From start to finish, the Brother MFC-5890CN leaves many unanswered questions in its wake: Who designed this eyesore? Why is it so expensive? Did they forget to test out the features before production? Whatever the answer, one thing is certain: we're unapologetically dissatisfied with this all-in-one printer/scanner/fax/copier. Don't be fooled by the excessive 3.3-inch LCD; a pretty screen doesn't mean a thing without a solid machine behind it. We have so many more complaints that it's hard to decide where to start. How about this: we advise all CNET readers and others who don't have $200 to stay far away from this model and check out the Canon Pixma MX330 instead.
We normally don't delve too deep into the packaging, but we have to warn you about the Brother's unabashed stickering of its printers. The MFC-5890CN comes prepackaged with no less than five prominently placed stickers spattered across the scanner lid, auto-document feeder, ink cartridge bay, and side paneling. Other companies do this as well, but the difference is that the stickers on the 5890CN don't peel away easily at all, leaving bits of backing that make it look like your printer was mauled by a fed-up feline.
Sadly, Brother printers are always the furthest behind in terms of design, and the MFC-5890CN is no different. The cheap black plastic and mushy rubber buttons coupled with a strange extraterrestrial shape looks like a throwback to the first supercomputer in a bad '70s science fiction movie. In addition, you'll notice that the printer is especially larger than other multifunction printers are. Sitting at 9.5 inches tall by 19.1 inches wide by 16.1 inches deep and 23.6 pounds, this tank demands a large portion of desk space.
Instead of integrating the control panel into the main body like its more streamlined competitors, Brother built its version separately onto an extended lip that protrudes out of the front. A large 3.3-inch color LCD screen sits in the center of the control panel and swivels up and down, but the notches behind it only allow for three different fixed angles. To the left of the screen is a numerical rubber keypad for entering fax numbers into the address book, a set of six speed dial buttons, and an additional set of hot keys for fax settings like preview, redial/pause, and hook.
The rights side of the control panel contains more buttons to access the various print, copy, and scanning features. Along with the four quick function keys, there's also a fourth button for "photo capture" that opens a folder to display images on digital memory cards. You can also customize the button to automatically copy images on a card to a specific folder or copy the files directly to an application. The card reader itself is built into the front of the printer directly between the control panel and the paper tray, with slots for PictBridge USB (to connect a digital camera), CompactFlash, and SD/MS/xD.
The large drawer that pulls from the bottom of the device holds blank sheets of paper and the top doubles as a landing where finished prints come to rest. The glaring issue here is that the drawer sits flush in the printer when its fully installed and doesn't extend far enough out of the device. That makes it hard to grab outbound prints unless you have a set of children's hands around to help with the job. Having to reach your hand all the way into this awkward, covered cave to retrieve smaller four inch by six-inch photos makes this design especially frustrating.
While the power and telephone port for the fax machine are located on the left side of the rear panel and easy to get to, the USB and Ethernet ports sit inside the printer. For some reason, Brother forces you to open the machine, prop up the lid with a plastic arm, snake the USB and Ethernet cables through a small plastic guide, and plug them directly into the internal components. Not only is this an incredibly unnecessary hassle and completely unique to Brother, but you also wind up losing more than a foot of cable slack as a result of all that extensive internal looping. Unfortunately, you have no other data connection options because of the printer's lack of built-in Wi-Fi support. We also find it strange that lifting up the lid and exposing the gearing serves no other purpose other than to access these two ports. Brother could have placed those inputs on the back just as easily, a design that every other printer manufacturer has the common sense to follow.
The drivers on the MFC-5890CN's installation disc give you the option to adjust the printer's quality settings from normal to fine, fast, and fast normal. In addition, you get a box to check natural versus vivid photo printers and a unique "True2life" color enhancement tool with customizable changes to color density, white balance, contrast, brightness, and other settings. Finally, the driver also installs a status monitor that pops up during job processing to monitor ink cartridge levels and quality control.
Brother also gives you the option to install a third-party imaging application called "Paperport" by ScanSoft. This program lets you edit photos in a file browsing setup similar to Apple's iPhoto, with basic photo editing solutions for auto-enhancement, blemish erasing, and red-eye elimination. We played around with the software for a while and enjoyed its simplicity compared with iPhoto, although don't expect the editing quality to be on par with Adobe suites; this is geared more for light users and amateur photographers with limited time and editing resources.