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Brother MFC-490CW Cleator Moor

It can be quite hard to tell the difference between Brother's all-in-one devices. So many of them have similar designs, with curved tops that get steeper towards the front, where the control panel is located.

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Brother MFC-490CW

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It can be quite hard to tell the difference between Brother's all-in-one devices. So many of them have similar designs, with curved tops that get steeper towards the front, where the control panel is located. The grey-and-black MFC-490CW looks a little different, with a very low-profile and a 15-sheet Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) set into the lid of the scanner.

The device comes with a dual-paper tray cassette. The A4, plain paper main tray can hold up to 100 sheets, and a smaller, photo tray is set into its lid. To print a photo, you have to remove the cassette and slide the photo tray forwards. Plain and photo pages are fed out to the top surface of the paper trays, though in the case of photos, you have to delve inside to reach them.

The control panel is well-designed, with a fax dial-up pad on the left - the fax memory can hold up to 400 pages - and function and navigation keys on the right. The buttons on the panel's extreme right start and stop jobs, while Brother's trademark 84mm widescreen, colour LCD screen is located in the middle. This displays thumbnails of photo images alongside menus of things to do with them.

The MFC-490CW includes memory card slots for all the standard types and a PictBridge socket for direct camera connection. Sockets for USB or Ethernet connections and a fax line are located at the rear of the device.

Wireless print connection is an attractive option if you can't position the MFC-490CW close to your Mac, and is pretty straightforward to set up. A front-panel wizard scans for all available wireless networks, and once you've selected one and, if necessary entered a network key, it's pretty easy to use Brother's MFL-Pro Suite, loaded from CD, to print.

There's also a copy of Presto! PageManager 7 for handling document scanning and management. This application provides OCR facilities, once Brother's Twin scanner driver is selected.

Brother claims speeds of 33ppm and 27ppm for mono and colour print, respectively. These are both draft mode speeds, though, and most people will use normal mode, which is a lot slower. Our 10-page text document took three minutes 27 seconds to print, which is 2.9ppm and less than a tenth of the draft mode claim.

The five-page black text and colour graphics document took two minutes 15 seconds, a slightly slower 2.2ppm, but a 10-page plain text copy from the ADF was nearly as fast as a straight print and came in at 2.8ppm. 15 x 10cm photo prints, whether from Mac, memory card or PictBridge camera, averaged about one minute 40 seconds.

Very few inkjet all-in-in one devices get close to their manufacturers' claimed speed figures, but these results are still sluggish in comparison. At the same price, there are machines from Canon and HP, for example, which can print black text at over 5ppm. The MFC-490CW photo print speeds are better, but still nothing special.

Print quality is also only average. Plain text is reasonably sharp, though not as densely black as some of its competitors. Colour graphics are a little pale, too, and more so when you copy from the scanner, so it's not surprising that scanned images may need compensation to restore their true colours. Colour photos are closer to the output from other inkjets and show good colour matching and smooth gradations in hue.

The MFC-490CW uses four separate ink tanks, which are easily accessible behind a fold-down panel at the front. Slide these into place and you have enough ink for 450 ISO mono pages or 325 colour ones. There are high-yield cartridges that physically fit this machine, but Brother has disabled their use, probably to differentiate this machine from higher priced models.

Using the standard-yield tanks gives page costs of 2.7p for mono and 8.6p for colour. The colour price is around average for all-in-ones in this price bracket, but the cost of a mono print is on the high side.

The Brother MFC-490CW has the virtue of packing a lot into a comparatively small footprint device. You've got an automatic document feeder, memory card slots, wireless connection, fax and a convenient widescreen LCD display. What you don't get is fast print or particularly high quality results on plain paper.


A smart, self-contained design and high spec, but speed and print quality are no better than average.

Author: Simon Williams

Brother MFC-490CW