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

Brother MFC-5890CN

Justin Yu Associate Editor / Reviews - Printers and peripherals
Justin Yu covered headphones and peripherals for CNET.
Justin Yu
7 min read

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.


Brother MFC-5890CN

The Good

Low cost to print; two-year warranty.

The Bad

Poor output quality; slow print times; awkward build quality; outdated design; lacks wireless networking.

The Bottom Line

The Brother MFC-5890CN all-in-one is hands down the worst printer to take up space in our lab. From the irritating initial set up to the horrendous output quality and slow print speed, this device is the easiest way to flush $200 down the drain.

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.

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.


Brother MFC-5890CN

Score Breakdown

Design 3Features 4Performance 3Support 8