We don't expect much from a machine this inexpensive, so to its credit, the Canon Pixma MP490 has some thoughtfully designed features. A small, front swing-out door protects the three media slots.
When you raise the flatbed scanner unit, a vertical support bar automatically props it up, and an animation appears on the colour LCD showing you how to replace the ink cartridges nestled inside. Lifting a small top lid exposes the 1.8-inch colour LCD and the control panel, which sports a compass-style navigation wheel and clearly labeled buttons.
Other design elements are less successful. The scanner lid is held in place by plastic connectors that are not firmly attached, so it clatters when lifted. The 100-sheet vertical input tray has a rickety plastic support panel that pops off too easily. The page-orientation label on the input tray is confusing. Not surprisingly for such an inexpensive machine, the Canon Pixma MP490 doesn't have ethernet or automatic duplexing.
The Canon Pixma MP490 produced mixed results on our performance tests. It pumped out plain-text pages at a rate of 8.7 pages per minute (ppm), and graphics at 2.3ppm - both slightly below average. Text and landscape photos looked nice, but photos of people suffered from orangey skin tones. Scans happened very quickly, but the images showed muted colours and rough textures.
As with most low-priced MFPs, Canon makes its real money by charging more for the ink. The Canon Pixma MP490 ships with standard-size cartridges. The 220-page replacement is costly. The 401-page, high-yield black cartridge is better, but still no bargain. Colour inks are more reasonable.
The £79 price range of the Canon Pixma MP490 MFP means tradeoffs. The high ink costs are bearable if you print infrequently; otherwise, look for a model with lower-cost inks (and a higher purchase price), such as HP's OfficeJet 6500 Wireless.