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Technology Untangled: easy printing from phone or tablet

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technology-bourThese days I find that many tasks that I used to use my computer for are now accomplished with my smartphone or my tablet. The one task that has been a problem is printing. I recently needed to print an email I received on my phone and discovered a process to print directly from the phone to a Wi-Fi enabled printer. Here we will investigate how to set up your phone or tablet for printing.

Printing from a computer has always been a rather straightforward and matter-of-fact function. Simply choose File/Print and produce a hard copy. For all the variety of functionality that today’s phones and tablets offer, printing is not a built-in function; I can’t understand why. The standard work-around for this shortcoming is to email the file or document to yourself as an attachment, and then print it the next time you are in front of the computer. My need to print something presented itself on an evening where my laptop already was packed away, but my Wi-Fi printer was at the ready, as always, on the desk of the home office.

I searched for an Android printing app on the Google Play Store and found PrinterShare Mobile Print by Mobile Dynamix. Now, usually I like to try free offerings first, and there were a number of them that offered varying degrees of functionality, but none of them were as comprehensive and useful as this $12.95 paid application. Study of user comments and Web articles made it clear that PrinterShare was worth the relatively high fee. Specifically, this was the only application I found that made it easy to print email messages. It also allows for useful printing of other types of files, which I will discuss below. The PrinterShare app includes a version that is supposed to work with Apple’s iPhone and iPad, but I suspect there may be better, similar Apple-specific printing applications that would be worth a try, too. This review only covers the Android application.

Be aware that the “free” version of this application displayed at the app store is not really free. All it does is allow you to test the functionality of the program with your printer by printing a test page. Compatible printers include many HP, Epson, Canon, Brother and Samsung models. However, to do any useful printing, you must purchase the premium key version. The easiest method of printing with PrinterShare is directly to a Wi-Fi enabled printer on your local network. A Wi-Fi printer is a wonderful addition to your office or home office if you don’t already have one. It facilitates printing from any computer, and now phone, that communicates with your network router.

Once installed, you enable Wi-Fi communication to your network from your phone or tablet and then select your network printer, which should appear on the list. If you don’t have a Wi-Fi printer, there are other connection methods including through Bluetooth, through other computers on your network that have attached printers, and through Google Cloud Print. These methods are a bit more complicated but still can be accomplished by carefully following the instructions.

Email printing worked well, with one important limitation. You can only print messages from Google Gmail accounts. There is no choice to print from other types of POP email accounts that you might access with your phone. The workaround is simple enough. Just forward the message you want to print to the Gmail account of your device. To print email attachments, click on the attachment paper clip icon and choose “Preview,” then complete the action using PrinterShare. PrinterShare also allows printing of other important information from your phone, specifically entire strings of text message conversations and complete call logs in chronological order. These types of printouts could be very useful for many sorts of legal matters. Other printing choices include calendar, contacts, Web pages, Google Docs, documents (such as .pdf, .txt, .doc) and pictures.

For many, the main attraction of phone and tablet printing will be primarily for photos captured with the device, plus an occasional document. In that case, there are several good, free applications for specific brands of Wi-Fi printers. Search the Google Play Store using the word “print” and your printer brand. I found that the HP ePrint Home&Biz app did a nice job with photos from my phone. It did not do as well, however, with an MSOffice .doc document. The font and formatting of the printed page was substantially altered from the original during the rendering process.

Perhaps someday soon these mobile devices that we depend on more and more will continue to take on more computer functionality, including conventional printing ability. In the meantime, programs like PrinterShare should serve quite well. For more information, visit printershare.com.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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