Brother's US$180 MFC-790CW color inkjet multifunction printer has a tempting array of goodies, but offers lackluster performance. Despite its aspirations, the MFC-790CW can't compete with other machines in its price range, such as the HP OfficeJet J4680.
Though the MFC-790CW is compact, it still provides some nice features for the price. Wi-Fi connectivity is standard. A 4.2-inch color LCD touch screen replaces many control-panel buttons and is easy to use, with a few exceptions: The on-screen ink-status button, for instance, looks more like an icon, so I didn't understand that I could press it to access ink-related features. Media slots, a PictBridge port, and a dedicated photo tray encourage you to print your favorite shots.
Although this model has versatile paper handling, the trays hold a minimal amount. The automatic document feeder (ADF) holds just 15 sheets. The main input tray takes only 100 sheets; the piggybacked photo tray, merely 20. The tray lid doubles as the 50-sheet output tray. With these three components crammed into such a small space, loading or adjusting media requires some tricky maneuvers.
The ink cartridges nestle conveniently behind a small door in the machine's front. The separate cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges each cost $10 and last 325 pages (per industry-standard ISO measurements), or 3.1 cents per color, per page. That's pretty good. Black is the exception: At $23.50 for 450 pages, it's a pricey 5.2 cents per page.
But the real problem is the MFC-790CW's speed, or lack thereof. It printed plain-text pages at an abysmal rate of 3.9 pages per minute. It did better on graphics, managing 2.4 ppm. The print quality didn't make up for the long wait. Text samples looked a little light but crisp. Graphics printed on plain paper appeared dull, but on Brother's own photo paper they improved considerably. Scan samples seemed dark on occasion and sometimes yellowish, but acceptable; copy samples were also decent.
Given its low price and interesting features, the Brother MFC-790CW could have been a contender. But its plodding performance can't be ignored.