’s supposed to—print fast, well, and inexpensively—consistently over time. If you’re looking for a color laser for consistent high-volume output, thousands of pages, month in and month out, we can’t think of a reason not to choose this one.