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Brother moved into printer and all-in-one design from the office equipment side of the market and in some ways the MFC-820CW looks more like an enhanced fax machine than a printer with added fax facilities. It’s certainly a very neat design though, with a small footprint and low profile, partly because of a new paper path.
Earlier machines in Brother’s all-in-one ranges fed paper from near vertical trays at the back, but this takes up more room and the paper’s exposed to dust and other pollutants, so the newer design, where paper feeds from an internal tray, performs a 180-degree turn and ejects at the front, is an improvement in both respects.
On top of the machine is an automatic sheet feeder (ASF) for scanning or copying, which can take up to ten sheets at a time. Lifting this up reveals a standard glass flatbed, though the lid of the scanner feels a bit unstable: as if it might fall back down while you’re positioning an original.
In front of the scanner is the control panel, with a number pad for fax dialling on the left and three buttons for colour and black job starts and cancel on the right. In between is a four-way menu dial, illuminated mode selection buttons and a 63mm colour LCD display. This displays both menu options and photo thumbnails, when you’re using the card readers.
The card readers are positioned on the left, under the control panel and offer all the standard formats, except MicroDrive. There's also no PictBridge socket, so you can't connect a digital camera through a cable. At front centre is the paper tray, which can take up to 100 sheets and works as a removable cartridge that you load paper into.
USB 2.0 and Ethernet connections are made inside the machine, once you've hinged the scanner section up from the right, when it’s supported by a folding strut. Power and phone connections are made at the back of the left-hand panel, so there’s rather a spread of cables if you wire the machine up fully.
As well as connecting USB and Ethernet cables by raising the scanner section, you also need to do this to access the four ink cartridges. These plug-in very conveniently at front right and are all colour-coded, so you plug them into their correct sockets.
Installation depends on which mode of connection you'll be using the device with. A simple set of drivers run the machine through its USB 2.0 connection, but you can also select wired or wireless network links. The MFC-820CW is compatible with both 802.11b and 802.11g standards, though Brother is very hazy about its Wi-Fi capabilities, as if you shouldn’t really be asking.