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.
These other machines come with only flatbed scanners, which means that you can copy or scan only one page at a time before manually placing the next one on the scanner glass. This can make scanning and copying slow going. The MFC-J491DW also sports a 1.8-inch color display for configuring copies, scans, and other features, as well as monitoring consumables. Among the other machines mentioned here, only the Epson comes with a color touch display.
As you can see in the image above, the MFC-J491DW’s relatively small screen anchors a near-dizzying array of navigation and function (copy, scan, fax) buttons and status LEDs, as well as a number pad. Granted, this configuration brings most of the common functions to the forefront, but this control panel is a bit daunting and very much last-decade.
Like most of today’s desktop printers, though, this little AIO also comes with a web interface or portal where you can perform most tasks available on the control panel, including monitoring consumables and generating usage reports. It’s accessible via an IP address from just about any desktop PC or handheld device browser.
It’s important to mention that while its ADF doesn’t do duplexing, the MFC-J491DW’s print engine is auto-duplexing, meaning that it can print two-sided pages automatically without your having to flip and reinsert pages. HP’s petite, under-$60 DeskJet 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.)
The Epson XP-6100 holds 120 sheets from two input sources, and its duty cycle is similar to that of this Brother, about 2,000 pages maximum per month.
Connectivity 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.
With the exception of the HP DeskJet 3755 and other Instant Ink- compatible HP printers and AIOs, these running costs are within a cent or two of the per-page costs of the competing AIOs mentioned here. Don’t kid yourself—these numbers are acceptable only if your print and copy volumes are low (say, 100 pages per month). You can save money in the long run by getting a more expensive, higher-volume machine. These cost a little more up front, but if you print a lot, you’ll make up the difference over time, while also getting a faster, more feature-rich printer.
Also helpful are some of today’s ink-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.
If your monthly print and copy needs exceed 100 or 200 pages, consider one of HP’s Instant Ink or Brother’s INKvestment Tank machines (or, for even more savings, one of Epson’s EcoTank, Canon’s MegaTank, or HP’s Smart Tank Plus models). Keep in mind, though, that to justify one of those printers’ four to five times greater purchase prices, your print and copy volume should be at least 400 or 500 pages per month.
Otherwise, the Brother MFC-J491DW ought to fit the situation. It’s a fine low-volume value, and our latest favorite for an entry-level home or small-office AIO.
Brother MFC-J491DW Specs
|Color or Monochrome||Color|
|Connection Type||USB, Wireless|
|Maximum Standard Paper Size||Legal|
|Number of Ink Colors||4|
|Number of Ink Cartridges/Tanks||4|
|Direct Printing From Media Cards||No|
|Direct Printing From USB Thumb Drives||No|
|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 Screen||Yes|
|Printer Input Capacity||100|
|Cost Per Page (Color)||18.2 cents|
|Cost Per Page (Monochrome)||6.2 cents|
|Automatic Document Feeder||Yes|
|Standalone Copier and Fax||Copier, Fax|