The Canon ImageClass MF4690 has all the trappings of a great small office printer. This multifunction laser printer is network-ready, offers lots of attractive features for work groups, and is reasonably priced at $400. Unfortunately for Canon, the Dell 1815dn offers the same feature set and faster prints for the same $400. The one advantage the Canon MF4690 has is the ability to scan documents to a file server on the network. If that feature trumps the slower print speeds, go with the Canon MF4690. Otherwise, the Dell 1815dn is a better choice.
The Canon ImageClass MF4690 is compact for a multifunction laser printer. It sits 15.4 inches wide, 17.4 inches deep, and 14.6 inches tall, and weighs just less than 32 pounds. The scanner lid conceals an A4-size flatbed scanner, but you can make legal-size scans using the top-mounted automatic document feeder.
The 250-sheet paper cassette tray resides at the bottom of the printer and can be adjusted to hold legal sheets. The cassette's dust cover is detachable, which makes it easy to load the cassette in the middle of a print job. Also mounted on the input cassette is a manual feed tray for one-off prints. It only holds one sheet at a time, though, so you'll have to manually feed each sheet. The output tray has a pull-out arm to corral long sheets.
The printer's control panel is well organized and clearly labeled. A two-line text LCD lets you peruse menus or check the status of hardware components. There are eight programmable one-touch buttons for commonly faxed numbers, as well as several fax-dedicated buttons. With a push of a button, you can switch between copy, fax, and scan tasks, or you can call up settings menus, the toner gauge, or the system monitor. An alphanumeric keypad lets you type in e-mail addresses or fax numbers, and dedicated copy buttons call up common options including enlarge/reduce, image quality, and collate/two-on-one copy. The only other feature on the MF4690 is a USB 2.0 port for connecting USB storage devices (more on this in the Features section).
The MF4690 ships with a starter toner cartridge, rated to print about 1,000 pages. The 2,000-page replacement cartridge costs $70, for a per-page cost of about 3.5 cents. This is a tad high for mono prints, as several laser printers we've reviewed have black print costs closer to 2 cents per page.
The ImageClass MF4690 has all the features that make it suitable for a small office or work group, including built-in networking. It prints, copies, scans, and faxes, and you can even scan to e-mail or to a file server. Using the ADF, you can scan or copy documents with multiple pages. It also has a built-in duplexer for double-sided printing, which helps save money on paper.
When copying, you can opt for collated copies, double-sided prints, or two-on-one prints, which reduces each page to fit on half the target sheet. You also can enlarge or reduce, between 50 percent and 200 percent, either using one of the preset values or a custom values in increments of 1 percent.
The scan-to-PC function is a bit clunky. When you press the Scan button on the control panel, nothing happens. Instead, you need to open the bundled MF Toolbox (which is installed when you install the printer's drivers) to decide how you want the document scanned: using optical character recognition, as a PDF, or to a folder, for example. Then the program instructs you to press the start button on the printer. If you're sitting next to the printer, it's a minor inconvenience, but if you aren't, this setup is a big hassle unless you are always looking for an excuse to get up from your desk. We prefer multifunction printers that let you make those choices directly on the control panel.
The scan-to-USB memory feature is convenient, though. You can connect a USB flash drive to the printer and scan straight to the drive; the file will be saved as a PDF (default mode), TIFF, or JPEG file. There are some restrictions, however: the drive must be formatted using FAT32 or FAT16 only, and the maximum drive size is 8GB for FAT32 and 2GB for FAT16. Also, somewhat confusingly, you don't press the scan button to scan to a USB drive; you press the send/fax button.
The send/fax button initiates standard faxes and also sends files to e-mail addresses or file servers (to send a file to a file server, you must preprogram the address into the printer's address book). The control panel includes eight one-touch dial keys, and you can program an additional 192 coded dials, including groups (of up to 199 numbers). Incoming faxes can be stored in memory, and you can choose to print or delete them. You also can forward received faxes, but the machine lacks a way to block junk faxes. Finally, using your PC, you also can send PC faxes.
The MF4690 has a couple of other features that make it a compelling work-group machine. You can set up the machine to require a user or departmental ID to restrict who can use the machine. Also, if you set up the printer on the network, you can avail yourself of the remote user interface where you can track user permission and job status, among other things.
The Canon ImageClass MF4690 lagged behind its competition with black prints, but outpaced it with grayscale scans and copies. It printed black text at a rate of 14.70ppm and black graphics at a rate of 14.51 pages per minute (ppm). The Lexmark X342n scored 17.13ppm and 18.48ppm for those tasks, respectively, and the Dell 1815dn scored 17.75ppm and 20.01ppm, respectively. However, the MF4690 more than doubled the grayscale scan speeds of both of those multifunctions with its score of 9.77ppm. Color scans were much slower at 2.37ppm. The Canon edged its competitors out with copies, turning in a score of 15.46ppm using the ADF.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The quality text print looked good overall: sharp characters and nice, deep black. Closer inspection revealed minor flaws, however. The same goes for the grayscale graphics print. At first glance, it looked great, but a closer look showed some cross-hatching and slight jaggedness in what should be smooth curves. Overall, though, the print quality is acceptable for a small office or work group.
Grayscale scans were overly dark, with severe compression in the dark end of the grayscale. We also noticed lost details in the shadows of a photo element. On the other hand, the color scan showed excellent color reproduction. Our only issue was a slight softness to the scan. We prefer a sharper look.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Service and support
Canon backs the ImageClass MF4690 with a standard one-year warranty, though you can pay to extend the warranty. Toll-free phone support is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. You also can fill out a Web form to send an e-mail to a support technician if your question isn't pressing. Canon's site provides driver/software downloads, firmware updates, a knowledgebase, and FAQs, though the support page for this particular product was blank at the time of this writing.