With many of iOS 6’s (s AAPL)new features such as Passbook and turn-by-turn directions, many of us need to print less stuff than ever. However, the post-paper era hasn’t quite caught up with the post-PC era: we still need paper to print some boarding passes or a complex map. Newer printers support AirPrint out of the box and software solutions such as Printopia can use your Mac as a print server. Lantronix has a another solution to enable “the rest of us” to print from iOS and the product works well — with some minor annoyances.
How it works
The xPrinterServer has two variations: a Home edition and Network edition. The Home Edition ($99.95) supports USB printers as well up to five network-based printers. The Network Edition ($149.95) only supports network-based printers but supports an unlimited number of them. For that price, you could, in theory, simply buy a new AirPrint-compatible printer. Both products support multiple printers so the xPrintServer value scales the more printers you connect, although higher-end network-based printers or all-in-one network -based copier solutions are the target market for the Network product.
What I liked
Set-up is very easy. The Network Edition simply has an Ethernet port. Plug it in and the software autodetects a vast majority of printers over a network while the Home Edition adds a USB port to support non-network printers and makes USB printers accessible to Macs, PCs and iOS devices. Both devices require no direct change to a network or installation of any software or apps.
What I didn’t like
Compatibility can be spotty. Although the supported printer list is extensive, I had to contact Lantronix to add support for a few my printers, but I was testing over a wide base of printers. Occasionally I noticed slight variations in print quality and margins, which Lantronix attributed to the nuances of iOS rather then the xPrintServer device — though I noticed these variations when printing from my Mac directly via USB and then printing via the xPrintServer. Some network-based printers required minor configuration via the xPrintServer web interface, such as my older HP Laserjet 4m, as well as a large office-based copier that also supported printing.
Speed was slower than printing directly via USB or using an existing printer’s network interface. This makes sense since the xPrintServer has to do the work of rendering the data and then sending the data to the printer. Once the printing actually started, speed was fully dependent on the printer and I noticed no speed degradation.
Home users will like being able to share a USB printer with more devices, similar to Apple’s Airport Express and Extreme. Business users will see their investment in network-based printing extended to iOS. I wish hotels had a solution like this as I still need to use a public printer and desktop when I want to print a boarding pass on the road.
The older and more expensive your printer, the more you’ll find value in the xPrintServer in both your home and office. The product works almost as well as advertised with some minor caveats and quirks and I highly recommend it for those situations in which you simply have to print something via your iOS device