The Brother MFC-5890CN all-in-one printer, scanner, fax and copier leaves many unanswered questions in its wake. Who designed this eyesore? Why is it so expensive? Did Brother forget to test out the features before production? What have we ever done to deserve this? Whatever the answers, one thing is certain: we're extremely dissatisfied with this £160 machine.
We normally don't comment on packaging, but we have to warn you about Brother's unabashed attitude towards putting stickers on its printers. The MFC-5890CN comes with no less than five prominently placed stickers spattered across the scanner lid, auto-document feeder, ink cartridge bay and side panelling. Other companies do this too, but the stickers on the MFC-5890CN don't peel away easily at all.
Sadly, Brother printers are always the furthest behind in terms of design, and the MFC-5890CN is no different. The cheap black plastic and mushy rubber buttons, coupled with a strange shape, makes it look like it's come through a time warp from the '70s. It's also larger than other multi-function printers. Measuring 49 by 24 by 41cm, and weighing 10.7kg, this tank demands a large amount of desk space.
Instead of integrating the control panel into the main body, like you see on more streamlined competitors, Brother has built it separately onto an extended lip that protrudes out of the front. A large, 84mm (3.3-inch), colour LCD screen sits in the centre of the control panel and swivels up and down, but the notches behind it only allow for three different fixed angles. To the left of the screen is a numerical rubber keypad for entering fax numbers into the address book, a set of six speed-dial buttons, and an additional set of hot keys for fax settings like preview, redial/pause and hook.
The right side of the control panel contains more buttons to access the various print, copy and scanning features. Along with the four quick-function keys, there's also a 'photo capture' button that opens a folder that displays images on your memory card. You can customise the button to automatically copy images on a card to a specific folder, or copy the files directly to an application. The card reader itself is built into the front of the printer directly between the control panel and the paper tray, with slots for PictBridge USB (for connecting a digital camera), CompactFlash, SD cards, Memory Stick and xD-Picture Cards.
The large drawer that pulls out from the bottom of the device holds blank sheets of paper, and the top doubles as a landing where finished prints come to rest. The problem is that the drawer sits flush in the printer when it's fully installed and doesn't extend far enough out of the device. That makes it hard to grab outbound prints unless you have child-like hands. Having to reach your hand all the way in to retrieve smaller 4x6-inch photos makes this design especially frustrating.
While the power and telephone ports for the fax machine are easy to get to, thanks to their location on the left side of the rear panel, the USB and Ethernet ports sit inside the printer. For some reason, Brother forces you to open the machine, prop up the lid with a plastic arm, snake the USB and Ethernet cables through a small plastic guide, and plug them directly into the internal components. Not only is this incredibly unnecessary and completely unique to Brother, but you also wind up losing more than a foot of cable slack. Unfortunately, there are no other data-connection options because of the printer's lack of built-in Wi-Fi support.
We also find it strange that lifting up the lid and exposing the gearing serves no other purpose than to access these two ports. Brother could have placed those inputs on the back just as easily.
Fair amount of features
The drivers on the MFC-5890CN's installation disc give you the option to adjust the printer's quality settings from 'normal' to 'fine', 'fast' and 'fast normal'. In addition, you can select 'natural' or 'vivid' photo prints. There's also a unique 'True2Life' colour-enhancement tool that lets you customise colour density, white balance, contrast, brightness and other settings. Finally, the driver also installs a status monitor that pops up during job processing to monitor ink-cartridge levels and quality control.
Brother also gives you the option to install a third-party imaging application, ScanSoft's PaperPort. This program lets you edit photos in a file browsing set-up similar to Apple's iPhoto, with basic photo-editing solutions for auto-enhancement, blemish erasing and red-eye elimination. We played around with the software for a while and enjoyed its simplicity compared with iPhoto. But don't expect the editing quality to be on par with Adobe suites. PaperPort is geared more towards light users and amateur photographers with limited time and editing resources.
The printer's scanning, copying and fax features all perform adequately, especially in conjunction with the 50-sheet auto document feeder that can function without a computer connection. Scanning options include routing images to a file folder or email, and an optical character-recognition text translator. You also get four customisable buttons on the virtual control centre, which you can program as you like.
As always, we have to complain about the lack of a hinged scanner lid. Having one would make it much easier to scan thick books and documents. In terms of the copying function, you can set the magnification from 25 per cent up to 400 per cent, but the only two options for pagination are two pages or four pages on one sheet of paper. Competitors usually offer many more options, including up to four images on one page, thumbnails and two-sided prints.
The MFC-5890CN uses a four-cartridge system, with individual tanks for black, cyan, magenta and yellow that load into the front bay. Brother offers standard and high-yield cartridges on its Web site.
Sluggish print speeds
The MFC-5890CN stood out among the competition in our speed tests, but not in a good way. Compared to five other printers in the same price bracket, it was the slowest printer in almost all of the document output tests. It registered the slowest benchmarks in the photo test, printing at a sluggish rate of 0.81 pages per minute. That surprised us, because its older brother, the MFC-685cw, released in late 2007, achieved 1.3 prints per minute.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Presentation speed||Photo speed (one sheet)||Colour graphics speed||Text speed|
The MFC-5890CN was the best performer in the presentation speed test. We printed out a full-colour, 10-page document and it achieved an impressive 2.75 pages per minute. The rest of the tests didn't end nearly as positively, however, as can be seen from the table above.
Like the MFC-685cw, the MFC-5890CN just can't get a handle on output quality. All of our test subjects, including pages of text, graphics, photos and presentations, appeared fuzzy and hard to read, even after several print-head adjustments and troubleshooting attempts. All of the characters, especially those in smaller font sizes, suffered from jagged and distorted edges, as if the nozzle wasn't properly aligning with the paper.
Coloured graphic prints looked even worse, with heavy line weights and blotchy colour blends that transition so abruptly you can see white blocks between them. We also tried to print graphics and photos with the driver's 'vivid colour' and True2Life settings, but neither offered a significant improvement. Finally, we also noticed a pale white haze blanketing all the prints in our test.
We expected to see much better output quality from the Brother MFC-5890CN, given its price. We advise that you avoid this model and check out the Canon Pixma MX330 instead.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet