Brother MFC-6490CW

Brother's color inkjet multifunction printer (MFP), the MFC-6490CW, adds wide-format printing capability to an already long list of functions. Unfortunately, extremely slow performance is the tradeoff.

For $300 (at this writing), the MFC-6490CW gives you features galore. The integrated scanner takes wide-format media, as do the two input trays, which together take a generous 400 sheets of plain paper. The trays feel a bit flimsy, and their lids can be tricky. You also get a 50-sheet output tray and a 50-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF). Automatic duplexing is not available, but its cousin, the MFC-6890CDW, offers it for a slightly higher purchase price. Connectivity includes USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi. The first two ports are hidden within the machine, under the scanner unit, which is odd. Media slots take CF, MS, SD, SM, and xD cards. There is also a USB/PictBridge port.

The control panel is mostly easy to understand. A 3.3-inch, color LCD shows menu items, photo images, and other info; it also divides fax buttons on the left from major-function and navigation buttons on the right--all labeled clearly. Our one quibble: It's sometimes unclear which button you use to back out of a menu.

Ink costs are very fair. Brother ships the unit with high-yield cartridges to compensate for the ink typically lost during the initialization process. The 900-page black (K) cartridge costs $31.49 to replace, or 3.5 cents per page. The 750-page cyan (C), magenta (M), and yellow (Y) cartridges each cost $16.99, or 2.3 cents per color, per page. A page with all four colors would cost an economical 10.3 cents. Standard-size ink costs are average. One oddity: None of the ink cartridges are keyed; you can put them in the wrong slot. The unit performs normally anyway, but we're surprised at this oversight.

The MFC-6490CW's subpar performance overshadows its many nice attributes. In our , it did everything slowly: Plain text exited at a snail's pace of 5.7 pages per minute (ppm), while the best graphics speed was just 2.4 ppm. Even its scanning and copying speeds were far slower than average. Wide-format output would take even longer. On plain paper, text looked fuzzy and charcoal-like instead of black, while photos looked dull and grainy. Brother's own photo papers improved photo quality considerably.

Brother's MFC-6490CW is hobbled by its lackluster speed and variable print quality. If you really need wide-format printing, check out options such as (a stand-alone inkjet), which is faster and has better print quality.