Brother MFC-J870DW review

The compact Brother MFC-J870DW all-in-one printer provides a typical home user with fast, high-quality output and economical cost of operation.
The compact Brother MFC-J870DW all-in-one printer provides a typical home user with fast, high-quality output and economical cost of operation.
The compact Brother MFC-J870DW all-in-one printer provides a typical home user with fast, high-quality output and economical cost of operation.

Highs

  • Attractive price
  • Compact
  • Good output quality
  • Reasonable ink cost

Lows

  • No automatic duplexing on ADF
  • Under-saturated photos on plain paper
  • Small-capacity paper tray
  • Slow copying

Unlike Canon, Epson, and HP, Brother markets its printers toward the office user, which explains the unfortunately named MFC-J870DW. That’s too bad, because it’s a multifunction printer (MFP) that is perfectly suitable for home use. It’s affordable to buy and, more importantly, affordable to maintain.

Features and design

There’s nothing snazzy-looking about the MFC-J870DW, but with its Epson-like design, this compact four-function printer (print, copy, scan, and fax) won’t stand out like a sore thumb if it’s placed in a living room (granted, interior decoration is subjective). Its gray case measures only 16.1 x 9.6 x 18 inches and weighs almost exactly 20 pounds, so it can fit into many places a larger printer or MFP won’t.

The compact footprint means it can fit into many places a larger printer or MFP won’t.

One unusual feature is the location of the MFC-J870DW’s connection ports. With many compact MFPs, the entire scan bed unit is hinged and lifts up to expose the ink cartridge holder. With the MFC-J870DW, lifting the scan unit exposes the USB, Ethernet, and fax line connectors, all of which are routed around the inside of the unit, so that the cords exit in the rear. The ink cartridges are accessed through a swing down door on the right-front side of the unit. To the left of a tilting control panel is another small door that covers the memory card and USB slots.

The input paper tray is at the very bottom, and at the front of the machine. But it holds a scant 100 sheets of letter- or legal-size paper, or 20 sheets of photo paper. Above the paper input/output trays is the control panel, with a 2.7-inch color touchscreen, that can be tilted to a user’s comfortable viewing angle. All the controls are straightforward and easy to operate. One feature the machine lacks is auto duplexing via the automatic document feeder (ADF). It’s not a deal breaker, but auto duplexing is a highly convenient feature.

As with many new printers in this price range, the MFC-J870DW has excellent connectivity options. In addition to USB and Ethernet, it also has Wi-Fi and can connect to phones or tablets equipped for Near Field Communications (NFC) pairing. Along with Web connectivity through AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, and Brother’s own iPrint & Scan, the MFP can print directly from a variety of memory cards as well as a USB storage drive.

The ink cartridges used in the MFC-J870DW come in two sizes. The standard L101 cartridges yield approximately 300 pages per cartridge (black, cyan, magenta, and yellow) and cost about $15 each, while the high-capacity L103, at about $22, yield twice that, making them a much better value.

What’s in the box

Inside the box you’ll find the MFP, four ink cartridges, fax cord, CD with drivers and utilities, special tray for printing on CDs/DVDs (it’s stored in a compartment located inside the lid of the scanner), Quick Setup Guide, and Basic User’s Guide. The Basic User’s Guide is considerably more comprehensive, at 188 pages, than the documentation for other brands of printers.

The utilities included on the CD are an older version of Nuance’s PaperPort (Version 12), NewSoft CD Labeler, and PhotoCapture Center, an application for printing photos directly from a flash card or USB drive.

Warranty

Brother includes a two-year limited warranty and replacement service. Full warranty information can be found here.

Setup and performance 

Setup is completely straightforward: plug it in, install the ink cartridges, and load some paper. Brother includes a CD with drivers for Windows and Mac, as well as a copy of Nuance’s PaperPort 12 document filing system. That’s a nice plus, but it is two versions behind the current PaperPort 14, which has been available for a while already.

There are excellent connectivity options, including NFC.

The MFC-J870DW performed very well in our testing. In the default Standard mode, Brother rates print speeds as 12 pages per minute in black and white and 10ppm in color. Our test method is based on real-world usage and doesn’t involve the full ISO procedure most printer vendors are using today, but the Microsoft Word document-printing subset of our testing yielded just about 14ppm print speed.

We got somewhat mixed results in our image quality tests, depending on the paper used. Brother supplied us with a ream of its multipurpose paper and a small amount of its 4 x 6-inch Premium Plus Glossy Photo Paper. We also used letter-sized Epson Premium Photo Paper Glossy, and plain paper.

When printing Word documents containing small color logos on the multipurpose paper Brother provided, the text was crisp and clear and the logo looked fine. The large images we use for reviewing overall image quality, however, suffered on plain paper. While they weren’t terrible, they were considerably under-saturated.

Brother MFC-J870DW scanner open angle

That was not the case when printing on the small Premium Plus Glossy Paper or Epson paper. Prints on both of these papers were excellent, with accurate colors and saturation.

Copying was fairly slow, as is usual with most inkjet-based MFPs, but you can definitely make occasional copies without becoming too impatient. Scanning is easy to perform and scan quality is good. Having Nuance’s PaperPort available to store and retrieve documents is an attractive extra, even if the version Brother includes is several editions older than the current Version 14.

Conclusion

Brother doesn’t target any of its printers or MFPs for the home or consumer market – the MFC-J870DW we tested is marketed as a device for small businesses. But the same features and functionality that make the MFC-J870DW attractive to a small business – good quality output, fast printing, and economical operation – will also appeal to home users. In fact, because of its relatively small-capacity paper tray, the MFC-J870DW may be more suitable in a home than in an office. Plus, at $150 and with affordable supplies, it’s not expensive to buy or operate.

Highs

  • Attractive price
  • Compact
  • Good output quality
  • Reasonable ink cost

Lows

  • No automatic duplexing on ADF
  • Under-saturated photos on plain paper
  • Small-capacity paper tray
  • Slow copying
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