I read that I would need either a Cloud Print-ready printer (network connected and with built-in software for registering to my Google account), or a printer attached to a regular computer that could be shared through Cloud Print. As luck would have it my basic black and white laser printer was in pretty bad shape and it was just about time to replace it, so I decided to shop for a new printer.
My needs: I wanted laser due to low cost per page, and because laser toner doesn't dry up or otherwise "go bad" like inkjet ink. I dont' print that often, sometimes going weeks without, but when I want to print, I don't want to mess with cleaning inkjet heads. I wanted black and white - I have no use for printing color. And of course, I wanted a Cloud Print-ready printer.
I did some searching for "cheap black and white laser printers" and found several reviews. From those I was gravitating towards a basic model of Brother printer. Although I do a lot of shopping online, for some things I prefer to shop in a traditional brick-and-mortar store, so I visited my local Staples. They had the printer I wanted, but due to a sale, they had the HL-L2380DW at the same price. This model has the same laser printing engine as the one I had selected, but adds copy and scan capabilities. It also offered a $30 rebate for in-store credit which I figured I could eventually use for toner.
As you would expect, the Brother is fairly easy to set up. It connects to the network either wired or wireless. Wired with DHCP is easier of course, but wireless wasn't much harder - a built-in color LCD touchscreen made it easy to select my wireless SSID and supply the password. I was able to access the web interface of the printer with no problem moments after setting it up.
My desktop computer at home is an iMac, a few years old running the latest Mac OS (OSX 10.10.2 Yosemite), and I actually ran into a couple of issues related to that, and the fact that the Mac uses Bonjour (mDNS) to automatically locate printers. It turns out that my home router (an Actiontec supplied by my ISP) doesn't pass Bonjour traffic. There's a long story I won't get into here, but I had a replacement router ready to go that I was already planning to use (a really nice Asus model) - substituting that for the Actiontec resolved this issue so that my Mac, and the Brother ControlCenter app, could "find" the printer and work properly. NOTE: I have since learned that it is possible to get mDNS working through Actiontec routers, although there's no specific option for it - it has to do with allowing multicast traffic over the wireless, and I'd suggest Googling around for some instructions if you care to try it. I prefer the Asus router anyway.
Setting up Google Cloud Print was what I really wanted to try, and as it turns out was quite easy (contrary to some of the reviews I've read). The printer's web interface has a "protocols" page where you can set up a variety of printing capabilities, and Google Cloud Print is clearly listed. You provide the name by which you want to see the printer listed, click a "Google" button and you are redirected to Google's web site where you authenticate to your Google account, and then you can see the printer listed on a site where you manage your cloud printers.
Using the printer is just about as easy as you could possibly want. From Chrome (which you are automatically using on a Chromebook), you just choose to print from any tab you're viewing. You select your printer just like you would in any other app, make whatever adjustments to the settings you like (portrait vs. landscape, single or double-sided print, resolution) and print. The job is transmitted to the cloud, and within a minute or two the printer picks up the print job and executes it. To be honest I am not sure of the technical process involved in the printer's connection - my printer is "sleeping" most of the time, yet it always picks up the jobs and prints them quickly, so I am guessing it runs some kind of background process to periodically check in with Google.
What I've described so far is the most basic functionality you would ask from a Google Cloud Printer, and these days there are lots of other makes and models that will do as well. However, this specific model (the Brother HL-L2380DW) does a number of other neat things:
- Copying - the printer has a glass-top scanner that allows you to do basic copying. This model does not come with a sheet feeder so it will not be convenient for copying a large document, but if you have something just a few pages long it's not too tedious and does the job. The function includes a couple of neat modes - if you want to copy a document and have the printout use both sides of the paper, you can tell the printer to do that using options on the LCD touchscreen and it will prompt you through the process. It even has a special routine for copying both sides of an ID card and printing both sides on a single page.
- Scanning - the device functions as a full-color scanner. Using the supplied Brother utilities you can scan and have the document stored or automatically opened in a variety of applications.
- Mobile device connectivity - you can certainly install Google Cloud Print services on your phone or tablet, but Brother has an app you can use to more directly access the device for printing and scanning from mobile device. The app allows your device to connect over the network and print just about anything from the phone, or to scan a document and have it wind up on the phone. Note that while the app has NFC, this model printer does not.
- Web services - Brother has a service called Brother Web Connect which allows the printer to (sort of) directly interface with a number of web-based services including Google Drive, Flickr, Facebook and several other things. Using it is a little clunky - you have to browse to the Web Connect web site, select the desired service and obtain a temporary code that allows the printer to access the service for 24 hours. Then, you can use the printer's LCD interface to download and print from the selected service, or scan and upload. The cool thing about this for me is that I can scan and have the document directly stored to Google Drive, which then makes it available on my Chromebook.
All in all, I have found the Brother HL-L2380DW to be a relatively full-featured device for the price. The Google Cloud Print functionality is easy to configure and works as advertised. The addition of various copy and scan capabilities, including the ability to scan to Google Drive, is a nice plus. I would recommend this printer to anyone who needs a solid black and white laser with Cloud Print capability.