Unfortunately, the MFC-5840cn suffers from homely looks, claptrap input trays, sluggish print speeds, and poor-quality prints and scans, making it a dubious business investment if you're impatient and want crisp output. For a small office that can get by with sharing a printer over a peer-to-peer network, consider the Canon Pixma MP780, which offers similar features but throws in double-sided printing and produces better output, although it lacks Ethernet connectivity and costs AU$170 more.
The compact design of the Brother MFC-5840cn is ideal for a small office where space is at a premium. This printer's size is average for an all-in-one, at 460mm by 485mm by 340mm (WDH) and 10 kg, but we like the way the paper trays stack up within the main body of the printer, giving it a small footprint without protruding parts.
The Ethernet and USB ports are also nestled inside the printer, underneath the scanbed. This is where you'll find four separate ink tanks so that you can replace each colour as it runs dry. The top of the device features a 35-sheet automatic document feeder for multipage faxing, copying and scanning; it lifts up to reach the flatbed scanner.
The paper trays pull out like drawers when you need to refill them, and the top input tray offers a plastic handle to help, although it feels so flimsy that we wonder how well it will stand up to repeated use. Because the MFC-5840cn's two stacked input trays hold a generous total of 350 sheets, you can put photo paper in one tray and plain paper in the other and avoid accidentally wasting pricey sheets on, say, an incoming fax.
Convenience aside, the MFC-5840cn is no beauty: its two-tone grey plastics are ornamented with primary colour buttons, and its media-card slots look as if they were glued on as an afterthought. But the control panel includes an easy-to-read backlit LCD, an alphanumeric keypad, and clusters of buttons for printing, walk-up faxing, copying and navigating the LCD menus.
The Brother MFC-5840cn lets you send faxes and make prints, copy and scan in greyscale or colour, and it walks you through tweaking the image quality, the number of copies, and the print-sorting order. A bank of media-card slots on the machine's front panel lets you print photos without using your PC or Mac; the text LCD menu can print an index sheet or specific photos by number, and you can even adjust the brightness and the contrast, the white balance, the sharpness, and the colour density of your images. You can set the printer to crop larger photos to fit on a smaller page and make borderless prints. If you select two 3x5-inch photos to print on 8x10-inch paper, for example, the MFC-5840cn automatically doubles them up on the sheet.
In addition to the usual set of print drivers that let you adjust print quality and orientation and scale a document to fit a page, the Brother MFC-5840cn includes the Brother Control Center software, which displays the functions of any Brother peripherals you may have under one umbrella interface. You can access the Control Center via your Windows Taskbar when using your computer to scan, copy, and view or copy media-card images. The installation CD also provides the ScanSoft PaperPort app, which lets you scan to e-mail or a file, or open an OCR program, and it lets you annotate, enhance and touch up the scanned images. The Brother MFC-5840cn also comes with OmniPage OCR software for converting scans into editable text, and BRAdmin Professional, an easy-to-use program for monitoring and managing your printers across a network. If you install BRAdmin, it quickly finds all of the printers on your network and displays their status and configuration information in a Web browser window.
Despite the useful and small-office-friendly features of the Brother MFC-5840cn, it performed slowly in CNET Labs' tests. This printer also chugged and wheezed like an aging, asthmatic dog. Text prints were faster than those of most inkjets, at 4.56 pages per minute (ppm), but its scans lagged behind those of other budget all-in-ones, such as the Epson Stylus CX4600.
||Color scan speed||
||Grayscale scan speed||
The Brother MFC-5840cn's text print quality was dreadful: letters had fuzzy edges and visible printhead banding. Colour graphics suffered from low resolution, and you could easily see the individual ink droplets that make up an image. Overall, our graphics test document was blurry with dull colours. Photos were slightly better, but not frameworthy, and skin had a distinctly grainy look and a cyan or greyish cast. Greyscale and colour scans were smooth, but the MFC-5840cn had trouble capturing fine details, such as the weave of a fabric, and the overly sharp contrast made the scanner miss subtle grey shades.
||Graphics on inkjet paper||
||Text on inkjet paper|
NOTE: Products in this test are for comparative purposes only and are not necessarily available in the Australian market.Click here to learn more about how CNET Labs tests printers.