As usual, print speeds appear to have been picked from the ether and Brother quotes 35ppm for black print and 28ppm for colour. Even in draft mode which, incidentally, produces better print than some and is probably usable for internal documentation, we can't see how you could reach those speeds.
In our tests, a five-page black text print took 1min 14secs, equivalent to 4.05ppm and when we ran the 20-page test, which helps cut out any processing time, the speed only rose to 4.53ppm, around one sixth of the rated maximum. Our five-page text and colour graphics print took 1mins 55secs, or 2.61ppm, so for all the standard, plain A4 pages the MFC-5890CN is slower than several of its direct competitors.
The machine is a bit quicker, proportionally, when printing A3 pages. A five-page text print completed in less than two minutes and the equivalent text and colour graphics page took just under three minutes.
Photo prints were more on a par with rival machines, too. The Brother printer produced a 15 x 10cm photo in its highest photo mode in 3mins 46secs, but in the default Photo mode it took just 1min 39secs and there's very little visible difference between the two. Prints from an SD card and from the machine's PictBridge socket each took 1min 42secs. A full-bleed A3 photo took a coffee break-inducing 14mins 30secs.
Print quality is reasonable for text, with only a little bumpiness visible around curved characters. Colour graphics also reproduced reasonably well, too, though without much life to the colours. Registration of black text over colour is good.
A single-page copy from the scanner glass shows some loss of colour, making the copies look even more insipid, but the result is usable. Photo prints are well reproduced, with natural colours and high levels of detail, though they are not quite as realistic overall as the best offerings from Canon or HP.
Scanning photos to a PC shows the same lightening of hue as with copies, though the scanner head's surprisingly high optical resolution of 1,200 x 2,400ppi means detail levels are good.
The four ink cartridges are the only consumables on this machine and we found them at prices which give costs per page of 2.68p for black and 6.10p for colour. The black print cost is about average for a machine in this class, but the colour cost is a couple of pence per sheet lower than most of its rivals, giving good economy, overall.
Brother's MFC-5890CN is a worthwhile, workhorse all-in-one, from a company that is an increasing force in business multifunction machines. It's better suited to somebody who needs occasional A3 prints than the person who is regularly printing A3 materials, and you will need to look to another model if you want to scan or copy at the larger size.