For a printer that retails for only £108 and is heavily discounted online, the Brother MFC-J430w colour inkjet printer (copy/fax/print/scan) gets things done in a hurry: text pages print at a brisk 7.6 pages per minute or faster. Other strengths include sharp text output and below-average ink costs, if you stick with the high-capacity supplies. You get some nice features for the price, but note that colour graphics quality is merely adequate, paper capacity is minimal, and automatic two-sided printing or scanning is nonexistent.
The Brother MFC-J430w's appearance is best described as conventional. The all-black multifunction printer has a small, 1.9-inch LCD that tells you what's going on, plus the usual array of navigation, job, and fax buttons. The buttons are logically placed, and navigating the menus is very easy. You can even scan to a PC directly from the control panel. See also: Group test: what's the best inkjet printer?
Although the Brother MFC-J430w is easy to set up and supports both Wi-Fi and USB connections, it has no ethernet, no card slots, and no USB/PictBridge port. If you frequently need to print photos from a camera, look for another MFP. The input tray holds just 100 sheets, and the ADF for the A4-size scanner holds 20 sheets. It's definitely a light-duty machine.
Brother has implemented one software feature that's currently unique: The iPrint&Scan app for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7 lets you scan from the MFP directly to your phone or tablet via Wi-Fi. It's pretty cool. Printing over email happens through Google Cloud Print, which has apps for iOS and Android, but not Windows Phone 7. Brother provides both PC and Mac drivers, as well as OCR software (Scansoft Paper Port 12 for Windows and Presto PageManager for the Mac).
Alas, while Brother embraces the Mac, it's less than a bear hug: You'll find no support for even manual two-sided printing. Also, you'll need to download the latest driver from Brother’s website to get around a problem we encountered using version 4.1.4 from our installation CD: The Mac scanner driver would not install automatically. We confirmed that the company solved this problem with driver version 4.1.5.
The MFC-J430w's ink costs aren't as low as those for the Kodak ESP C310, a like-priced competitor, but they are cheaper than average if you use the higher-capacity cartridges. With the standard 300-page cartridges (£19.19 black and £11.99 per colour), you pay 6.3p per page, 3.9p per page per colour, and 18p cents for a four-colour page. The 600-page XL cartridges (£23.99 black and £15.59 colour) reduce costs to 3.9p cents per black page, 2.5p per page per colour, and 11p for each four-colour page. Stick with the XLs for the best deal.
Output from the MFC-J430w is competent. Text appears dark gray rather than black, and colour graphics look clear but a bit washed out, with shadows that darken too quickly. Our larger photo scan suffered even more from the steep contrast curve. Copies are generally good.
I mentioned up front that the MFC-J430w is fast. As I noted, in our tests, text pages printed at a faster-than-average 7.6 ppm on the PC, but they exited at an even more impressive rate of 8.2 ppm on the Mac. Half-page photos printed to plain paper at a brisk 4.8 ppm, but slowed to a more normal 1.2 ppm when we used Brother's glossy photo paper. Full-page photos printed on the Mac to the same glossy paper took about 2 minutes apiece, which is about average, but scans and copies to plain paper were quite quick.