An Easy Way To Get An Apple iOS Device To Print To A USB Printer

A review of the Lantronix xPrintServer

While at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, I met with Dean Lazzara of Lantronix at an event hosted by a company called Pepcom. He showed me a product called the Lantronix xPrintServer. It lets you print from an iOS device such as an iPad to a USB or network connected printer. I have a few Apple devices—an iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone—but never think about printing from them. Somehow, I just go to my PC whenever I want to print something. My wife does the same thing.

Call this habit or call this naiveté (you can print from an iPad?) But Lazzara convinced me that it’s easy to do with the xPrintServer and offered to send me a review unit. I accepted his offer. At the show, he was demonstrating the Network Edition, but the unit I received was xPrintServer – Home Edition. I recently tried it out and was pretty amazed at how simple it was to hook up and use. Usually, if the word “server” is in a product name, I think of software, IP addresses, and a night of figuring out how to get the dam thing to work. Not so in this case.

The Lantronix device is about the same size as the iPhone, though thicker at about 3/4”. There are only three connections to make. Connect the USB cable from your printer to the xPrintServer, connect the included Ethernet cable from the xPrintServer to your router, and plug in the power adapter. That’s it. Nice and easy.

If you’ve ever tried to print from an iOS device, you know that it tries to wirelessly find an AirPrint printer in the area. If it finds one, it then lists that printer as one of your print options. I happen to have a wireless printer, but the iPad did not recognize it until I installed the xPrintServer. Then it gave me two options to print: one option showed the name of the printer, an HP OfficeJet Pro 8000, while the other showed the same name plus xPrintServer as a suffix. The first option didn’t print, but the second one did. I was impressed. Essentially, the xPrintServer translates iOS format to printer-specific PDL (Page Description Language). The xPrintServer supports over 4,000 printer models.

To test the printing experience, I went to electronicdesign.com and brought up an Idea For Design called “Additions Boost Fault-Protected Current Limiter Precision At Higher Supply Voltages” by Anthony Smith. The IFD runs four pages when you print it out and is a good mix of text and graphics. I clicked on the Print command at the end of the article, which brought up the article in printable format along with another Print command.

When I clicked on this second Print command, the iPad brought up my HP printer in a list, as mentioned. I selected it and the IFD started to print. I noticed, however, that the pages weren’t printing as fast as they usually do on that printer. Makes sense, since the printer usually is connected straight to my PC via a USB cable. But it’s something to keep in mind if you plan to print a long document using the xPrintServer.

Now, here’s the rub. Since the xPrintServer expects to be connected directly to the printer via USB cable, what then happens to my old direct connection from the PC straight to the printer? It goes away. This is certainly not acceptable, due to the speed differential just noted. If I wanted to, I could connect to the printer wirelessly from my PC, since the printer has that capability. But I’ve found that to be a flaky connection, sometimes it works, sometimes not.

My solution would be to connect the xPrintServer to a different printer, one that I don’t use on a regular basis. This only works, however, if the printer is close enough to the router to make the necessary connections.

So to wrap up, the xPrintServer, which has a suggested retail price of $99, solves the problem of printing from an iOS device to PC-type printers. (There are other ways to do this, of course, each with its own limitations.) However, if you want to make this a permanent connection, you might want to think about alternatives to connecting it to your workhorse printer.

You can find the video interview I did with Dean Lazzara at Engineering TV.

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Joe Desposito has held the position of editor-in-chief of Electronic Design since July, 2007. He first joined the publication in 1998 as a technology editor covering test and measurement but quickly...
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