The objective: NO compromises. When you want it all in a black & white multi-function laser printer, fax, scanner, copier, this is the one to get!  This (street priced) $500 Brother MFC-8890DW is a dream machine, with nothing about which to be critical!  Even if the price is beyond your budget you, keep reading, because, with compromises that may be acceptable to you, you can have almost all of this for much less in other Brother MFC models.


Here at Gadget Central I was searching for a way to centralize several operational capabilities, thereby saving desktop space, saving time by virtue of speedy performance, and saving money by having one device that is easily shared with multiple users.  I also wanted to find such an office machine that was downright stingy in operational expenses. Yes, I was searching for a way to have it all, save space and time, and not break the bank, and this Brother has not disappointed.

First, let’s have a look at all of which this unit is capable.  Try to read it all in one breath!

What’s Hot?

Print up to legal size at up to 32 pages per minute, 50-page ADF (Automatic Document Feeder), auto duplexing for “normal” 2-sided printing as well as booklet printing and printing multiple pages on one piece of paper (N-up printing, which I rarely use), easy-to-configure wireless 802.11b/g networking for Macs and Windows PCs plus wired Ethernet, USB and old-school Parallel connectivity, excellent Mac and Windows software, comes with “standard yield” TN620 3,000-page toner and can use optional TN650 8,000-page toner cartridge (approx. best price for “genuine Brother” toner cart – $80), built-in 250-page paper tray, plus 50-page multipurpose bypass tray (perfect for envelopes), available straight-through print path for no-wrinkles printing even on non-standard paper, USB connector on machine front perfect for PDF or JPEG (in black & white) printing from or scanning to USB disc-on-key (scans may be in color), glass platen also accepts legal size docs, 25% – 400% reduction and enlargement capabilities, standard 64MB on-board memory, PCL6 & BR-Script 3 emulation (so it will print darn near anything you can throw at it), G3 fax directly at the unit, remotely by setting docs at the unit with control from a computer or via computer over the network with supplied software only, 340 auto-dial locations, fax forwarding, b & w and color scanning directly at the machine or over the network including the 50-page ADF, up to 48-bit color scanning directly or controlled at the computer after placing the item on the glass or stacked in the ADF at an optical resolution of up to 600 x 2400 dpi or interpolated up to 19,200 x 19,200 dpi, and can be exported and saved as TIFF/BMP/MAX/JPG/PDF, and paper handling of just about anything from thick to thin.  And, there’s MORE!  Included software for both viewing and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) of scanned docs, turning text “images” in “typed” text; Scansoft PaperPort SE with OCR for Windows and Presto PageManager for Mac. Power consumption in Sleep/Ready/Copying mode is specified at 18W/85W/680W. The high-looking power consumption number when in operation can be misleading – while 680 watts is a lot of electricity, this must be factored into just how much time per day, week, and month the unit is actually in full use and drawing that much juice.  With its speedy performance, actually “ON” time is relatively small – a few seconds here, a few minutes there.  It has hardly resulted in a noticeable blip on our bill, so, for most of you considering such a device, fear not that it will increase costs noticeable on your electric bill.  It’s neither noisy nor silent with what I term a very acceptable sound level during operation and with no noticeable sound spikes in any mode. Remote setup capabilities from any “allowed” computer on the network.  For all its functionality, it commands a surprisingly small footprint!

Now is a great time to mention the options for those who do not want or need some of the features here, such as printing this speedily, faxing, wireless networking, or duplex printing. There are other Brother Multi-Function Black & White Laser products, starting at an estimated street price of about $200, though likely available for less through careful online shopping.  So, pick and choose features and capabilities and get what you need, for less money than would have been expected and for less operational costs than may be experienced with other brands.

What’s not so hot?

Operationally, no objections, no glitches were noted.  If anything, the many choices available can be overwhelming, but this is a personal choice and decision.  Brother provides options for the user who wants this for sharing within a family setting as well as for small to medium work groups in an office setting.  Ours is more a small office, home office environment.

Expensive?  Yes and no.  Consider all it does and how it can eliminate the need for a separate document scanner, printer, copier or fax for multiple users, for example.  Those separate scanners, for example, of which there are several from which to choose, my favorite being the robust Fujitsu ScanSnap line for Windows PCs and Macs, can cost from $100 – $400, or more.

In the interest of saving space by NOT retaining and having to file paper documents through scanning and saving as PDFs, users and groups need just this one device, sharing it among several users.  Here at Gadget Central, we decided to try and reclaim desktop space and look at initial cost, and determined that this Brother was worth a look and this report.  Even when sharing, its speed has meant no bottlenecks in getting the work done and out.

Of course, today, in homes and small offices/home offices, wired and wireless Internet connectivity is the rule, and here, too, this Brother shines.  Sharing wirelessly with our Macs and Windows PCs (even running Windows 7), is seamless.  We have not needed to connect Ethernet from the Brother to our router.  This means, for any user, that the wireless-connected Brother may be deployed in any convenient location irrespective of its proximity to a wired-to-the-router connection.

It’s easy to walk up to the machine, place one or more pages in the ADF and make copies, collating when needed.  Choosing other than standard settings for brightness and contrast are equally easy.  At the machine, it’s easy, as would be expected, to send a fax, as well.

Brother has also been smart to tailor available fax settings to accommodate the needs of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol – Internet-based phone services such as Vonage, Packet8 and PhonePower) users.  Fax sending over non-standard phone lines such as these can present, at the very least, challenges for the hardware.  With the VoIP setting in the fax setup, our faxes fly over our VoIP phone lines without a glitch.

As for scanning and printing, as it is likely that each user may have needs different from others, these operations are best handled over the network. Here’s how it works.  Whichever user has the need visits the Brother and sets docs in the ADF (face up, by the way).  We can take our laptops to the Brother and perform the operations when nearby OR we can leave a computer at its normal workplace, set the docs, and then go back to the computer to perform the operations from the computer in another room.

The Brother ControlCenter utility is set to load when our computers start, and then we only need access this utility, from the top-of-screen menu on Macs and from the tray at bottom right on Windows PCs.  Bringing up this utility shows us the various selections within each overall operation – Scan, Copy PC Fax – as well as all the various settings within each group, custom set for each user at his or her computer.  (When Brother updates their ControlCenter software for Macs and Windows PCs, it will be an easy update.)

For example, clicking on “Configuration” at the upper right in the image above, users may select what happens when scanning an image, a document to OCR, a document to e-mail and scanning to file.  Let us say that I want to default my scans-to-file to be PDFs, sent to a Brother Scans folder in the Documents folder, I can do it. Here is where the user may select how a scanned doc is post-processed for e-mail – automatically opening Outlook or Windows Live Mail (Windows), Mail or Entourage settings (Mac), and putting that scan in a new email. Scan images to default JPEGs, as an example saved where the user chooses. You get the idea?

Our email is hosted by Google, and I do not use Outlook in Windows and rarely use Mail on our Macs, so I drag and drop scanned docs as attachments when using our email through the Firefox browser in our email interface.  This has proven to be of no concern to all users here.

Specifying what is done when copying and PC-faxing can also be set under the Configuration submenus, tailored for the user on that computer.  Sweet!

Beyond the default settings, allowance is made for those times when it is desired to deviate from the default settings, just for that one session.  Adjust contrast and brightness to bring into view otherwise too faint text or images.  Try a scan to file, for example, of a credit card, one that has a particularly dark background.  You’d want to do this, as well as all your important items in a wallet, having the info available in the event the wallet is lost.  (The reader is advised to seek out how to save these scans as protected and secure PDF files. Here at Gadget Central we use Adobe Acrobat on our Macs and Windows PCs for this purpose and to create fillable forms.)  Adjusting the contrast and brightness were needed in order to get the desired, readable results.

It’s easy to see how the MFC-8890DW settings are both easy to make as well as a boatload for a consumer to process mentally.  Fear not!  It is this writer’s belief (and experience) that taking the time to investigate and make these initial settings will be not only worthwhile and rewarding, but will afford a nice overview of the capabilities important to each individual user.  In doing so, each user makes the MFC-8890DW his or her own.  This is how to realize the most savings and benefit.

After settings are done, it’s time to put the device to work.

We save paper by printing only what is needed, and then, where possible, on both sides of the paper with the built-in duplexing.  This is fun to observe, at least the first time!  One side is printed and then partially sent to the output tray.  Then, each sheet is “sucked” back in and the other side is printed, as necessary, before fully sending out the page.

Printed documents look just fine to all eyes here, with crisp text with the look of quality. Graphics, too, look good, but printed photos are nothing more than their poor black & white representation.  No one would buy this or any laser monochrome machine for its photo printing quality!

There is also a Toner Save mode, which we do not use.  This mode produces less-than-perfect pages by reducing the amount of toner used on the page.  We just print only what is needed using the default 600 dpi setting.  Rarely, and only as needed, we use the 1200 dpi setting for extra visual crispness.

While we are scanning and saving papers as PDFs, then shredding and disposing of the originals, we are also taking the time to go through older saved papers and batch scanning them to slowly, finally cut down on all the paper around here.  Another project is to scan old photos, both color and black & white, saving them as digital files so we can dump those old photos.  We default most photos scanned to 600 dpi and are saving all those files in an organized, deliberate manner.  Yes, we are also backing up locally and online, but that is a story for another time. We do not batch scan photos through the ADF, as this might damage them.

Faxing at the device or remotely through the ControlCenter interface is as easy as can be.  As if setting docs for copying or scanning, we place the paper in the ADF.  Then, if at the device, we can select from the Address Book, through the unit’s display, or enter a number to which the fax is to be sent.  If setting the paper and then faxing through the ControlCenter interface at the computer, the procedure is as easy as if faxing any doc already in the computer directly from the computer.  In the interface, click Send.  This triggers the unit to scan and then bring up the interface in which a cover page may be selected or not, then a number may be directly entered or chosen from the user’s populated address book.  If faxing using Windows software supplied with the device, the user opens the document or from any application selects the print command, chooses the PC Fax as the device, then makes the same selections as above.

Faxing directly from a Mac is a different animal.  This operation is done through the Print dialogue box; choosing the 8890 as the printer, then accessing the Copies and Pages pulldown and choosing Send Fax.  Mac users will have it pretty easy, as expected, though different from the PC experience.

In my world, if I could, I would do away with fax altogether.  This 20th century arcane technology is all but obsolete by email today.  Isn’t it just as easy to send a PDF as email?  I’ll leave this to the reader to decide, but it is this decision and the need or lack thereof of fax capability that can help determine if this is the right device to buy.  Unfortunately, it is still occasionally necessary to receive and send faxes, so we opted for this as a required feature.

Another feature NOT used here has to do with scan-to-email directly from the unit.  This would be a useful feature, perhaps in a small to medium size office that has its mail service on site.  We do not, so we could not use this feature.  I suspect that most of you have no idea what this all means, as you are, as I, just your average consumer.  This feature is not missed, however, because we all can send out any scanned doc locally, at each computer, as we wish.  This just seems normal to me, but it’s worth noting that this higher level capability is built into the 8890DW for those users who would and could use it.

As with so many new and possibly intimidating major gadgets, there is a period of adjustment, a honeymoon period during which the new users become accustomed to the intruder, dealing with and overcoming any issues that may arise.  This multi-function, multifaceted Brother device was found to be easy and intuitive to use, especially so after it was set up and after all the users were practiced with the various operations.  This just takes time!  Fast forward to today; the realization that the MFC-8890DW has been well integrated into our daily existence, now hardly noticed.  It’s there, ready for use and no one has to think about what to do or how to do it.  This transparency is precisely the hallmark of a great product.

All of this brings us to the conclusion.  Perhaps our needs mimic yours.  I want the wireless connectivity, freeing us to place the multi-function device in the location of our choice.  I want the fast printing capability along with built-in duplexing.  Do I need this on a regular basis? No, but the times when I have a large printing job to do, I want it fast and the difference between 23 pages per minute and 32 pages per minute becomes significant. When sharing with others, this speed may be particularly significant as one user may wait for another’s job to be completed.  I want to be able to print on both sides and I want to be able to use an 8,000 page toner cartridge that will decrease per-page costs and make even less frequent the need for consumables replenishment.  I want the ease of use with Macs and Windows computers, which includes the ease of installation of software and setup of the product.  I don’t need anything else complicating daily existence.  If your needs, your wants are similar, this is what I recommend. No other brand, and no other model, for the money, have all of this and will cost so little to operate on a per-page basis over the expected years of life of the product.

Our own experience with Brother printing products over several years has proved they make a darn fine printing and multi-function product that is safe to recommend.

Now, with our experience and recommendation, I hope you will visit the Brother Website to see their black & white laser multi-function offerings.  The choice and tradeoffs are not so simple to make because you cannot pick and choose which features you want and, effectively, custom choose from your preferred features. You will either make some tradeoffs or choose as we did, going for the top and not looking back.

It is also important to mention color.  I have little personal need for color printing.  I just never need to print a document in color.  I have little need to print photos instantly.  I can wait.  I upload photos to Costco and let them print for me, using the same method as if printed from standard film.  It’s not inkjet printing. Results are excellent and, currently, cost only about 14 cents per 4 x 6 photo, for example.  I’ve found sales that bring the per-print cost under 10 cents.  That I can scan in high quality color is important.  Printing in color increases expense per page and maintenance in a big way.

For those among our readers and viewers who want color, do look at what Brother provides in both inkjet and laser configurations.  We have not checked out the Brother color laser MFC products.  It appears from the link above that the equivalent featured product in that line comes with about a $200 premium, a $700 estimated street price, and with, as expected, expensive consumables.  Still, were I in a position to need high quality color output on a grand scale, this is the direction I would pursue.

If you can’t find just what is needed, cost effectively, from Brother, you probably don’t need it!  And for those of you who may need the basics, a plain old, simple black & white laser printer, Brother’s the way to go, for home, office or student use, and all for a price of about $100 or less with careful online shopping!

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