"Best B/W laser MFC in its price range"4.0 starson by j_cricket
Pros: ADF, does everything well, networkable (most functions)
Cons: No wireless networking. Cannot receive faxes to network.
Summary: This is perfect for home use. But its networking capabilities are still handicapped, making it not yet ready for SOHO use.
Why? It can only connect to a network by cable. It will not connect wirelessly, and the Brother wireless print server is almost as expensive as the printer itself (and even then it is not clear whether it would handle network scanning and faxing).
Also, "PC-FAX receive" only works if directly connected to a computer. It does not work over the network. So, if you are using the machine to receive faxes onto a server, for example, the MFC must be connected directly to that server by a USB or parallel cable, not by Ethernet.
That is inconvenient, to say the least. Most offices don't keep the server next to the fax/copier/scanner/printer.
If you don't get a lot of incoming faxes, or if you are willing to receive paper faxes and then scan them in by hand to your networked computer, though, this MFC would work for you.
It does scan well to networked PCs (and those PCs can be connected to the network wired or wirelessly, of course). You can scan from any network-connected PC from the PC itself, or, alternatively, you can push a button on the MFC itself and select a networked PC to which you want the scan to go. Using TWAIN drivers provided (for most operating systems), or the WIA driver for Windows XP, you can scan directly into your favourite program. If you choose, you can also use the Brother software control center as an intermediary to choose which program you want the scan to be sent. Every method I tried worked great.
In fact, the network scanning functions are superb. You can even select different programs on different PCs to which you want the scans sent (e.g. an imaging program, or an OCR program, or a word processor program). This option is available from the Brother software control center or from a button on the MFC console itself. Brother really paid attention to this capability.
Scanning is in colour, or any level you want. You can scan from the flatbed, or the ADF. The machine recognizes automatically where you have loaded your document. I personally don't notice any quality difference between the 7820N and my Canon dedicated flatbed scanner, but I don't scan photos from the Brother 7820N. For most uses you'll never notice any difference.
Network printing and network PC-Fax sending functions are easily accessed from any PC, but this is technology that has been around for two decades and is built into Windows, for the most part. In fact, if you really wanted to use this MFC wirelessly, you could use a third-party wireless print server (e.g. Linksys) and still access these two functions. Only network scanning and PC-Fax receiving would not be available with an external print server.
The MFC is bundled with ScanSoft PaperPort 9.0 SE, last year's entry level version of this program. It is kind of a hybrid of Windows Explorer and a basic imaging program like IrfanView. You can scan into the program and file the documents into windows folders, or send the scans to other programs, or maybe do an automatic optical character reading en route. (ScanSoft now owns OmniPage). Note: OCR is still only 80% accurate and depends on the quality of the scan. However, built into PaperPort is a straightening tool (for crooked scans) that is about the only reason I use the program.
Otherwise, I still prefer IrfanView for managing my scans, and the default Windows XP system for managing everything else. PaperPort just adds another middleman program with the usual "extras" that just make life harder. Also, IrfanView manages batch scans better than PaperPort (at least in the SE version. I understand the Pro version accomodates batch scanning better).
The ADF (automatic document feeder) works nicely, and no MFC should be without one. However, this means you can't lift the cover off for true flatbed scanning (books, large documents, or other oversized scans). For these tasks, you'll still need a true flatbed scanner with removable cover.
This is a space saving design -- the paper trays have no frills. There is no envelope guide. The individual sheet/envelope feeder is slightly tricky to load and you can't load multiple envelopes.
Others have commented on paper curl -- I have not noticed this. I use a heavier paper stock, though. The Brother has options to select paper grade (thin, thick, thicker). Properly selected, perhaps paper curl may not be an issue.
Obviously, the printing is laser monochrome. In September 2005, refill cartridges at Office Depot were $68 (online $42). This is some of the least expensive cartridge replacements, and certainly less expensive than colour laser cartdiges. That's why you're looking at a monochrome laser system, right?
For my home, this MFC is perfect. For my office, I have to make some accomodations until the next generation model is available.