Most A3 all-in-ones we see are laser based, have prices in the thousands and have dimensions a small building would be proud of. Brother’s MFC-6490CW is different: it’s an inkjet A3 all-in-one – the only one we’ve ever seen – and as a result it’s much cheaper ($360) and more compact (213 x 192 x 127mm – WDH) than the majority of the competition.
But that low price doesn’t mean it’s lacking in features. It’s bursting with connectivity options: on the front there’s a card reader that accepts CF, SD, MS and xD formats, plus a USB port for flash drives or a PictBridge-enabled camera. You get built-in Ethernet plus support for 802.11bg wireless networks in addition to the usual USB port. And the input paper bin has a huge 400-sheet capacity. It’s also a very easy printer to use, with an intuitive button panel and large 3.3in wide-aspect LCD.
Running costs are reasonable. High yield colour cartridges cost $37 (750 pages) and the mono is $75 (900 pages) for costs of 6.8c and 8.3c respectively.
Where the budget price starts to bite is in the performance of the printer, which is less impressive. When printing our A4 mono document at draft settings, for example, the Brother managed 9ppm – not bad – but quality was lacking, with faded graphics and imprecise text. At normal settings, the quality was better, but lettering still wasn’t crisp enough and print speed dropped to just 5ppm, marginally quicker than our A List favourite, the A4 Canon Pixma MP630 (see page 26). Highest-quality settings remedied this, but print speeds were slow at 2ppm.
Colour documents printed out at two-and-a-half A4 pages per minute at normal quality, but quality again wasn’t brilliant. Gradients were banded, colours faded and solid areas blotchy. As before, using the highest quality settings improved things, but speed took a hit. It took almost six minutes to print our five-page ISO test document.
Our scanning and copying tests produced similarly mixed results. An A4 150dpi scan was delivered in 17 seconds, while at 300dpi it took 25 seconds to scan, which is quick. But quality was no more than adequate. Copying yielded similar results, with average speeds and below average quality.
Moving to A3 saw no drop in quality (it’s middling), but you’ll need a lot of patience for prints. The Brother took more than 17 minutes to churn out an A3 photograph at the highest quality. Copying the same photo montage took more than 21 minutes, and scanning our test image at 1200ppi took a lengthy 7mins 54secs.
Despite its middling performance, however, the Brother MFC-6490CW still represents a reasonable buy. It may not offer the very best in quality or speed, but its uniquely low price, compact dimensions and long feature list more than make up for it.