In an office where size matters, the A3 printer is king. You don’t have to be a graphics professional to appreciate the advantages of paper twice as big as the ubiquitous A4. Anybody who produces any booklets or newsletters at A4 will appreciate being able to print an A4 spread in one A3 pass and fold it down. Poster and notices printed at the larger size are also useful. Brother has started rolling a ball we suspect several other companies will follow in the next year, by introducing the MFC-6490CW, a colour inkjet all-in-one which can print, copy, scan and fax at A3.
Looking much like any inkjet all-in-one, but twice as big, Brother has used the extra space sensibly. The large flatbed has a 50-sheet Auto Document Feeder (ADF) on top, with a neat, high-gloss panel which unfolds to reveal the paper guides. The lid to the scanner is big - it has to be for an A3 flatbed - but why does it only open to 45 degrees, instead of right up to the vertical? It’s hardly going to overbalance a machine of this size.
The control panel at the front includes a widescreen LCD. This is such a sensible way of enlarging a printer’s display, it’s worth a brief description. Brother has developed an LCD with an 84mm diagonal, but with an aspect ratio wider than a 16:9 TV. This means it can be effectively divided into two displays side-by-side, showing, for instance, a photo thumbnail from a memory card and the options offered for selecting and printing it, without having to overlay one on the other.
Set into the front lip of the control panel are memory card slots for the standard card types and a PictBridge socket. Below the panel are two paper trays, the bottom one taking up to 250 sheets and the top one a further 150. Both are multi-size bins, taking A4 or A3 paper, and the top one can go right down to 15 x 10cm, for photo blanks.
Unusually, and slightly untidily, the mains cable, fax and phone leads connect in on the left-hand side and the USB and network leads have to feed round inside the printer, to sockets just under the scanner.
The ink cartridges plug into a bay on the right of the front panel, once you’ve swung down a small hatch cover on the right. The printer runs through a one-off charging cycle of around five minutes, when you plug in a new cartridge.
Brother provides its ControlCenter 3 software, which handles scanning, OCR and downloading of photos, as well as printing. The machine can be used quite well from the control panel, too, but the menu hierarchy isn’t all it could be.
For example, the button marked Clear/Back in the navigation button group can’t be used repeatedly to back out of menus to the status screen. Instead, you have to use the Stop/Exit button, which is grouped with the black and colour copy keys - hardly intuitive. The machine emits three loud beeps whenever you hit an invalid key, too, which appears to be a Pablovian tactic to stop you changing settings.