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Before You Buy a Mobile Printer

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Mobile printers are part of the ultimate mobile office, allowing you to print anywhere on demand. Here's what you need to know about selecting a printer for your mobile work needs.

Who Needs a Mobile Printer

Mobile printers are ideal for business travelers who may need to revise documents for sharing with clients while traveling. Because many mobile printers are self-powered or have alternate power sources, mobile printers are also well suited for anyone who works in the field and needs to print documents, such as contracts or receipts, on the go -- e.g., sales people, architects, and field service technicians. Specialty mobile printers such as compact photo printers allow photographers and others who work with images to distribute their work on demand.

Benefits of Mobile Printers

Although many hotels and cybercafes offer shared printers for guest use (usually for a fee), using your own mobile printer may be more cost-effective in the long run if you often need to print on the go; also, as one frequent traveler's experience shows, using hotel printers can be limiting and frustrating.

PC-free printing is another reason you may want a mobile printer: some portable printers allow you to print from devices other than just laptops (e.g., PDAs, smartphones, or cameras) or directly from compact storage cards -- a feature you won't likely find on shared public printers.

Finally, the most compelling benefit of mobile printers is that they allow you to really print anywhere, even in the most remote locations or while on the move. If, that is, you are willing to carry along the printer.

Small Size

Today's mobile printers are very portable, but still add noticeable weight (about 5 pounds) and take up some space in a carry-on or large briefcase (average dimensions: 13" x 7" and 3" high). Compact photo printers are even smaller -- some not much bigger than the 4x6 photo paper they print on. There are larger and smaller mobile printers, but keep in mind there is usually a trade-off between portability and features or performance. Check the printer's dimensions against the carrying case you may want to use with it to make sure the printer will fit.

Higher Cost

In portable electronics, the smaller the device, the higher the price -- and mobile printers are no exception. Mobile printers can cost nearly twice as much as their desktop printer counterparts, and the ink cartridges for mobile printers tend to also cost about 20% more, depending on the particular printer. The cartridges for your mobile printer may last you longer, though, if you don't do much printing on the road or are more selective about what you print.

Performance

Print speed and quality from a mobile printer can be impressive. Although many mobile printers print at around 5 pages per minute, some are much speedier (the HP OfficeJet H470, billed as the world's fastest mobile printer in 2007, has a 23ppm black and 16ppm color rated speed). If you're a traveling salesperson who can't afford to wait for pages to print, look for mobile printers with a 10 ppm or faster print speed rating.

Likewise, print resolution is often higher than the 300 dpi to 1200 dpi recommended by About's Guide to Printers/Scanners. In short, mobile printers can produce professional looking documents pretty quickly.

Connectivity and Power Options

Connectivity options and power options are the two other main features to look for when comparing mobile printers:

  • Built-in wi-fi and bluetooth allow you to print from multiple devices (including wireless-capable or bluetooth-enabled PDAs and cameras) and without the hassle of wires. Many mobile printers also allow printing directly from compact digital storage cards (e.g., SD cards from cameras) -- a very handy feature to look for if you want to print photos on the go without having to connect or start up your laptop.
  • Mobile printer power options may include AC adapter, internal rechargeable battery, car adapter, and powering off of USB. Obviously, the more self-powered options the better, but some adapters may cost extra.

Other Important Features to Consider

  • Operating System: Make sure the printer drivers are compatible with your laptop
  • Paper Sizes and Weight: If you need to print on different paper sizes or stock, be sure they are listed in the printer specs as available options.
  • Durability: Ruggedness is an excellent quality in any mobile device -- if you have a chance to look at the mobile printer in person, you can get a sense for its build quality.

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