Brother's MFC-990CW has all the features and gadgetry anyone will ever need from a device the size of two stacked Yellow Pages. Just don't expect it to print quickly or at the best possible quality.
Let's start with the features the MFC-990CW doesn't possess: automatic duplexing and CD/DVD printing are both missing from this printer. But beyond the standard print, copy and scan functions, the MFC-990CW boasts a fax (yes, people still use those), a cordless phone, Bluetooth, Ethernet, Wi-Fi and an automatic document feeder. On top of that, the MFC-990CW offers a multi-card reader supporting SD, xD, MemoryStick and CompactFlash media, as well as a PictBridge-capable USB port. It even has a dedicated photo media tray, though disappointingly this has to be moved into place manually.
The multifunction also has a touch screen that replaces the large colour LCD found in Brother's other multifunctions; it comes into its own when dealing with scanning and media cards. Unfortunately, it has some flaws. Though the screen is quite large for a home multifunction, the user interface is poorly organised, and photos are too small when displayed. This is particularly troublesome when it comes to using the otherwise brilliant photo enhancement features; users will be further hindered by the low resolution and poor viewing angles. While the touch panel is a good idea in some respects, it seems poorly implemented.
The MFC-990CW isn't exactly fast when it comes to printing. Our speed testing revealed the unit printed mono text documents at an average of 15.63 pages per minute in draft quality, with the first page out in 17.2sec. When the quality was upped to the normal setting (and the text actually became legible), this speed slowed horribly to 3.3ppm; this is one of the slowest speeds we've seen from a printer at this price point. Colour documents showed similar speeds, with the MFC-990CW printing an average of 15ppm in draft mode and 3.2ppm using normal. Photo printing isn't outstanding either but manages more respectable times of 24.9sec per standard 4x6in photo and 55sec for an A4 photo.
Thankfully, print quality is largely acceptable. Text documents are somewhat faint in draft quality, but normal quality documents are quite accurate and very legible. Colours are under-saturated in graphical documents and as a result aren't entirely accurate; this is remedied somewhat through the Vivid colour mode, but this won't entirely fix the problem.
Colours in photos don't suffer from this problem; on the contrary, they are surprisingly vibrant and accurate. Reds are slightly too dark, but the printer manages to avoid potential banding issues. Unfortunately, photos from the MFC-990CW aren't perfect: we found them to be slightly pixelated and noisy upon close inspection. Despite the 1200x6000 hardware resolution with which the MFC-990CW prints photos when using fine quality, photos aren't the best quality and can easily be surpassed by HP's Photosmart C5380.
The MFC-990CW's scanner module is one of the fastest we've seen from a home multifunction. It completed scans in about half the time we expected. At the same time, the printer manages to produce an image which has an unrivalled amount of detail. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of colour accuracy, with the resulting image noticeably lighter than the source picture. Still, when detail counts Brother's MFC-990CW does an excellent job.