Network Connectivity and Scanning Features
Today almost all but the lowest-end printer models include built-in networking, and that usually comes in the form of Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi certainly gives you a degree of flexibility regarding where to locate your printer in the office, but you'd be smart to choose a printer that also provides Ethernet connectivity.
Ethernet is a more reliable network connection than Wi-Fi, especially if you lack a strong Wi-Fi signal throughout your office. Moreover, a Wi-Fi network is a shared medium while an Ethernet connection gives your printer a dedicated link to the network; lengthy and/or complex print jobs will take less time getting to the printer via Ethernet.
A more useful feature is commonly called "scan to network folder," and as the name suggests it refers to the capability to scan documents directly to network folders that you specify. This feature lets you save specific document types such as invoices, contracts, etc. to the appropriate locations without an intermediate step.
In situations where a document is more appropriately routed to a specific person than to a networked folder, a "Scan to Email" feature saves you time by sending the scanned document to a user as an email attachment. This can also be a convenient way to send scanned documents to individuals outside the organization when necessary.
Mobile and Cloud Printing Capabilities
It's important that your next printer have the capability to interact with mobile devices, because whatever you need to print may just as likely reside on a smartphone or a tablet as on a PC. If your business uses iOS devices, a printer that supports Apple's AirPrint technology will let you print from an iPhone or an iPad when both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network.
Google Cloud Print, while not as widely supported, can send documents from a mobile device to any Internet-connected printer. There are also myriad vendor-specific technologies such as Brother iPrint & Scan, Epson Connect, and HP ePrint that offer various mobile printing and scanning features depending on the specific printer model and smartphone OS you have, so be sure to review these features before buying.
Another emerging mobile printing technology is NFC—printers such as the Brother MFC-J870DW multifunction inkjet (read our review) and Samsung C4x0 series lasers let you send documents directly to a printer with a few taps and little to no prior configuration.
Finally, vendors are starting to incorporate cloud storage connectivity directly into their printers, which eliminates the need for a PC, smartphone, or tablet to act as intermediary. Case in point: the aforementioned Brother printer can download and print (or scan and upload) documents directly to services such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft SkyDrive. This capability will become increasingly common in the future, and will be a boon to any business that relies on cloud services.
Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.
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