Multifunctions, more often than not, embody the "jack-of-all-trades, master of none" cliché. Laser-based multifunctions such as the $330 Brother MFC-4800 can rise above this, however, by providing excellent print quality at a respectable clip. The MFC-4800 also has the advantage of being reasonably priced, full featured, and easy to use. But when it comes to its ability to scan and copy, the MFC-4800 comes up short. Multifunctions, more often than not, embody the "jack-of-all-trades, master of none" cliché. Laser-based multifunctions such as the $330 Brother MFC-4800 can rise above this, however, by providing excellent print quality at a respectable clip. The MFC-4800 also has the advantage of being reasonably priced, full featured, and easy to use. But when it comes to its ability to scan and copy, the MFC-4800 comes up short.
Simple is as simple does
The MFC-4800 comes with a foldout Quick Setup Guide that makes setup a snap. The device is both parallel-port and USB compatible (cables not included) and works with Windows 95, 98, Me, 2000 Professional, and NT 4.0, as well as Macintosh OS 8.5 through 9.1. It measures 15 inches wide by 24 inches deep by 13 inches high with all its paper trays fully extended, so make sure you have plenty of desktop space. However, if you envision networking your multifunction in the future or upgrading the memory, you may be better served by the HP LaserJet 3200; the MFC-4800 is not networkable, and the included 2MB of RAM cannot be expanded.
Networking and upgrade limitations aside, the MFC-4800 has the benefit of being as simple to use as your average personal laser printer. The MFC-4800 is capable of a maximum 600x600dpi (dots per inch) resolution, and its software driver, which includes manual duplexing, multipage printing, watermarks, and the ability to handle several different types of paper, gives a business user plenty of printing options. The MFC-4800's paper-handling capabilities are also good: The top-loading paper-input tray holds 200 sheets or 10 envelopes, and the automatic document feeder holds 20 sheets.
The front panel is intuitively designed, with buttons grouped according to function. For starters, there's the usual numbered keypad in the center for fax dialing; other functions are grouped under their headings. For example, the Scan, Scan/OCR, and Scan To E-mail buttons are all arranged under the title Scan, and Copy Options and Enlarge/Reduce (50 to 200 percent) are under Copy.
Two out of four functions ain't bad
Of all its qualities--and multifunctions tend to have a wealth of them--the MFC-4800's printing capabilities shine the brightest. For the price of a decent personal laser printer, you get a print engine that, in CNET Labs' tests, churned out text pages at 9 pages per minute (ppm) and mixed text/graphics at 8.1ppm --that's fast even by personal-laser standards. And the printouts look good. Text is crisp, clear, and legible down to tiny font sizes, and graphics, while flawed in various small ways, are perfectly acceptable for line drawings and charts. The photo elements of our test document did have a slight newsprint look to them, but that was the worst of it.
Unfortunately, neither the scan nor the copy functions produced very good results. When we tested the MFC-4800's ability to scan a mixed graphics/text document at 150dpi, the results were quite poor. The text elements were seriously moth-eaten, there were moiré patterns throughout all the graphical patterns in the test document, and the machine had trouble handling the subtler shades of gray in our gradient tests. The photo element of our test document was decent but visibly pixelated. (It's also worth noting that the MFC-4800 scans only in black and white.) The copy quality was not much better; all the photo elements were grainy, and the text was blurry and hard to read. The MFC-4800 comes with ScanSoft PaperPort document-management software and TextBridge OCR software, which converts scanned documents to text.
Fortunately, the fax function of the MFC-4800 is perfectly acceptable. It uses a standard 14.4K fax modem, and the system can store up to 90 pages, broadcast up to 150 locations, and remember 100 numbers for auto dialing.
Cost per page for the MFC-4800 is reasonable. The machine ships with a starter toner cartridge that is good for 1,000 pages. Additional cartridges cost $27 and last 2,200 pages, which works out to a low one cent per page.
Documentation and other support for the MFC-4800 was acceptable overall. The unit comes with a paper user manual, but ours lacked any reference to printing and scanning. Luckily, the included CD-ROM has the full user manual, which gives detailed instructions on everything from setting up to scanning to troubleshooting. We also appreciated the handy quick-reference guide, which gives you basic fax-setup information and tech-support numbers. The MFC-4800 comes with a standard one-year warranty. Toll-free tech support for the life of the printer is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.
Multifunction printers always have their trade-offs, but in the case of the Brother MFC-4800, it's an acceptable risk. The device does a great job on printing, and it's simple to use. As long as scanning and copying aren't your main goals, this reasonably priced multifunction will make a fine addition to your small or home office.
Multifunction laser printer speed
Pages per minute (longer bars indicate better performance)
* Comparable text/graphics test results are not available.
Multifunction laser printer quality
|In speed tests, the Brother MFC-4800 beat out the more expensive HP LaserJet 3200. The MFC-4800 also delivered good to excellent plain-paper text and graphics output. However, when it came to both scan and copy quality, the MFC-4800 faltered.|