The $299 Brother MFC-7860DW monochrome laser printer is an all-in-one solution for offices that don't generally produce graphics prints, but require a versatile machine that can operate as a standalone fax machine, copier, and scanner in addition to its printing duties. Armed with a 35-page autodocument feeder (ADF) for multipage scanning and a duplexer on the back that can flip sheets for automatic double-sided printing, this device earns a recommendation for its straightforward design and reliable performance.
Strictly based on aesthetics, the Brother MFC-7860DW won't inspire as many oohs and ahhs compared to competing monochrome laser multifunctions like the HP LaserJet Pro M1217nfw, but it's certainly no ugly duckling, either.
The bottom half of the printer is based on the same design as the popular HL-2270DW, but the larger paper path, control panel, and ADF on top pushes its dimensions to 2.7 inches wide and 19.4 inches tall. It weighs 25.6 pounds, but textured cutouts on both sides and the bottom of the chassis make it easier to move around the office.
The paper tray that pulls out of a drawer on the bottom of the machine can carry 250-sheets of paper, but you can store an extra 35 pages in the autodocument feeder for printing from the scanner. There's also a single-sheet manual feed in the center console hidden behind the hinged logo window that accepts irregular media like executive sizes, envelopes, custom sizes, and more.
The MF-7860DW's feeder capacity coupled with a 10,000-sheet monthly print volume (as recommended by the manufacturer) should be enough for small offices that print around 30 pages a day. That said, be sure that this number works for your workflow before buying it, as Brother doesn't offer an extra paper tray to increase its overall capacity.
The printer's cockpit offers just enough rubber shortcut buttons to the features you'll access the most on the machine, including quick-access fax, scan, and copy buttons, a number pad for dialing fax numbers, and eight speed-dial buttons as well. You also get selected function buttons for the individual features that let you adjust the resolution of fax images, enlarge or reduce the dimensions of a copy, and toggle duplexing to save money with double-sided prints.
A simple monochrome LCD in the center panel shows pertinent information, and the layout of the whole panel is organized and intuitive to use. The only omission is that the printer lacks a memory card reader and a USB port, preventing walk-up access using flash drives and expansion cards. I suppose this is because Brother doesn't expect users to output photos on the MFC-7860DW. Still, the feature is still useful for guest users that don't have time to install the printer on their network.
That said, connecting the printer for permanent use on a base computer or a wired/wireless network is refreshingly easy in a world of buggy print drivers and complicated setups. The process isn't as basic as the plug-and-play design of HP's Smart Install feature, but the manual and companion disc had the printer up and running for me in a matter of minutes. Though most users will default to the driver menu to connect wirelessly, you can set it up just as easily on the printer itself using Brother's onscreen guide.
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. I played around with the software and enjoyed its simplicity, but don't expect the editing quality to be on par with Adobe suites; it's more for light users and amateur photographers with limited time and editing resources.
The Brother MFC-7860DW's faster engine lends itself to a boost in print speeds compared with its single-function linemate, though it still trailed behind HP's
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The MFC-7860DW's text print quality is excellent, though not perfect. Taking a closer look at the text prints, I notice character flaws on the edges of letters. They aren't perfectly sharp, and the blocks of text exhibit a slight blur compared with others I've seen, though this is only obvious through the lens of a magnifying glass. Solid blocks of toner on graphics prints are blotchy, as is the case with most monochrome laser printers, but the overall imaging quality is certainly satisfactory for professional printouts.
Service and support
Brother backs the MFC-9440CN with a one-year limited warranty. Toll-free phone support is available weekdays from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. PT. You can also send an e-mail or a fax to tech support. Brother's Web site has an FAQ database, downloads, and manuals.
Slight hiccups in text output performance and a lack of features like a memory card reader and a lightweight duty cycle keep the Brother MFC-7860DW from earning an Editors' Choice Award, but its affordable price tag and reliable workflow put this monochrome multifunction laser printer at the top of its game.