Hands-on with Google’s Cloud Print for Android

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Google is making it easier to print on-the-go from your Android device with a new Cloud Print app in Google Play. The first iteration of Google’s Cloud Print app for Android is very easy-to-use, but delivers only the barebones of what you need to print from your phone or tablet. Key features for advanced users are missing such as sharing printers and other device management features. So if you are a fan of some of the longstanding third-party Cloud Print apps, Google’s new app is sure to disappoint.

Cloud Print primer

If you’ve never used Cloud Print, the service lets you send a print job from anywhere you’ve got an Internet connection to any printer connected to your Google account. Setting up Cloud Print on your PC or Mac is dead easy requiring just Google Chrome and a printer or a Cloud Print-enabled printer from companies such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

To get started with a printer that isn’t Cloud Print-ready enter “chrome://settings” into Chrome’s address bar, select “Show advanced settings…” at the bottom of the page, and then find the “Google Cloud Print” heading. For more information on how to set-up Cloud Print check out Google’s help pages.

Printing from Android

When we first looked at Cloud Print in 2011, you could only print .DOC and .PDF documents from Google’s Gmail Web interface. Since then, Google has expanded the service to work with almost any file type through Google’s online service and the Web. Third-party developers also rushed in to create mobile apps allowing you to print more than documents on the Web or contained in Google services. The most notable third-party solution on Android is probably Cloud Print by Paulo Fernandes.

App integration

Google’s Cloud Print default view

Using Google’s Cloud Print app is pretty straightforward: you fire up the app, it automatically adds the Google accounts connected to your device, and you can see all your past Cloud Print jobs. To print from within the app, you just tap the printer icon and any apps available to Cloud Print appear allowing you to pick a file to print.

Cloud Print lets you find files within other apps on your device

Cloud Print should be able to show most of the relevant apps on your device containing printable files such as Box, Dropbox, SkyDrive, and Android’s built-in Gallery app for photos. If you don’t see the app containing the file you want to print, you can simply open the app directly and use the “Share” feature to send your file to Google’s Cloud Print app.

Cloud Print gives you some basic printer options before printing

Once you’re ready to print, Google lets you adjust some basic printer settings such as the paper size, dpi count, duplex printing, orientation, and the number of copies to produce.

Cloud Print can send files between devices as well as to printers

You can also send your document to more than just printers; Google also lets you send files to other mobile devices that are connected to Cloud Print including phones and tablets.

Choking on Office

Cloud Print for Android by Paul Fernandes offers more robust
features than Google’s app such as printer management

In my tests, it was better to open an app individually and share your files with Cloud Print rather than relying on Google’s app to find your apps and files for you. The biggest problem is that Google’s Cloud Print app failed to recognize some basic file formats contained inside third-party apps such as Dropbox and SkyDrive. Cloud Print couldn’t recognize Microsoft’s Open XML formats such as DOCX and XLSX, for example. On a few occasions, Google’s app couldn’t even discover Microsoft’s standard DOC and XLS formats inside Dropbox. That’s a problem considering Office formats are the defacto standard for most of the business world.

Sharing these problematic file types to Cloud Print from within SkyDrive or Dropbox, however, was not a problem. So you will be able to print these files from your device, even if Cloud Print can’t recognize them.

Beyond Microsoft Office formats, Cloud Print also had problems identifying other common file types within third-party apps including RTF, CSV, and even PDF. Google Drive for Android, on the other hand, integrated perfectly with Cloud Print. When I looked for Drive files using Cloud Print, the app could identify every file type I had in there including PDF and DOC files.

What’s missing

Right now, Cloud Print for Android is extremely basic and missing some relevant and useful features. Managing your cloud-connected printers, for example, is impossible. For that you’ll need to rely on a third-party solution such as the aforementioned Cloud Print by Paulo Fernandes. This third-part solution lets you share printers with others, delete and rename your printing devices, as well as set your default printer right from your Android device. Google’s Cloud Print doesn’t even let you see a list of printers unless you select a file to print first. It would also be nice if you could choose whether you want to print in color or black and white, something you can’t do right now.

Bottom line

If you are a heavy Cloud Print user, you will be happier sticking with third-party solutions for now while Google’s app matures. Anyone looking for a quick way to print a document every now and again, however, should find Google’s Cloud Print app an acceptable solution for their purposes.

This story, "Hands-on with Google’s Cloud Print for Android" was originally published by TechHive.

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