Brother MFC-J985DW XL Joins the “Two Years of Ink” Game

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Brother MFC
I can’t decide if that’s a really huge laptop or the printer is really far away. (Image by Brother)

As consumers get wise to the razor-blade model of printer sales (where the initial investment is low, but the ink costs end up being much more than the printer), companies are changing tactics and offering packages that include not just high-quality printers, but enough ink to last the average user a year or more.

Brother is the latest to get in the “included ink” game with the Brother MFC-J985DW XL, a multi-function printer that comes with enough ink in the box to last two years.

I’ve been a fan of Brother printers for a long time (I still regret giving up my Brother laser printer 20+ years ago), so when they contacted me to find out if I wanted to try out the MFC-J985DW XL, I jumped at the chance. While I was still enjoying the Epson I reviewed back in March (and had gotten nowhere near using up the ink reserves) there were things that had started to bug me. It would occasionally lose connection to my devices, forcing me to redo the wireless setup. The lack of automatic duplex printing (like I’d had on my previous Canon printer) meant I had to go back to babysitting complex print jobs. Also, the fact that the paper stuck out of the back rather than in an enclosed paper tray really bugged me aesthetically.

Out of the box, the MFC-J985DW XL has a few advantages over the Epson. It has automatic duplex printing, which allows me to save paper and print complex handouts for my wife’s classroom. It also has an automatic document feeder (ADF) for the scanner, a feature that I’ve never gotten in a home printer and one that I already know I won’t be able to live without going forward.

Brother MFC ADF
I never realized how much I needed this feature until this moment. (Image by Brother)

First impression of the Brother is that it’s a nice, low profile printer. Paper is kept in a 100-sheet paper tray in the bottom, with a secondary tray above it to keep photo-sized paper. Switching between the two can be a bit fiddly. I wish the printer was smart enough to automatically switch between paper sizes. There’s also a manual feeder in the back of the unit, which is nice for when you’re printing one-off jobs like mailing labels. A touch I appreciate with the manual feeder and the ADF is that the printer will grab your papers once they’ve been inserted far enough into the unit, so there’s no wondering or guessing if you have things positioned properly.

Performance is speedy and, if you’ve enabled certain options, very quiet. Since our printer is in a central location, I greatly appreciate the inclusion of a quiet mode. The wireless only mode that I’m using is reliable and hasn’t had any connection drops since I received a sample unit last month.

The printer is navigated via a nicely responsive touchscreen. The menus and modes are easy to read and the display will go to sleep after a certain period, leaving only a pulsing Home button (less a button and more of a touch-sensitive icon on the smooth face of the unit) to indicate that the printer is still active. The extended software package is actually useful as well. If you’re working to become a paperless household, there are options to scan directly into your online storage service of choice (OneNote, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, it supports them all). I immediately made a shortcut on the Home menu so that I can quickly scan papers into a chosen notebook in my Evernote account. The Brother also supports AirPrint, allowing you to easily print from your iPhone (handy for me, since I often find myself with my phone being my only accessible device).

Brother MFC Ink
That’s a lot of cartridges… (Image by Brother)

Really, my only caveat with the MFC-J985DW XL is the “INKvestment” cartridges that it ships with. What I loved about the Epson was not only that it had so much ink included in the box; but that the ink was delivered in a much more environmentally-friendly package – recyclable squeeze bottles that you used to fill ink reservoirs. The Brother takes a much more traditional approach, giving you “two years of ink” by giving you four sets of high-yield ink cartridges. It’s considerably more waste and, once you use up that ink, you’ll be back to buying expensive cartridges – a set costs $80 as opposed to the $40 you’d have to spend on a full ink set for the Epson. If you’re looking for an all-in-one device with a low cost of ownership for its lifetime, it’s hard to beat Epson’s EcoTank line.

However, directly comparing the two, I think the Brother MFC-J985DW XL has better overall performance and adds some extremely attractive features for users who need a more powerful all-in-one-printer. You’ll just need to keep in mind that, while it seems to be pitching a similar product to Epson, the MFC-J985DW XL is really a traditional printer with lots of extra ink in the box. You can find the Brother MFC-J985DW XL for $299 (its non-XL sibling, which offers less ink can be had for $100 less) on Amazon.

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