Worst idea ever: Network printers without a screen


Network printers are great. You plug them in, give them an IP address, and everyone in your home or office can print to them. Plus, they’re quite affordable these days. But one thing drives me crazy: Network printers that have no screen, making it incredibly difficult to set them up.

Nearly all the brands are guilty of this, from Samsung to Brother to HP. In order to save a few bucks on the cost (and how much could it be, really?), they leave out the little status screen and buttons that you use to enter the network configuration, check for errors, etc. (For the most part, only the really expensive models have been spared.) Their solution? The customer has to install a kludgy Windows program to find the printer and configure it. Using a Mac or Linux PC? You’re out of luck. Even with Windows, what should be a 5 minute process turns into an hour or more.

What about the nifty web interface that nearly every printer comes with? Well, it’s kind of hard to go to the printer’s IP address before you’ve entered one. Maybe you can let it get an IP automatically and then go there for setup? I guess you could print a status page to get the IP, but that requires a DHCP server on your network. A lot of places block that for security. All of this hassle, just to save the cost of a few little parts.

Frankly, I wish there was more consumer backlash against this sort of miserable design. I guess people don’t know any better — and they don’t get hit with the setup problem until they’ve taken the printer home. And the retailers aren’t helping: it’s really hard to find anything but the crappy, screenless models at Office Depot, OfficeMax, CompUSA, and other major stores unless you spend more than $600. There are quite a few models with screens for less than that, but you can only get them online. What the hell are these manufacturers and retailers thinking? Apparently, they would rather make the printer $3 cheaper than actually have it work right.