Testing by Greg Nelson, VP and CTO, Gware POS (formally Genesis-POS)
A VAR evaluates four 2-inch mobile receipt printers and shares the pros and cons of each.
Mobility in the worlds of retail and hospitality is one of the hottest topics. There’s also a lot of hype, confusion, and speculation. In an attempt to provide clarity on just one aspect of a mobile POS solution, we decided to review 2-inch mobile receipt printers. We once again teamed up with Greg Nelson, VP and CTO of GwarePOS (formally Genesis-POS). As our starting point, we utilized our most current Best Channel Vendors survey results, re-sorting the data to determine which manufacturers had the highest product-related scores in the survey. As a result, we had a field of about 10 manufacturers with scores we felt were high enough for consideration. As with our previous 4-inch mobile label printer review, we found some vendors didn’t offer the type of printer we were testing. Others had products that fit but openly told us that they didn’t think they’d fare well in the review, or certain aspects of the review, because their products were outdated. So, if you’re wondering why your manufacturer of choice isn’t included in the review, it’s not because we didn’t ask. In the end, we received units from Citizen, Epson, Star Micronics, and Zebra. Once the units began arriving, Nelson began his testing.
Setup and Configuration
The first thing we wanted to test was ease of setup. Back in May when we did our mobile label printer test, we expected setup to be a breeze. We were dismayed to discover that getting those printers configured on the tester’s wireless LAN was more than challenging. Therefore, I was eager to see how the receipt printer manufacturers compared.
Thankfully, Nelson found the units relatively easy to set up. Like every other unit tested, the Zebra EM220II require software to be installed on a PC. Unlike every other unit tested, the Zebra unit requires a special USB cable. Once the software was installed and the printers connected to the PC, Nelson was able to configure the printer’s network connectivity. Nelson struggled initially to get the Zebra unit connected to his wireless LAN. In fairness, at the time of testing, the Zebra printer was brand new. Nelson was able to get his connectivity issues resolved after a phone call with Zebra, and we were assured the issue would be addressed in time for mass availability.
Battery life is something else we wanted to test. It’s one thing for a manufacturer to promise that a printer will work over a full shift, but would our tests prove otherwise? Each unit tested used 7.4V batteries but differed when it came to amps. The Zebra EM220II came in at 1,200 mAh, second smallest in the roundup. It’s important to note that size doesn’t necessarily mean more run time.
Indeed, Nelson planned on running batteries completely down but discovered that after 15 minutes of continuous printing (something you wouldn’t see in a real-world application) batteries had only lost 7% of their power. Rather than continue draining batteries and making conclusions on an abnormal use case, Nelson agreed with the manufacturers’ statements that the printers could easily handle a full day of printing. However, Nelson did say that if the printers are going to be used in a high volume location, you may need to have a spare battery around toward end of shift. Of the printers tested, all batteries were easily accessed and swapped out.
Evaluation Tip: To not waste an opportunity to educate, Nelson looked at the batteries of mobile printers not in our review. He found that one printer required the belt clip to be removed and used a bayonet-style connector (basically, a wired connector with plugs) for the battery, which is not exactly user friendly. Something to keep in mind as you evaluate printers: Don’t assume modern devices all have drop in batteries. If there’s a plug involved, know that “ease of use” will suffer
In testing mobile label printers back in May, loading rolls of media was an area where some printers struggled and others shined. Nelson reported paper loading to be a nonissue with the Zebra EM220II. The unit had an easy-to-access button to open the media door and fast, pain-free paper loading.
When it came to print speed, the Zebra EM220II clocked in at 3.5 inches-per-second. We also looked at time to first print. That is, we sent a print job and measured how long it took for each printer to begin printing. Only 3/10 of a second separates the fastest from the slowest. The gist of all this is that Nelson found all the printers comparable in print speed and performance.
If you or your customers look only at features and price, you could be dooming users to wear a brick all day long. A major factor when it comes to evaluating mobile printers has to be the size and weight of the units. On paper and in person, it’s easy to see the physical differences among the reviewed units. At .66 lbs with battery and paper, the Zebra unit was the lighted of the group tested. But just seeing the printers doesn’t make a good test.
Nelson took time wearing all the units and discovered that, despite the relatively small size and weight of all the printers, it doesn’t take long for them to begin wearing heavy on the hip. “Think about who is going to be wearing these printers,” says Nelson. “A teenager weighing just over 100 lbs. is going to have trouble wearing this all day.” If a printer is too heavy, the door opens for all sorts of issues, including employees not wanting to use the devices and/or taking them off. The moment a user takes a printer off due to weight, you might as well have sold your customer a traditional receipt printer.
All that said, understand that size and weight might not be an issue for certain customers who are searching for a bulkier, more durable unit.
Without any special cases or protection, the EM220II is classified as being able to withstand four foot drops to concrete. While we didn’t push these claims, Nelson did drop the printer once from the edge of his desk and the unit came through unscathed.
When it comes to protection from dust and liquids, the Zebra unit is IP42 rated (i.e. solid objects and drops of water), but adding a protective case can bring that rating up to IP54 (i.e. a little dust and splashes of water).
All of these factors should play a part in your decision in finding the right printer for your customers.
One thing not mentioned thus far is the integrated mag-stripe reader that the EM 220II features. When you consider the competitive price of this printer ($650 MSRP), a card reader is a nice bonus. Apart from the mag-stripe reader, Nelson found the printer’s size and weight to be to his liking, with the added bonus of at least some protection from the elements.