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    Laptop sales accelerating the pace of office wireless developments

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver 
    January 22-28, 2008; issue 952
    High Tech Office

    WiFi wireless networking (a.k.a. 802.11g) was once limited to hotel lobbies, trendy cafes, and the homes of the technology bleeding edge. WiFi popularity has increased with the growth in laptop sales. I can check nearby WiFi routers with my iPod Touch; it’s a rare Vancouver corner that has fewer than three or four WiFi connections showing up.

    With wireless networks nearly a standard feature in homes and small offices, it’s now showing up in more sorts of devices, making them accessible without having to string cables from room to room. Recently, I spent time with a pair of all-in-one printer/scanner/etc. devices with built-in WiFi networking.

    Accessing a printer wirelessly used to require a special-purpose (i.e. relatively expensive) wireless print server or one of a few WiFi routers designed to allow printer connections. Or the printer could be shared from a computer connected to a network. Until recently, if you connected a multifunction all-in-one (AIO) device, you might be able to print from other networked computers, but you probably couldn’t access the device’s other functions across the network.

    I was pleasantly surprised with both Lexmark’s X6575 ($199) and HP’s C8180 ($399). Both had built-in WiFi wireless network and both allowed any computer within wireless range to print, scan, copy or fax. And both installed easily and worked with Windows and Mac systems. On the minus side: both offer meagre 100-page paper trays.
    It’s rare to find any sort of networking built-into a printer or AIO at the X6575’s price; even rarer to get WiFi. Some AIO devices drop the fax machine; many others include a flatbed scanner usable for scanning, copying or faxing one page at a time, but awkward for multiple-page jobs. The X6575 includes both a fax and a multi-page sheet feeder, and even offers double-sided printing.

    It uses two ink cartridges: black and colour for everyday text and colour printing; the black cartridge can be replaced with an optional photo cartridge giving high-quality photo printing.

    While the jury is out on whether single-colour cartridges are more affordable than separate cartridges for each colour, the X6575 allows the use of high-capacity ink cartridges for lower cost per printed page. Memory card and USB inputs are included for direct camera connections. Nice feature: a front panel light that switches between orange and green depending on whether the WiFi connection is working.

    HP’s Photosmart C8180 All-in-One matches most of the Lexmark’s features (though it lacks that unit’s fax and sheet feeder). It ups the ante with crisper text quality, faster print speeds, a built-in DVD+RW drive with LightScribe for labelling discs and burning photos direct from memory cards, separate paper trays for eight-inch- wide paper and 4” x 6” photo paper, and a generally solider feel.

    A 3.5-inch LCD panel doubles as a touch screen, simplifying working with the menus. HP’s Photosmart C7280 (which I didn’t test) drops the DVD drive and touch screen but adds a duplexer, automatic document feeder and fax.
    Both models include wired Ethernet and WiFi connections along with the more traditional USB.

    Both Photosmart models use six ink cartridges. These were perhaps the cutest ink cartridges I’ve seen, an adjective I never thought I’d find myself using in this context. An odd omission: you can only burn an image onto a disc in the DVD drive when the unit is connected to a computer via USB. As with Lexmark’s model, other functions are available to any computer across the network.

    With both home and small-business users increasingly using laptops that are not tied down to a specific desk, the ability to print, scan or fax from anywhere within WiFi range is a big convenience. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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