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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Brother MFC-420cn review by PC Magazine

Brother MFC-420cn review by PC Magazine
Multi-function Printers

Brother MFC-420cn
REVIEW DATE: 08.12.05

By M. David Stone

If you don't print, copy, or fax enough in your home or small office to justify an expensive, full-function all-in-one (AIO), but you want one with an automatic document feeder (ADF), standalone fax and copier features, and a network connector, take a look at the Brother MFC-420cn. For just $150 (street), the 420cn will give you all this and more, including the ability to print photos directly from memory cards and to scan to and fax from your PC over a network. (If you don't need the ADF or network connection, check out the MFC-210c, which is otherwise essentially identical.)

The 420cn's combination of features and compact design—at 6.5 by 15.3 by 17.8 inches (HWD)—makes it a good fit for most home and small offices. One potential issue, however, is the limited paper handling (only a 100-sheet capacity maximum). If you print and copy more than about 30 pages per day, continually refilling the tray can turn into an annoying chore. Similarly, the ADF holds only about 10 pages. That limit could also become annoying if you often need to copy or fax longer documents.

Setup is typical for an ink jet–based AIO, with a separate ink cartridge for each of the four colors. More important, network setup is fully automated; tell the setup routine that the printer is on the network and it handles everything for you.

We rated the output quality for text and graphics as good, which in both cases is at the low end of the midrange for ink jets in general. Text is acceptable for most purposes but may be a problem for documents using small type or unusual fonts. More than half our test fonts were easily readable at 5 points and below, but two highly stylized fonts needed 12 points.

Graphics were a mixed bag. Most of the individual graphics pages were very good or excellent. On full-page graphics, however, we saw light bands where the ink simply didn't cover the area fully. The bands were most obvious on two images with dark backgrounds, but a close look showed the same problem on other pages as well. Graphics overall are good enough for internal business use, but the occasional severe banding on a dark background makes them unsuitable for handing out to anyone you want to impress with your professionalism.

Photos earned a rating at the high end of very good, just missing out on excellent. The only issue worth mentioning is that some similar colors blended into each other instead of standing out as different colors.

Performance is the 420cn's most notable weakness. The total time on our business applications suite was 48 minutes 22 seconds, compared with, for example, 21:13 for the Lexmark X3350. For photos, the average time for a 4-by-6 was well over 9 minutes. Even so, performance for most of our test files was in the tolerable range, with a 12-page text file, for example, printing in 4:04.

Call this the wrong AIO for the impatient. But if you print only a few pages a day, you probably won't mind the speed. And, as of this writing at least, you won't find another AIO with this many features at anything like this price.

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