Apple’s AirPrint technology hasn’t gone very far yet, but it promises to allow iOS devices like the iPad and iPhone to reach more-broadly into the realm of general computing. After all, who doesn’t need to print a document or photo occasionally? But the range of AirPrint-compatible printers is exceedingly limited: You have to choose from one of less than a dozen HP models! Since I’m an avid iPad user and my printer just gave up the ghost, I decided to take a look at the offerings.
Apple’s AirPrint is a promising new technology. It allows an iPad running iOS 4.2 or greater to discover and print to compatible devices wirelessly, with no drivers or configuration. Just tap “Print” under the “Send To” icon and the iPad displays compatible printers and can send content to them. It uses Apple’s Bonjour/Zeroconf networking protocol and officially requires a compatible printer. However, it was quickly reverse-engineered for Linux/CUPS use, and the AirPrint Activator software enables printing to any Mac-connected printer.
Why Buy AirPrint and HP?
There are lots of great printer choices out there, but this small selection is a great cross-section, albeit from a single manufacturer. So why buy one of these over any other printer? I see a few reasons:
- Anyone who uses Apple products will probably prefer buying one with AirPrint compatibility, all other things being equal. Since the printers listed here span most of the home and small-office range, there’s no reason not to pick one of them.
- As for the HP brand:
- I’ve had good luck with HP printers. After a series of Canon and Epson printers, my latest HP PhotoSmart C6180 lasted almost five years and remains a solid performer in terms of print speed and quality. I print photos and documents, and about the only feature I wish it had is duplexing.
- HP’s latest all-in-one line also includes decent scanning, photo card printing, and e-fax capability, along with other unique features which we’ll get into in a few minutes.
- The dominant market position enjoyed by HP means that ink is widely available, though not cheap. I was scared away from Brother printers after discovering (or rather not discovering) how hard their ink was to find!
I wouldn’t necessarily tell anyone not to buy Epson, Canon, Lexmark, or the others. But HP’s line is right up there in quality and features. I’m glad HP and Apple are working together to bring these features to market!
The availability of AirPrint Activator means any printer can use AirPrint, and other manufacturers will no doubt support the protocol eventually. But right now, HP is it for official support.
Decoding HP’s Names and Numbers
I find HP’s web site terribly confusing to navigate. I got more information from a quick walk through Staples than browsing their direct-sales focused site! Even Amazon’s listings are more useful than HP’s too-wide tables.
Even more confusing is HP’s odd name/number scheme: Consider the cool “Envy 100” printer. It’s product number is D410a, which is easy to confuse with “C410a” that identifies the Photosmart Premium Fax. But the Envy 100 is also called the CN517A! Can’t we just have sensible model names and a single product ID number? And why does both the cheapie D110A and fancy D410a start with the letter “D”? It’s all meaningless alphabet soup to consumers.
Although this is by no means a definitive list of features, here are the key differences between the various AirPrint-compatible HP printers. There are essentially three lines to choose from:
- The Photosmart e line consists of inkjet all-in-one printers for home users including the basic D110A, the mid-level B210A, the premium C310a, and the Fax-capable C410a.
- The fancy Envy 100 and Photosmart eStation add features for premium buyers. The Envy 100 is a stylish transformer, while the eStation includes a “Zeen” Android tablet.
- Then there are the office-oriented LaserJet Pro models, the CP1525nw, M1536dnf, and color CM1415FNW. Note that all of these require a firmware upgrade for AirPrint compatibility.
I’ll be posting more details on these printers in the next few days, as well as making my buying own choice. We shall see what I end up with!