Setting up the Brother MFC-5200c multifunction was more difficult than we'd like, taking just shy of 90 minutes to have all the devices within the printer up and running. The poster-sized setup guide's somewhat puzzling instructions inspired a few visits to Brother's Web site and a periodic glance at the paper user guide to clarify some relatively minor issues. We also had to read the read-me file on the software CD, which warns of known problems with the USB interface and your PC's power-saving features. Brother's solution: disable Windows' Suspend Mode or Power Management. Take additional note of potential problems when uninstalling the USB drivers--also mentioned within the read-me file. Cables for the USB and parallel ports are not included. The MFC-5200c is both Windows and Mac compatible, but the scanner or fax machine functions won't work under Mac OS X 10.0.
The round Decision button has a learning curve.
The MFC-5200c definitely saves space compared to having a separate fax, scan, and print devices, but its design makes it less compact than it could be. Its size--19.4 inches wide by 18.3 inches deep by 14.9 high--is about average compared to its competitors, but its blocky design makes it look bulkier. The rear panel's design creates other issues. The USB and parallel ports face out the back, requiring clearance for their cables; other multifunction printers we've seen indent their ports, such as the HP OfficeJet 7130. You also need to allow space to access the printer's manual feed slot that's below the vertical main input tray.
The flatbed scanner assembly dominates the MFC-5200c's profile. An automatic document feeder (ADF) for scanning, faxing, and copying rises like a crest from the top of the unit. The ADF and its output tray form a lid for the scanner that lies beneath them. You lift the lid to place documents directly on the scanner bed. It would be nice if the hinges lifted vertically, as in Brother's lesser endowed MFC-4420c. In any case, remember to empty the ADF and output tray before lifting the lid, lest you dump their contents behind the machine.
Front and center on the MFC-5200c is the control panel. It takes some time to learn: for example, to confirm an operation, you need to press either the Menu/Set or Fax Start buttons, depending on the context.
|Although the MFC-5200c supports most digital camera cards, SD Flash is not one of them.|
|The Brother MFC-5200c uses four ink cartridges.|
Located directly beneath the control panel is a latch that opens the entire top of the machine. This gives access to the printer's paper path (for clearing jams) and its four (one black, three color) ink cartridges. The printer's output tray lies at the bottom of the machine. Located to the tray's left are ports for CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and Memory Stick media cards, which you can print from or write to without using your PC. As with Brother's other multifunction printers, however, there's no support for SD Flash.
The Brother MFC-5200c offers especially full feature sets for faxing, scanning, and copying. The 30-sheet ADF lets you fax or scan multipage documents easily. You can send and receive both monochrome and color faxes (the latter only from equally capable machines). The 33.6Kbps fax-modem can send and receive faxes simultaneously. You can broadcast faxes up to 150 locations and autodial up to 100 numbers. When copying and scanning, you can print close to the edge of the paper and enlarge or reduce the size from the original from 25 to 400 percent--features usually found on more expensive multifunction printers. You can scan directly to OCR software, word processors, imaging applications, e-mail, or FTP sites using resolutions up to 9,600dpi (dots per inch; interpolated) and 600x2,400dpi (optical).
The inkjet printer is the least flashy of the components. It prints at resolutions up to 2,400x1,200dpi. Its main input tray takes 100 sheets of regular letter or legal paper, while the manual feed slot handles envelopes and other odd-shaped media. The output tray holds 50 sheets. The printer uses four ink cartridges--one for each color and black--which helps cut down on ink waste.
For software, Brother installs a truly lackluster application called SmartUI, whose operation is unclear and not documented. Worse, we also had serious problems uninstalling software, requiring us to resort to the read-me file on the CD, which enumerates this and other problems. For scanning, Brother bundles a few low-end applications such as ScanSoft's PaperPort (acquired from Visioneer) for previewing, tweaking, and routing your scans; TextBridge.for OCR; and PC Fax for desktop control of the faxing features. In most cases, you will want to upgrade these applications. Also note that PaperPort 8.0 SE requires special uninstall instructions.
The Brother MFC-5200c's black text speed can be seen in both positive and negative lights. Its text-printing speed of 5.1 pages per minute (ppm) in CNET Labs' tests is on a par with the 6.3ppm produced by the Canon MP 730 and the 4.3ppm from the HP OfficeJet 7130. It easily trounced its sibling, the Brother MFC-4420c, which managed an anemic 1ppm. However, the MFC-5200c missed the 20ppm speed that Brother claims it can do by a much wider margin than we expected--so take this spec with a grain of salt. The 5200c has scan times comparable to those of other multifunction printers we've seen, yet the images weren't as sharp. Our average copy speed, without reducing or enlarging, was a bit slower than that of other models. The fax send and receive quality and times were acceptable.
Print quality is another problem. In our tests, black text produced by the MFC-5200c looked blurry. Color images looked fuzzy, too, particularly when using photo paper. Color tones from copying and scanning were acceptable.
Multifunction printer text speed (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Laser printer quality|
Brother's standard warranty for the MFC-5200c lasts one year and includes replacement service. Toll-free technical support is available by phone Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. The Web site features FAQs, downloadable drivers, utilities, and manuals, which we found particularly useful during setup. There is also a fax-back service.
When calling Brother's tech support, we had to wait 20 minutes before talking to a live person. While the technician did a reasonable job in trying to solve a printer issue, he didn't give us overall confidence in his ability to help with the bundled software.