Brother MFC-J491DW

Brother’s MFC-J491DW ($79.99) is an entry-level, low-volume all-in-one printer designed primarily for home and small-office use. Like most inkjet models in its price range, including the Canon Pixma TS3320 Wireless All-in-One, it trades a low price for a somewhat limited feature set, relatively slow speeds, and low paper-capacity and output-volume ratings. On the flip side of that, though, you get good print quality, easy setup, a small footprint, and an automatic document feeder (ADF) for sending multipage documents to the scanner. That last item is the kicker, a huge perk for an under-$100 AIO. The MFC-J491DW is an excellent little machine for the money, and a good fit for most family rooms and very small offices that don’t print too much. It’s our newest Editors’ Choice pick among entry-level AIOs.

Big for Its Class

At 6.8 by 15.7 by 13.4 inches (HWD) and weighing 18.1 pounds, the MFC-J491DW fits on most desktops. Some of its closest competitors, including the Pixma TS3320, the Pixma TS5320, and the Epson Expression XP-6100 Small-in-One, take up less desk space and weigh a few pounds less. (The TS3320 weighs less than half as much.) This is partially because of the Brother’s 20-sheet ADF mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Brother MFC-J491DW automatic document feederDeskJet 3755 All-in-One doesn’t auto-duplex, for example, nor does Epson’s competing Expression Home XP-430 Small-in-One, nor the previously mentioned Canon Pixma TS3320.

Paper handling consists of a single 100-sheet tray, and Brother puts the printer’s maximum monthly duty cycle at 2,500 pages, with a recommended monthly print volume of 1,000 prints. Canon doesn’t publish volume ratings for its lower-end consumer products, but my educated guess puts them at somewhat fewer pages for the Pixma TS3320 and about the same as (or a little more than) the TS5320. (The former’s paper input capacity is only 60 pages, while the latter has two 100-sheet trays, one front and one rear.)

Brother MFC-J491DW paper inputConnectivity and Software

Given the MFC-J491DW’s low price, its connection options and software bundle are adequate, if not standouts.

Its basic connectivity consists of Wi-Fi or connecting to a single PC via USB. You also get Wi-Fi Direct for connecting your smartphone or tablet directly to the printer without either being connected to a network or router. Other mobile connectivity options include Google Cloud Print, Apple AirPrint, Brother iPrint&Scan, and Mopria. You also get support for a slew of third-party cloud sites (among them, Google Drive for Business, and OneDrive for Business).

Brother iPrint&Scan is a cross-platform combination of a driver and a utility app. It’s accompanied by a set of Brother Cloud Apps, which include Scan to Word, Scan to Excel, Scan to PowerPoint, Scan to Searchable PDF, and Easy Scan to E-mail.

Testing the MFC-J491DW: Entry-Level Print Speeds

The MFC-J491DW is rated at 12 pages per minute (ppm) for monochrome pages and 6ppm for color pages. I tested it over USB using our standard Intel Core i5 testbed running Windows 10. (See how we test printers.)

When printing our 12-page monochrome Microsoft Word text document, the MFC-J491DW churned at 13.2ppm. That’s 5.4ppm faster than the Canon Pixma TS3320, 0.5ppm ahead of the Pixma TS5320, 8.9ppm quicker than the HP DeskJet 3755, and 2.6ppm slower than the Epson XP-6100.

When I combined the scores from the Word document test with those from printing our colorful Acrobat, Excel, and PowerPoint documents containing graphics and photos, the MFC-J491DW’s print speed plummeted (as most entry-level inkjets’ speeds do) to 4.4ppm. That’s the same as the Pixma TS5320, 2.2ppm faster than the TS3320, 3ppm faster than the DeskJet 3755, and 2.2ppm slower than the Epson XP-6100.

The MFC-J491DW isn’t a photo printer in the same sense that, say, HP’s Envy Photo or Canon’s Pixma TS models are. Since its family-room duties may include printing the occasional photograph, I clocked it printing two highly detailed, vibrant 4-by-6-inch snapshots. It averaged 32 seconds per print, which was on the fast side for this group. (The DeskJet 3755 was the slowest, at 46 seconds.)

Strong Text, So-So Graphics

Brother printers typically churn out excellent-looking text and good-looking graphics and photos. If a Brother inkjet falls short a little, it’s usually on imagery, not text.

That was borne out here. In my tests with the MFC-J491DW, text was acceptable for most business applications, but some of the graphical output in these documents was blemished at times. I noted some banding in dark backgrounds, large fills, and gradients. I also noticed a few other minor flaws in some other slides and handouts, though nothing ruinous or serious.

Photos, on the other hand, came out looking well-detailed and accurately colored, if lacking some of the “pop” and vibrance of images printed on consumer photo AIOs such as Canon’s Pixma TS8120 All-in-One. But unlike more photo-centric AIOs, the Brother model has an ADF and a few other features that make it more suitable to light productivity work and low-volume document handling.

No Bulk-Ink Discounts Here

Budget AIOs like these are notorious for their high running costs. Using Brother’s advertised prices and page yields for its highest-yield compatible cartridges, I calculated the MFC-J491DW’s running cost at 6.8 cents per monochrome page. Color pages should ring up at about 16.8 cents each.

Brother MFC-J491DW ink cartridgesink-cost-saving programs. HP’s Instant Ink subscription service, for one, delivers ink to your door for as little as 3.5 cents for either black-and-white or color pages. (If you’ll print a lot in color with heavy ink coverage, especially photos, plans like Instant Ink can save you a lot versus the ink costs in an ordinary budget inkjet like this one.) And Brother’s own INKvestment line of printers holds down page costs to under a nickel each.

If you print a lot, consider Epson’s EcoTank and Canon’s MegaTank models. These are bulk-ink printers that use reservoirs you fill from bottles or replace as small bags. With these products, you pay more for the printer (often much more) to drive the monochrome and color page costs below a penny per page.

Right-Priced for Light Printing

Under-$100 printers like the MFC-491DW attempt a tricky balance. They weigh off aspects such as print volume, paper capacity, running costs, and features against their low prices, and this little Brother, by offering an ADF and auto-duplex printing, delivers more value than many of its competitors.

Brother MFC-J491DWBrother MFC-J491DW Specs

Color or MonochromeColor
Connection TypeUSB, Wireless
Maximum Standard Paper SizeLegal
Number of Ink Colors4
Number of Ink Cartridges/Tanks4
Direct Printing From Media CardsNo
Direct Printing From USB Thumb DrivesNo
Rated Speed at Default Settings (Color)12 ppm
Rated Speed at Default Settings (Mono)6 ppm
Monthly Duty Cycle (Recommended)1,000
Monthly Duty Cycle (Maximum)2,500 pages per month
LCD Preview ScreenYes
Printer Input Capacity100
Cost Per Page (Color)18.2 cents
Cost Per Page (Monochrome)6.2 cents
Print DuplexingYes
Automatic Document FeederYes
Duplexing ScansNo
Standalone Copier and FaxCopier, Fax

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July 20, 2020
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