On the front page of Brother’s Web site it advertises interesting features of its inkjet kit and quotes speed as one of them. We'd have thought the company would want to keep quiet about this aspect of performance. It may quote fast speeds of 35ppm and 28ppm for black and colour print, respectively, but for the majority of people printing in normal print modes, speeds are close to one tenth of these figures.
Our 5-page text print took 1:46, giving a speed of 2.8ppm, while the 20-page text took 6:45, equivalent to a speed of just under 3.0ppm. The 5-page black text and colour graphics document returned 2.5ppm.
To an extent, all printer makers exaggerate their machine’s print speeds. They have made a rod for their own backs, as they all need to show that they’re up with the pack on speed. Brother, however, looks worse than most, as it only quotes these draft speeds.
Compare the results from the MFC-5490CN with those from the lower-priced Canon PIXMA MX340. Canon claims speeds of 8.4ipm and 4.8ipm (ipm is page images per minute) for this machine and we measured it at 6.9ppm and 2.4ppm. So, even though Canon claims speeds from a quarter to a fifth of Brother’s, it actually achieves nearly three times the black speed and the same colour speed.
Printing from memory cards on the MFC-5490CN isn't quite as straightforward as it could be, as first of all it tries to upload images to any connected PC. When you override this, it asks you to pick images by number, so you're probably best printing a proof sheet on plain paper before you start. It's much easier to print from a PictBridge camera, where you can preview images on the camera's screen.
Print quality from the machine is only fair, not up to the best Canon, HP and Lexmark can offer. Black text suffers from not being densely black, though it's still quite readable, and this paleness is also apparent in colour graphics on plain paper. Although solid fills show no signs of banding, colours are lighter than in originals and show further colour casts in copies from the scanner, with blue to mauve being particularly noticeable.
Photo prints on Brother's own glossy photo paper are crisp and smooth, though a little shadow detail is lost. Colours are generally accurate and detail levels are high.
Brother only offers the LC-1100 CMYK cartridge set for this machine and although the company makes a higher-yield cartridge, which is available to other machines in the range, it makes no mention of them working with the MFC-5490CN. Using the standard cartridges, therefore, gives cost per page figures of 4.3p for black and 9.3p for colour, both including 0.7p paper costs.
The colour costs are on a par with other machines in the same price bracket, but the black cost is about a penny higher than some of the machine's main competitors.
The MFC-5490CN is a good, middle-of-the-road, all-in-one printer which is easy to maintain and offers all the essential features, including fax. However it's not particularly cheap to run; its plain paper print performance is a little pale throughout; and typical day-to-day speeds are nowhere near what the spec sheet implies.