Cut Your Printer Cables

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted October 07, 2005

The promise of wireless networking is, by definition, a promise of operating without wires. However, promises don't always meet expectations.

The majority of printers currently in use are not wireless by default. The capability to wirelessly print is obviously an attractive notion, but how do you make that happen? One possible solution is the ogear Wireless Printing Kit with Bluetooth technology (GBP302KIT). The kit includes everything you need to cut the printer cables connected to your PC.

What Does It Do?
The Iogear Wireless Printing Kit with Bluetooth technology is actually two pieces of hardware: A USB Bluetooth adapter and a print adapter that connect to either a USB or parallel printer port.

Both components are, of course, Bluetooth devices, which means that either should be able to connect to other Bluetooth-enabled products (e.g., a different Bluetooth adapter, PDA, possibly your camera phone and so on) if they all support the same Bluetooth profile required to connect.

Installation
The Iogear Bluetooth adapter is actually just a branded version of a Broadcom Bluetooth radio. Installation is relatively simple, at least from the point of view of plugging in the USB device, installing the included software and getting Window XP to recognize the device. Unfortunately, getting it to properly work with other Bluetooth devices, including its soul mate, the Printer Bluetooth adapter, wasn't nearly as easy or as painless.

We suspect that there are still a large number of printers that use a parallel port as opposed to USB, so it's quite beneficial that the Iogear adapter has both ports. For the purpose of this review, we tested on both USB and Parallel port printers.

One of the first things that you notice about the adapter is that it requires its own power source. So you have to plug the adapter (USB or Parallel) into your printer, which removes a wire (that being the wire that used to connect to your PC). You then replace it with another wire — the power cord, which also requires another outlet. Certainly this is just a nitpick complaint, but one of the key advantages of wireless products, for me at least, is reducing the number of wires. An extra AC adapter also always seems to take up more space than just a regular two-prong plug.

The other thing that you figure out quite quickly is that by using the Printer Adapter, you can't connect to the printer with a wired connection as there is only one port that plugs into the printer (USB or Parallel). You can't plug in anything else. It's Bluetooth or bust.

Frustration Surfaces
Using the included software to get the USB Bluetooth adapter to find the Printer Adapter, connect to it and then actually print through it was a painful and frustrating experience.


 The Iogear Wireless Printing Kit

On the first attempt, we diligently followed the instructions in the woefully inadequate documentation that comes with the kit. For whatever reason, the Bluetooth adapter could find the Printer Adapter but couldn't connect to it to access its services. We called Iogear support a few times in the first few days of testing but never connected with a support person — we gave up each time after waiting more than 15 minutes (once it was 30 minutes). We tried e-mail and two days later got a reply telling me to call for tech support.

An uninstall and then re-install of the software proved successful, though over a period of several weeks of testing, we encountered intermittent failures where for some unknown reason, printing just didn't work. During the test period, the printer and the Bluetooth-enabled PC were separated by varying distances, but were always within a 20-foot range of each other. Most of the error conditions actually occurred when the distance was within three feet. We don't know if it was a pairing-related issue, an issue with one of the test printers or some form of interference that caused the intermittent error conditions. The printers all worked fine when wired.

We also experienced difficulties just trying to get the Bluetooth adapter to connect with other Bluetooth devices. In general, the Bluetooth software included with the Iogear kit was nowhere near as friendly to use as the BlueSoleil GUI-based software that SMC uses for its adapter.

One of the other serious gotchas of this product, which is not clearly indicated on the product packaging, is that the Printer Adapter doesn't work with multi-function printers. (We tested with non-multi-function USB and Parallel printers as well as one multi-function USB printer just to see if it would work — it didn't). To be fair, on the side panel of the package in somewhat small type under the title "Requirements" as the last item, Iogear does note that multi-function printers will not work with the device.

On the Positive Side
Certainly, we may be a little bit harsh here. The capability to turn a regular printer into a wireless printer is a good thing. The Iogear Wireless Printing Kit with Bluetooth technology (GBP302 Kit ) does turn your regular run-of-the-mill parallel or USB printer into a wireless device (though it doesn't actually remove wires, but instead trades a printer connection for an additional power cable). For the majority of the time, it worked flawlessly providing wireless printing capabilities. The actual printer adapter will and does connect nicely with other Bluetooth devices (not just the Iogear branded USB adapter) so if you own a Bluetooth PDA, you should easily be able to print as well.

At just under $100 for the kit, it's also not a bad value for both the PC and printer adapter. We suspect that for some people, this solution will be an ideal way to unwire their printer. For others that hit connection snags, it may turn out to be somewhat less than ideal.

Pros:

  • Includes both Parallel and USB interfaces
  • Bluetooth class 2

    Cons:

  • Requires an extra AC adapter
  • Not for multifunction printers.
  • Only one printer can be connected
  • Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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