Mobile printers fall into what known in the business as "specialty" devices. They're designed for two specific business audiences—people who need the capability to print when they travel, and people who need print capability in their vehicle.
Road warriors who produce last-minute reports or presentations can benefit from a mobile printer. And service-based businesses that outfit vehicles with a mobile printer can provide estimates (or invoices) right on the spot. That can mean the difference between winning a bid (or being paid quickly) and the more disappointing alternative.
[Related: Productivity Tools for Small Business Travel]
What do we mean by "best mobile printers? In this article we discuss the features to consider, and then we review three of the best mobile printers for business travel (listed here in order of price):
The Anatomy of the Best Mobile Printers
Printers designed to be mobile are, not surprisingly, considerably smaller than even small inkjet printers meant for home office use. Dimensions roughly similar to a standard sheet of paper and only several inches thick, make them easy to pack in your luggage, to store in the trunk of a car, or to reside in the passenger seat of a truck.
When you're on the road, you can't always find an AC power outlet when you need to print. Mobile printers don’t require an AC power outlet to operate. The best mobile printers we review here all operate from AC power or from an included battery. Two of them let you charge the battery by connecting the printer through a USB cable to a port on a PC or laptop, or through a USB charger that plugs into the cigarette lighter/power port in your vehicle.
For years, mobile printers used special thermal paper and could print only in monochrome. The three mobile printers in this review are four-color inkjets that use plain paper, and you can print pretty much print anything on them that you would print back in the office.
However, mobile inkjet printers come with a couple of trade-offs. If you plan to travel with one packed in your luggage, place it in a leak-proof zipper lock plastic bag. It probably won’t leak, but why take the chance?
And even the best mobile printers suffer from fairly low page-yield ink cartridges. Some vendors offer high-capacity cartridges, but yields of 150 pages are common. If you might print several iterations or multiple copies of a document, it’s a good idea to pack an extra set of ink cartridges.
The Epson WorkForce WF-100 Mobile Printer
3 Best Mobile Printers for Road Warriors
In reviewing the best mobile printers, we didn’t run our usual performance tests. They require several print runs of 44 pages each, and none of these mobile printers can handle that paper-input capacity. We did run image quality tests, even though none of the vendors touts photo quality as a feature. Still, if you print documents with color charts and graphs, you’ll want to know whether a mobile printer does a good job with that task.
Weighing in at only 3.5 pounds, and measuring 12.2- x 6.1- x 2.4-inches, the Epson WF-100 is the smallest and lightest of the three best mobile printers we reviewed. It costs $80 less than the HP and $60 less than the Canon (with the optional battery).
When you’re ready to print, simply unfold the front and top panel to access a 20 page input tray. The WF-100 uses two ink cartridges, a black cartridge and a tri-color cartridge. The black ink cartridge yields approximately 200 pages and costs $22, while the $18 page tri-color cartridge yields about 250 pages.
You can power up the WF-100's rechargeable battery with either the included AC adapter or through a USB port. With a fully charged battery, the mobile printer can produce about 100 monochrome or 50 color pages.
Epson rates the printer’s speed at 6.7ppm in black and 3.8ppm for color prints. That’s fast enough for general mobile printing needs. Image quality on both the HP Presentation Matte and Red River Ultra Glossy Photo Paper is excellent.
As for connectivity, the WF-100 provides a USB input port as well as both Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Direct capability. That makes it easy to print from a laptop, a smartphone, or a tablet. The WF-100 also supports Apple Air Print, Google Cloud Print, and Epson’s own Epson Connect.
The smallest and lightest of our three best mobile printers, the WF-100 fits perfectly in a laptop case along with your laptop.
Price:$259 (street with $99 LK-62 battery kit)
The Canon Pixma ip110 costs a bit less than the HP Officejet 200 Mobile Printer. And, at 12.7- x 7.3- x 2.5-inches and 4.3 pounds, it's larger, heavier, and more expensive than the Epson WF-100. And that’s without the optional battery, which adds another inch or so to the depth and a few ounces to the weight.
The Canon Pixma iP110
Setting up the Canon ip110 is just a touch more complicated than setting up the other two mobile printers. You need to install a cartridge printhead the two ink cartridges (one black and one tri-color). Then you need to let the printer perform a print head alignment. It’s not complicated, but it’s more than you have to do with either of the other two printers we reviewed. The mobile printer's sparse, cartoon-like setup poster doesn't help much. Think about average Ikea directions, and you're mighty close. Once it's setup, the printer works just fine. It includes Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Direct in addition to USB, so you can use it to print from almost any device that supports wired or wireless printing.
Canon rates the ip110's print speed at up to 9 ppm in monochrome and 5.9 ppm in color, which is fine for on-the-road printing. Ink tanks cost about $15 for the PGI-35 black ink tank and $19 for the CLI-36 tri-color cartridge. Canon estimates the yield at 191 pages for black and 249 pages for color. The printer doesn’t offer high capacity cartridges.
Print quality is a mixed bag. Monochrome text is fine, crisp, and legible even with small font sizes. And photographic style images printed on Red River Glossy Photo Paper are almost photo quality, with good saturation and color accuracy. But the same images printed on standard copy paper appeared completely washed out; if you plan to produce documents with color graphics, grab a ream of high-quality paper.
We have one serious bone to pick with the ip110. Canon touts the unit as a mobile printer, but then it charges an additional $100 for the clip-on Lithium battery. Without the battery, you're left with AC as your only power option. That limitation places serious constraints on the printer's mobility.
Sure, you can easily move it from place to place, but if you want to use it in your car or truck, you'll need to buy either the optional battery or an AC power inverter that plugs into the cigarette/power plug in your vehicle.
Larger and heavier than the Epson, but roughly on a par with the Canon Pixma (both price and size-wise), the HP Officejet 200 Mobile Printer weighs 4.9 pounds and measures 14.3- x 7.3- x 2.7-inches. It’s a tight fit for a laptop case, but most backpacks can accommodate the mobile printer with little if any trouble.
The Hewlett Packard Officejet 200 Mobile Printer
A fold-down top cover protects the printer when you move or store it, and it flips up to provide a 50-sheet input tray. Note: the paper exits through a slot on the bottom front, so if you place the mobile printer near the edge of a table or car seat, printouts will end up all over the place.
The Officejet 200 Mobile Printer uses a four-color, two cartridge system available in two capacities—standard and high-yield. The standard capacity black cartridge costs about $16 and yields approximately 200 pages. The high-yield cartridge, at $26, produces about 600 pages. The standard tri-color cartridge costs $21 and prints about 165 pages, while the high-yield cartridge prints about 415 pages for $39. Affordable, high-yield cartridges make the Officejet 200 Mobile a good choice if you print a high volume on the road.
HP rates the Officejet 200 Mobile Printer as fast as 20 ppm on AC power or 18ppm on battery (monochrome) and 19ppm on AC and 17ppm on battery when printing color in draft mode. Our test images, printed on HP Presentation Paper Matter and Red River Glossy Photo Paper, were excellent—equivalent to pretty much any small business office inkjet printer.
Like the other mobile printers in this review, the Officejet 200 Mobile Printer supports Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi direct in addition to USB, making it simple to print from a smartphone or tablet. When charged from an AC outlet, the printer builds to a full charge in as little as 90 minutes.
[More small business mobile tools: Crop of 5 New Mobile Devices for Small Business]
Ted Needleman published his first review in 1978. Since then, he has written several thousand hardware and software reviews, columns, articles on using technology, and two books. He has no intention of stopping any time soon.
|Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!|