3Com touts its Wireless Bluetooth Printing Kit as an "extraordinarily simple wireless-networking solution that you can set up in minutes, even if you're a novice" and claims that you'll be able to print from any PC, handheld, mobile phone, or other device that's enabled for Bluetooth. We found that the kit works quite well once you've set it up, but the installation process may be too much for many users. 3Com touts its Wireless Bluetooth Printing Kit as an "extraordinarily simple wireless-networking solution that you can set up in minutes, even if you're a novice" and claims that you'll be able to print from any PC, handheld, mobile phone, or other device that's enabled for Bluetooth. We found that the kit works quite well once you've set it up, but the installation process may be too much for many users.
Can't we all just get along?
The $250 printing kit includes an antennalike adapter that plugs into the USB slot on your PC; a translucent blue printer adapter that connects to your printer's parallel port; a power cable, in case your printer doesn't have enough power to support the printer adapter; and the requisite Quick Start pamphlet and software CD-ROM. The device has a range of up to 33 feet between clients and a maximum data-transfer rate of 1Mbps. For $149, 3Com offers additional USB adapters.
On paper, the process looks easy: Install printer drivers on your host desktop or notebook; plug the USB adapter into the back of the PC and the printer adapter into your printer's parallel port; wait for Windows to detect the new hardware; then install the Bluetooth software. If everything worked seamlessly, the installation would take minutes. However, compatibility issues with our test printers complicated the procedure.
Look, Ma--no wires!
With the help of some support people at 3Com, we sorted out the technical issues, the PC recognized the printer, and things went smoothly. It was easy to print through applications such as Word and Internet Explorer, and we found 3Com's claims that you can print wirelessly from up to 33 feet away to be true. Using the Connection Manager--a software interface that displays which Bluetooth devices are in range and manages the sending and receiving of data--you can also drag and drop files right onto the device's icon or use the Send File icon to transmit data. Unfortunately, these features are limited, as you can drag and drop or send only basic text files; anything more complex must be processed by the printer drivers. Nonetheless, this is an easy way to pass data back and forth between desktops, handhelds, and other devices.
The Wireless Bluetooth Printing Kit also includes easy-to-use security features. To restrict access to your device, simply go to the Security tab of the Connection Manager and raise the level of security; you can choose Low, Medium, High, or Custom from a drop-down menu. You can even create a password so that only those in the know can connect to your device.
We also enjoyed the Connection Manager's chat function, which lets you send instant messages back and forth with other Bluetooth-enabled devices. And the business-card feature lets you automatically send an electronic business card to other Bluetooth devices within range.
The firmware on the kit is upgradable via downloads from 3Com, so future compatibility improvements won't leave you behind. The company backs the hardware with a limited lifetime warranty and 90 days of free phone support. Beyond that, you can buy a service agreement or pay by the call, but 3Com has yet to set the pricing. Phone support hours are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.
At this stage, Bluetooth technology is still a little quirky. It works well on its own, but the compatibility issues make it hard to recommend unequivocally. More experienced--or patient--users may find the Wireless Bluetooth Printing Kit a lower-cost option than other wireless networking kits, but its range is much smaller, and you can't share Internet access with Bluetooth.