Brother MFC-5890CN review: Brother MFC-5890CN

The printer's scanning, copying, and fax features all perform adequately, especially in conjunction with the 50-sheet ADF that can function without a computer connection. Scanning options include routing images to a file folder, e-mail, or an optical character recognition text translator. You also get four customizable buttons on the virtual Control Center that you can program to any preference. As always, we complain about the lack of a hinged scanner lid that makes it much easier to scan thick books and documents. Copying also works as a standalone device--you can set the magnification from 25 percent up to 400 percent of the original size, but the only two options for pagination are two pages on one sheet of paper and four pages on one sheet. The competition usually offers many more, 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. However, we'll use the high-capacity price points and page yields for a cost per page analysis: color cartridges cost $17 for 750 pages and a black cartridge costs $32 that'll last approximately 900 pages, according to Brother, which factors out to 2.2 cents per page of color and 3.5 cents for black. Those prices are a bit cheaper than the average cost to print, but that doesn't mean much if the print quality is subpar.

The Brother MFC-5890CN stands out among the competition in our speed test, but not in a good way. It printed the slowest in almost all of the document output tests out of five other printers in the same price bracket. It registered the slowest benchmarks in the photo test, printing at a sluggish rate of 0.81 page per minute, which surprised us because its older brother, the Brother MFC-685cw released in late 2007, scored 1.3 prints per minute. The 5890CN performed the best in the presentation speed tests. We printed out a full-color 10-page document and it achieved an impressive 2.75 pages per minute--the fastest in the bunch. The rest of the tests didn't end nearly as positively, with the printer floundering in last place.

Performance test (in pages per minute)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Presentation speed  
Photo speed (1 sheet)  
Color graphics speed  
Text speed  
HP OfficeJet J6480
Canon Pixma MX330
Kodak ESP5
Brother MFC-5890CN
Brother MFC-685CW

Like the Brother MFC-675CW, the 5890CN just can't get a handle on output quality. All our test subjects, including pages of text, graphics, photos, and presentations, appear fuzzy and hard to read, even after several print head adjustments and troubleshooting. All of the characters, especially those in smaller font sizes, suffer from jagged edges and distorted edges, as if the nozzle isn't properly aligning with the paper. Colored graphics prints look even worse, with heavy line weights and blotchy color blends that transition so abruptly that you can see white blocks between them. We also tried to print graphics and photos on the driver's "vivid color" and "True2life" color settings, but neither significantly improved the shortcomings. Finally, we also noticed a pale white haze blanketing all the prints in our test. We expected to see a much higher standard of quality out of a $200 printer, but we're obviously disappointed in the delivery. Pictures and documents printed from this device aren't even worth a simple snapshot photo, and you're better off taking your pictures to a printer that can do them accurate justice.

Service and support
Brother backs the MFC-5890CN with a two-year limited warranty that includes access to its phone support 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific. We usually see one-year warranties bundled with printers, so we're sure buyers will appreciate and use the extra year of support. In addition to the hotline, Brother's online "As Us" program offers immediate e-mail replies for troubleshooting, and the company Web site provides more support by way of manuals, FAQs, service center locations, and software downloads.

Find out more about how we test printers.

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