For this colour laser printer, a sometimes-awkward design offsets good pricing, speed and print quality.
Brother takes a major evolutionary step with the HL-4040CN: this is the first colour laser designed by the company itself, rather than a rebranded model from another manufacturer. It's a decent first effort, offering good overall speed and print quality for a competitive price. The design sometimes falls short on ease of use, unfortunately.
The setup process is easy and thoroughly documented in a printed guide as well as in animated videos on the included CD. Find a buddy to help you lift the printer, though: at about 28.9kg (according to Brother's specs), it's heavier than most comparably equipped colour lasers.
At default settings the HL-4040CN printed competently. Its speeds -- average overall -- ranged from 19.3 pages per minute (ppm) for plain black text to 4.2ppm for graphics. Text in all tested fonts looked perfectly crisp. Colour images erred on the yellow side; photos looked grainy, especially on glossy laser paper. Using the driver's "Fine (2400dpi class)" setting improved images noticeably.
Brother deserves kudos for its software, which includes a comprehensive, well-illustrated user guide (in HTML and PDF) and interactive help files, as well as a dynamic status monitor. The driver offers a good supply of printing options.
The hardware, on the other hand, needs work. The control panel's LCD is great, as it can tilt 0 to 90 degrees, glows green when things are normal and red when things go awry, and communicates in plain English. But the menu buttons didn't always make sense to me: the up-arrow/plus button is for scrolling backward and the down-arrow/minus is for scrolling forward, while the "Go" button is also for pausing. The 50-sheet multipurpose tray is unmarked and hard to find (it folds out from the front of the printer).
Most odd, the toner cartridge bays are not keyed to prevent insertion of the wrong colour. Brother says that such a mistake will not damage the printer, and it didn't when we intentionally switched two colours. But the printer should, at least, have recognised the mistake at the start and refused to print. Instead it printed a bizarre coloured page.
Cost per page (based on Brother's specs) is very good. The high-yield cartridges have a page capacity of 5000 for black and 4000 for each colour and cost $129.95 and $189.95, respectively. A half-page of black text, therefore, will cost less than 2.6 cents' worth of toner to print, and a colour page (using a small amount of black plus all three colours) will cost less than 8 cents. Standard-capacity cartridges with shorter page lives (and thus higher costs) are also available.