The Brother DCP-165C is the reason why people dread hitting the print button on their computers. During the testing process, we were derailed with hardware malfunctions and hiccups that left us shaking our heads in disdain. Although the $80 price tag is tempting, you'll immediately regret the purchase once you see the results of your printed documents; that is, if you have enough time to wait around for the job to finish. We recommend you stay far away from the DCP-165C and check out the Canon Pixma MX330 instead: you'll be much happier with the Canon's auto-document feeder, 1.8-inch color LCD, and a handful of impressive driver features that will leave the Brother DCP-165C in the dust.
If you've done any printer shopping at all prior to reading this review, you'll immediately notice that the Brother DCP-165C is light years behind the competition in terms of aesthetic design. We knew this printer would receive low design scores right off the bat due to what you could call hate at first sight. Its long footprint saves a bit of space at 15.4 inches wide by 14.4 inches deep by 5.9 inches tall, but the boring rectangular shape has absolutely no appeal to the modern consumer, especially when you consider the aesthetic achievements of printers such as the HP Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One. The Web site describes the DCP-165C as "low-profile," which might be the understatement of the year.
The button layout on the front lip of the control panel literally reminds me of my family's first dot-matrix printer back in the late '80s, with its small rubber buttons smashed around a pathetic one-line LCD that lacks a backlit screen for nighttime viewing. In addition, the screen is fixed at an angle that's actually difficult to read unless you're hovering over the device. We actually found ourselves having to squint to read the tiny characters during tests.
To the right of the screen, you'll find a series of buttons for photo capture, scan, ink levels, power, stop/exit button, and two buttons for color and black "Start." The photo capture button opens a folder to display images on a memory card from the reader built-in between the control panel and the input/output tray. The reader has slots for PictBridge USB (to connect a digital camera), CompactFlash, SD, Memory Stick, and xD cards.
The large drawer that pulls from the bottom of the device holds 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 it's 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 child's hands around to help with the job, and the control panel on top protrudes so far over the tray that it's actually difficult to see when a job is finished printing. This problem is most irritating while printing smaller 4-inch by 6-inch photos.
While the power port is easy to access on the left side of the rear panel, the USB port sits inside the printer. For some reason, Brother forces you to open up the machine, prop up the lid with a plastic arm (similar to the arm on the hood of a car engine), snake the USB cable (not included in the box) through a small plastic guide, and plug it directly into the internal components. Not only is this a hassle and unique to Brother, but you also wind up losing more than a foot of cable slack as a result of the extensive internal looping. It feels counterintuitive to lift up the lid and expose the print head to serve no other purpose other than to plug in the USB cord.
The drivers on the 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 awhile 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.
The printer's scan and copy features both perform adequately. Scanning options include routing images to a file folder, e-mail, or to an optical character recognition text translator. You also get four customizable buttons on the virtual Control Center that you can program to any preference. 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 2-in-1 and 4-in-1. The competition usually offers many more including up to four images on one page, thumbnails, and two-sided prints.
Like many other printers, the DCP-165C includes a suite of desktop options to help you get creative with your prints, but the Brother Creative Center shortcut that the disc installs onto your desktop is simply a link to the Brother Web site, where you can print out business or home creations that include brochures, presentation, greeting cards, and games. Obviously, the drawback is that you can't access any of these features unless you're connected to the Internet. We're not sure why Brother didn't develop its own desktop software, but it's just another example of a poorly executed feature.
The DCP-165C 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, but 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 will last approximately 900 pages, according to Brother, which factors out to 2.2 cents per page of color and 3.5 cents per page for black prints. 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 DCP-165C 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 scores in the photo test, printing at a sluggish rate of 0.62 page per minute, which surprised us because its older "brother," the Brother MFC-685cw released in late 2007, scored 1.3 photos per minute. The rest of the tests were equally pathetic, with the printer continuing to flounder in last place.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Presentation speed||Photo speed (1 sheet)||Color graphics speed||Text speed|
Like many of the Brother printers that came before it, the DCP-165C just can't get a handle on output quality. All of 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 to such a degree that even primary colors look washed out and unacceptable for even the lowest quality snapshot photo.
Service and support
Brother supports its printers with a two-year limited warranty that includes access to its phone support line 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. 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 "Ask Us" program offers immediate e-mail replies for troubleshooting, and the company's Web site provides more support by way of manuals, FAQs, service center locations, and software downloads.
Find out more about how we test printers.