Brother’s sizable MFP proves to be a reliable workhorse in a busy office, where fast and efficient printing and scanning are more important than fine photo reproduction.
Fast mono and colour printing
Simple touchscreen control
High capacity for both paper and toner
Strong mobile app support
Bulky and heavy for an A4 MPF
Colours are overly bright
Print resolution could be higher
Prohibitive initial cost
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The Brother MFC-L8690CDW is a chunky multifunction device is designed for a busy SMB and the specifications are geared toward speed and volume. It’s big enough to hold 300 sheets of paper in its two in-trays and 150-sheets in the central out tray, while the supplied black toner cartridge is good for a very respectable 3,000 mono prints. An even higher yield cartridge is available that will double that figure.
It can’t handle A3 paper and there’s no NFC connectivity without buying the optional dongle, but in all other respects, it is very well featured. You have touchscreen control via a large 9.3cm LCD, duplex printing and Wi-Fi Direct control via a rather impressive companion app.
For around £479 (or about US$640, AU$856) the bundle includes Wi-Fi and four regular-sized toner cartridges capable of printing 3,000 mono pages and 1,800 colour.
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The Brother MFC-L8690CDW is a big unit that would rather stand on its own table than share a desk. It’s also reassuringly heavy. Apparently Brother has strengthened its printers to improve longevity and it certainly feels very solid for a largely plastic device. The generous size means there’s plenty of room for paper and toner. You can even buy an additional paper drawer that acts as a plinth adding another 250-sheets of plain paper.
The traditional design has the scanner bed and ADF located above the central delivery tray with the toner compartment and two paper trays below that. The touchscreen display is a very generous 9.3cm in diameter with large keys to the side which register with a resounding beep when pressed.
There’s a USB port at the front for flash drives and a square USB port at the rear for plugging in a data cable (not supplied), with an Ethernet port beside it. That large flap at the front is where you access the four toner cartridges. They’re good for around 3,000 mono and 1,800 colour prints, which is just as well because at £87.59 for a black refill, Brother cartridges are expensive.
Here are the full specs of the Brother MFC-L8690CDW:
Type: 4-in-1 multifunction colour laser printer
Functions: Print, copy, scan, fax
Ink: 4 toner cartridges
Paper size: Up to A4
Connectivity: Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, USB
Data storage slot: USB flash memory port
Print speed: 31ppm (mono), 31ppm (colour)
Paper capacity: 300 sheets
Print quality: 1,200 x 600 dpi
Scan quality: 2,400 x 1,200 dpi
Apple AirPrint: Yes
Google Cloud Print: Yes
App support: iOS/Android
Consumables included: 4 toner cartridges
Size/Weight: 539 x 435 x 526mm (H x W x D); 27.9kg
As a 4-in-1 device, the Brother MFC-L8690CDW can print, scan, copy and fax and being a premium model from Brother’s stable, it has plenty of other features too. It can print both sides of the page (duplex printing) and print in full colour on any size paper up to A4, including envelopes and glossy laser paper.
Given the bulk, it’s a pity the Brother MFC-L8690CDW cannot accommodate A3 paper like the excellent Brother MFC-J5330DW, which has similar dimensions. It also lacks NFC connectivity, unless you purchase the optional dongle for £13.19 ($17.30).
You can of course connect via Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi Direct and it’s supported by a very useful free app called iPrint&Scan. The companion app enables you to print wirelessly from cloud services such as Evernote and iCloud. You can also use it to check your toner levels and scan documents remotely.
Scanning is fast and the resolution is high. In fact it is double the DPI at which it can print. Laser printers tend to be lower than inkjet printers in this respect, but at 1,200 x 600dpi, the print resolution is merely average.
Setup and operation
The Brother MFC-L8690CDW is unusual in not having a setup wizard on the display, or the companion app to walk you through initialisation, but it wasn’t a problem because the printed setup manual is very easy to follow.
It’s merely a case of removing all of the transport tape and plastic pieces from the machine and selecting the correct Wi-Fi network from the list. Inputting the password is made fairly easy by the 9.3cm touchscreen display, which registers with a bleep every time you touch a key. This printer is smart enough to set the correct date and time itself.
The touchscreen with its pictorial interface and large hard buttons to the side make the Brother MFC-L8690CDW particularly easy to use, while the indispensable companion app is even better at monitoring toner levels and scanning remotely.
When it comes to turning out text documents, the Brother MFC-L8690CDW is both fast and precise. The time taken to print ten pages of text on both sides, including the time taken to warm up was just 53 seconds. Brother’s quoted page rate of 31ppm is much faster and it achieves the same speed with colour documents.
More importantly, each page is consistently clean and precise, with no creases, smudges, or paper jams. It has a particularly light touch with plain text, which makes it possible to print very small font sizes with no loss of clarity.
Each printer we source for testing is measured on our test bench and the results are critically compared with every other model we have reviewed. Rather than relying on the manufacturer’s quoted figures, we time the first page out and print speeds in single sheet and duplex mode using a standard ten-page document and a stopwatch app. To compare print quality, we print out the same set of test documents on every machine. These twelve test pages include text of varying font sizes and colours, mixed image and text pages, a set of photos and a series of test patterns designed to assess sharpness, colour fidelity, contrast and grey scale.
We also calculate running costs, compare functionality and consider each product’s versatility, design and build quality. The overall score reflects all of these parameters and overall value for money.
Colour documents are less impressive because the colours have a tendency to seep into one another very slightly. At 1,200 x 600dpi the resolution is not particularly high, so photos tend to look soft and flat, even when using glossy laser paper. Note that inkjet photo paper should definitely not be used because Brother laser printers generate enough heat to damage the glossy coating.
The Brother MFC-L8690CDW scans at a higher resolution than it prints and it scans quickly too. You can save your scans to a USB flash drive, PC, or to the cloud using the companion app. The Brother iPrint&Scan app makes this particularly easy to do. In general, we found the Brother MFC-L8690CDW performed reliably throughout the test and was intuitive enough to operate without reaching for the user guide.
When you lever this heavy MPF from its box, it feels like a machine that’s built to last. The colour touchscreen is a good size and makes it easy to setup and a pleasure to use. It prints quickly and consistently and is especially good at churning out duplex mono pages of text, ensuring each character is lightly and clearly printed. There’s plenty of room for plain paper and high yield toner cartridges are available, so you can keep printing without having to top it up constantly. Scanning at high-resolution is fast too, while the Brother iPrint&Scan app makes it easy to both print and scan via the cloud.
If you are pushed for space, the Brother MFC-L8690CDW is on the large size for a printer that can’t cope with A3 paper and weighing in at almost 28kg (62lbs), it’s not exactly portable. While it prints quickly in colour, we noticed a slight seepage between colours, which means colour documents are not as crisp as with some other laser printers and the print resolution is rather low. This means photos look quite soft and disappointing, even by laser standards. Toner cartridges are included, but replacements are expensive at £87.59 ($114.80) for a black cartridge capable of 3,000 prints.
It’s rather bulky for an MFP that’s limited to A4 paper, but it also feels robust enough for heavy use and has a high capacity for both toner and paper, which will suit a busy office and a large workgroup. Even by laser standards, it prints quickly at 31ppm in mono, or colour and it does so without creasing, or smudging. In terms of print quality, the Brother MFC-L8690CDW performed well with plain text and reasonably well with colour documents, but like many laser printers, it lacks the resolution and colour fidelity to print decent photos.
It’s easy to set up and operate thanks to the touchscreen and is supported by a decent companion app. Brother’s replacement cartridges are on the expensive side, but this bundle includes enough toner to make this package a good deal for any SMB that needs to churn out paperwork with minimal fuss.
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Jim is a seasoned expert when it comes to testing tech. From playing a prototype PlayStation One to meeting a man called Steve about a new kind of phone in 2007, he’s always hunting the next big thing at the bleeding edge of the electronics industry. After editing the tech section of Wired UK magazine, he is currently specialising in IT and voyaging in his VW camper van.
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