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Brother MFC-290C review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £70
inc VAT


colour inkjet MFP, 30ppm print speed, USB, PictBridge USB, 180x390x375mm

Like buses, you wait ages for a new low-cost inkjet MFP to be released and then two come along at once.

While Lexmark’s X3650, opposite, is aimed at home users, Brother’s MFC-290C has a range of features more suited to office use. It’s one of the cheapest MFPs we’ve seen to include a fax machine with a 15-page automatic document feeder (ADF). This makes it an appealing option for home workers who need to send lengthy documents.

Print speeds were slower than usual for an inkjet. It was most noticeable in our normal quality text document print test, where a single page took 26 seconds to emerge. We’ve noticed this with other Brother inkjets. It’s particularly problematic in an MFP that is otherwise well suited for use in a home office. Normal quality print speeds of 3ppm are very slow, especially compared to the increasing number of compact mono laser MFPs, which are much faster and only a bit more expensive.

Photo printing, an area where inkjets usually excel, was also painfully slow and results were variable. Most of our photos were bold and bright, with good contrast and well-defined dark tones. However, very pale shades had a marked magenta tint and light skin tones looked jaundiced. Even extracting our prints was a minor irritation that required us to reach inside the printer to pull them out of its deep tray. You can print photos directly from various memory card formats, but this isn’t particularly convenient without a screen. There is also a PictBridge USB port, so you can print photos directly from a digital camera. Unlike some other Brother printers, there’s no facility to print PDFs from a USB drive, which would be more useful to office users.

The quality of normal document prints was also flawed. Mono text documents were usable, although black text looked slightly grey in comparison with prints from both lasers and other inkjets. Draft quality prints emerged at a respectable 9.8ppm, but are only suitable for proofing, as they’re pale with jagged lettering. Colour document prints were poor and suffered from agonisingly slow print speeds of just 1.4ppm. Bright colours looked washed out, but pale shades were accurate.

Copy quality is better than that of most inkjet MFPs, with particularly accurate colours and legible reproduction of even fine 5pt text. However, mono copies of colour graphics were gritty, and copy speeds were rather slow at 30 seconds for a single mono page and 42 seconds for colour. The ADF makes it easy to copy documents of up to 15 pages at once, but it’s also slow. We had to wait almost four minutes for a 10-page mono copy.

Brother’s scanner interface is basic, but did everything we needed. You can select resolutions and bit depth, and choose from a variety of preset sizes. There’s no automatic size detection, so you’ll have to select scan areas for unusually sized items yourself. Settings are helpfully retained between scans and the interface remains open after a scan has been made, which makes it easy to scan batches of documents. The CCD scanner has a maximum optical resolution of 1,200×2,400dpi and up to 32-bit colour depth. Unfortunately, although our low-resolution document scans looked good and captured tiny text accurately, high-resolution photo scans suffered from poor shading and jagged dithering.

Despite its solid range of features and low price, the MFC-290C disappoints. However, most fax MFPs are more expensive, so you’d be hard pressed to find an MFP with similar capabilities at this price. Lexmark’s X9575 (Labs, Shopper 249) has network capabilities and faster print speeds, but costs almost twice as much. If you don’t need colour, you may be better off with a mono laser MFP such as HP’s LaserJet M1319f (What’s New, Shopper 249), but this isn’t a cheap option. Due to its slow print speeds and poor quality, we can’t recommend the MFC-290C even though it’s the cheapest fax MFP we’ve seen.

Basic Specifications

Rating **
Maximum native print resolution 6,000×1,200dpi
Max optical resolution 1,200×2,400dpi
Output bit depth 36-bit

Quoted Speeds

Quoted speed, mono A4 30ppm
Quoted speed, colour A4 25ppm

Tested Print Speeds

Time for two 10x8in photos 1.0 6m 15s
Time for six 6x4in photos 1.0 17m 7s

Physical and Environmental

Standard printer interfaces USB, PictBridge USB
Optional printer interfaces none
Size 180x390x375mm
Weight 7.8kg
Power consumption standby 2W
Power consumption idle 3W
Power consumption active 14W

Paper Handling

Maximum paper size A4/legal
Maximum paper weight 220gsm
Standard paper inputs 1
Standard paper input capacity 100
Maximum paper inputs 1
Maximum paper input capacity 100
Duplex (code, cost if option) No


Printer technology thermal inkjet
Supported operating systems Windows 2000/XP/XP-64/Vista/Vista-64, Mac OS X 10.2.4+, Linux
Other inkjet features mono LCD screen, automatic head alignment
Other inkjet options none

Buying Information

Price £70
Consumable parts and prices LC980C, LC980M, LC980Y @ £5.44 ea., LC980BK, £10.33
Price per colour A4 page 6.3p
Quoted life of supplied black cartridge 300 pages (ISO/IEC 24711)
Quoted life of supplied colour cartridge(s) 260 cyan, magenta, yelllow pages (ISO/IEC 24711)
Quoted life of supplied photo cartridge(s) N/A
Warranty one year onsite

Print Quality

Number of ink colours 4
Number of ink cartridges 4
Maximum number of ink colours 4
Maximum number of cartridges 4
Quoted photo durability source N/A

Tested Scan Speeds

Full scan area preview 14s
A4 document at 150dpi 17s
A4 document at 300dpi 19s
6x4in photo at 600dpi 19s
6x4in photo at 1200dpi 56s

Tested Copy Speeds

Time for single A4 mono copy 1.0 31s
Time for single A4 colour copy 1.0 42s
Time for 10 A4 copies using feeder 2.0 3m 54s

Photo Features

PictBridge support Yes
Borderless printing A4, letter, A6, 4x6in, index card, postcard
Direct (PC-less) printing Yes
Supported memory cards USB flash drive, Secure Digital, SDHC, Memory Stick/PRO, xD
CD printing No

Copy Features

Maximum number of copies 99
Max mono copy resolution 1,200×1,200dpi
Max colour copy resolution 1,200×1,200dpi

Fax Features

Fax memory (maximum mono pages) 170