Brother's $500 Color Laser MFP Has Wi-Fi, Decent Performance
At a Glance
Wi-Fi is included in the bargain pricing, but the trade-offs are sedate print speeds and mediocre graphics quality.
Editor's note: PCWorld has updated the speed results for this product. After identifying a conflict with a test file that affected this and a few other, unrelated printers, PCWorld Labs revised the file and retested the product. Its speed results for plain text improved from 8.6 ppm to 10.1 ppm.
The Brother MFC-9320CW, a laser-like multifunction LED printer, is one of the least expensive models we've tested ($500 as of 01/08/2010). 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 colors! 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 sedate 10.1 pages per minute (ppm), noticeably short of Brother's 17-ppm claim. Color and monochrome graphic speeds stuck closer to the average. Printed and copied text looked great, as did a scanned monochrome line-art page. Color 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. Color scans sometimes appeared choppy and blurry, and sometimes colors 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 color costs $70 and lasts 1400 pages (5 cents per color, per page). A page with all four colors 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.