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Brother MFC-5840cn review:

Brother MFC-5840cn

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The Good Roomy, dual-input paper trays; automatic document feeder (ADF); Ethernet port; media-card slots; bargain price.

The Bad Crummy output quality; slow print and scan speeds; ugly design.

The Bottom Line We love this all-in-one's low price and office-appropriate features, but we can't overlook its poor performance and dismal output quality.

CNET Editors' Rating

5.5 Overall
  • Design 6.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 4.0
  • Support 7.0

Review summary

You might say that we have a like-hate relationship with the Brother MFC-5840cn. We appreciate its office-friendly accoutrements, such as roomy dual-input paper trays, an automatic document feeder (ADF), an array of media-card slots, a built-in Ethernet port, four separate ink tanks, and--best of all--the low purchase price. Unfortunately, the MFC-5840cn suffers from homely looks, claptrap input trays, sluggish print speeds, and poor-quality prints and scans, making it a dubious business investment if you're impatient and want crisp output. For a small office that can get by with sharing a printer over a peer-to-peer network, consider the Canon Pixma MP780, which offers similar features but throws in double-sided printing and produces better output, although it lacks Ethernet connectivity and costs $100 more. If you like the ease of use of the Brother MFC-5840cn, the smaller Brother MFC-420cn offers many of the same features, but better output. The compact design of the Brother MFC-5840cn is ideal for a small office where space is at a premium. This printer's size is average for an all-in-one, at 18.1 by 17 by 13.4 inches (WDH) and 22 pounds, but we like the way the paper trays stack up within the main body of the printer, giving it a small footprint without protruding parts. The Ethernet and USB ports are also nestled inside the printer, underneath the scanbed. This is where you'll find four separate ink tanks so that you can replace each color as it runs dry. The top of the device features a 35-sheet automatic document feeder for multipage faxing, copying, and scanning; it lifts up to reach the flatbed scanner.

The paper trays pull out like drawers when you need to refill them, and the top input tray offers a plastic handle to help, although it feels so flimsy that we wonder how well it will stand up to repeated use. Because the MFC-5840cn's two stacked input trays hold a generous total of 350 sheets, you can put photo paper in one tray and plain paper in the other and avoid accidentally wasting pricey sheets on, say, an incoming fax.

Convenience aside, the MFC-5840cn is no beauty: its two-tone gray plastics are ornamented with primary color buttons, and its media-card slots look as if they were glued on as an afterthought. But the control panel includes an easy-to-read backlit LCD, an alphanumeric keypad, and clusters of buttons for printing, walk-up faxing, copying, and navigating the LCD menus. The Brother MFC-5840cn lets you send faxes and make prints, copies, and scans in grayscale or color, and it walks you through tweaking the image quality, the number of copies, and the print-sorting order. A bank of media-card slots on the machine's front panel lets you print photos without using your PC or Mac; the text LCD menu can print an index sheet or specific photos by number, and you can even adjust the brightness and the contrast, the white balance, the sharpness, and the color density of your images. You can set the printer to crop larger photos to fit on a smaller page and make borderless prints. If you select two 3x5-inch photos to print on 8x10-inch paper, for example, the MFC-5840cn automatically doubles them up on the sheet.

In addition to the usual set of print drivers that let you adjust print quality and orientation and scale a document to fit a page, the Brother MFC-5840cn includes the Brother Control Center software, which displays the functions of any Brother peripherals you may have under one umbrella interface. You can access the Control Center via your Windows Taskbar when using your computer to scan, copy, and view or copy media-card images. The installation CD also provides the ScanSoft PaperPort app, which lets you scan to e-mail or a file, or open an OCR program, and it lets you annotate, enhance, and touch up the scanned images. The Brother MFC-5840cn also comes with OmniPage OCR software for converting scans into editable text, and BRAdmin Professional, an easy-to-use program for monitoring and managing your printers across a network. If you install BRAdmin, it quickly finds all of the printers on your network and displays their status and configuration information in a Web browser window.

By Brother's estimates, the MFC-5840cn should be parsimonious with ink. Each color tank costs $12 and is built to last 400 pages at 5 percent coverage, and a high-yield black tank lasting 900 pages at 5 percent coverage costs $32. This works out to a mere 4 cents per page--graphics or text--but you're likely to run through ink much faster if you're printing lots of graphics or photos. Speed
Despite the useful and small-office-friendly features of the Brother MFC-5840cn, it performed slowly in CNET Labs' tests. This printer also chugged and wheezed like an aging, asthmatic dog. Text prints were faster than those of most inkjets, at 4.56 pages per minute (ppm), but its scans lagged behind those of other budget all-in-ones, such as the Epson Stylus CX4600.

CNET Labs multifunction printer performance  (Pages per minute; longer bars indicate better performance)
Copy speed  
Color scan speed  
Grayscale scan speed  
Photo speed  
Text speed  
Dell 962 multifunction
1.42 
6.09 
6.55 
0.19 
7.46 
Lexmark X7170
0.75 
4.68 
5.34 
0.1 
1.12 
Epson Stylus CX4600
1.66 
2.96 
4.82 
0.27 
1.3 
Brother MFC-420cn
2.27 
3.1 
2.95 
0.15 
3.19 
Brother MFC-5840cn
2.27 
2.65 
2.8 
0.14 
4.56 

Quality
The Brother MFC-5840cn's text print quality was dreadful: letters had fuzzy edges and visible printhead banding. Color graphics suffered from low resolution, and you could easily see the individual ink droplets that make up an image. Overall, our graphics test document was blurry with dull colors. Photos were slightly better, but not frameworthy, and skin had a distinctly grainy look and a cyan or grayish cast. Grayscale and color scans were smooth, but the MFC-5840cn had trouble capturing fine details, such as the weave of a fabric, and the overly sharp contrast made the scanner miss subtle gray shades.

CNET Labs print quality performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Color scan  
Grayscale scan  
Photo  
Graphics on inkjet paper  
Text on inkjet paper  
Epson Stylus CX4600
Excellent 
Excellent 
Good 
Good 
Excellent 
Brother MFC-420cn
Fair 
Fair 
Good 
Good 
Good 
Dell 962 multifunction
Fair 
Fair 
Good 
Fair 
Good 
Lexmark X7170
Poor 
Poor 
Excellent 
Good 
Poor 
Brother MFC-5840cn
Fair 
Fair 
Fair 
Poor 
Poor 

Click here to learn more about how CNET Labs tests printers. The Brother MFC-5840cn includes a standard one-year warranty with toll-free phone tech support available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET, as well as 24/7 fax-back support via a toll-free number. You can access FAQs, manuals, driver downloads, and e-mail help via Brother's Web site, and you can increase the warranty coverage by one year. It costs $75 if you choose a mail-in exchange option, and $62.49 if you opt to bring a broken printer to an authorized service center. The array of support offerings is satisfactory, and we appreciate the way the information and contact numbers are conveniently tailored to a particular product. When we made a test call to the support line for multifunctions, it took only about three minutes to get to a live tech-support representative.

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