Brother’s colour laser MFP: Basic, but has Wi-Fi

The Brother MFC-9320CW colour laser multifunction printer (MFP)is one of the least expensive models we’ve tested ($500 as of Jan. 8, 2010). What you get for the money are basic performance, decent features, and moderate toner pricing. If you’re looking for better speed, check out a slightly pricier MFP, the Oki MC360.

The MFC-9320CW is well equipped and well designed. Most notably, Wi-Fi comes standard; you also get a USB/PictBridge port. Paper handling includes a 250-sheet input tray, plus a manual-feed slot. The 100-sheet output area lurks, dark and cavelike, beneath the scanner unit; however, you can tip up the scanner slightly to ease access. The scanner unit also has a 35-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF). Big or colorful markings on important items like the guides in the input tray, and the orientation symbols on the ADF and the scanner platen, make daily use a lot easier. Duplexing is manual, but Brother’s onscreen prompts are helpful. Everything on the control panel is clearly labeled.

The unkeyed toner cartridges bemused me. You can put any toner cartridge in any bay, and the MFC-9320CW won’t blink; it will continue printing–in the wrong colours! The need for idiot-proofing seems obvious here, but when I asked Brother about it, its reps felt this wasn’t a problem.

In our tests, speed and print quality were average overall. The MFC-9320CW printed plain text at a sluggish rate of 8.6 pages per minute (ppm), half of Brother’s 17-ppm claim. Colour and monochrome graphic speeds stuck closer to the average. Printed and copied text looked great, as did a scanned monochrome line-art page. Colour capabilities faltered with anything more complex than a pie chart, as photos suffered from graininess; pale, jaundiced flesh tones; and flat textures. Grayscale photos looked rough. Colour scans sometimes appeared choppy and blurry, and sometimes colours were oversaturated or a little dark.

Toner costs are also midrange. The MFC-9320CW ships with 1000-page starter-size cartridges for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The replacement black costs $75 and lasts 2200 pages (3.4 cents per page). Each colour costs $70 and lasts 1400 pages (five cents per colour, per page). A page with all four colours would cost 18.4 cents.

Brother’s MFC-9320CW may be just average in most ways, and its graphics capabilities are definitely limited. Its affordable price will seem a reasonable trade-off for many cash-strapped small offices–or even individuals. As long as you stick to the basics, you won’t be disappointed.

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