PrintCentral is Jack of All Trades, and reasonably good at some

Here’s the bottom line so you can take your meeting now. PrintCentral is a Swiss Army Knife for document management. You can’t edit your Office Suite files, but you can still do a lot:

Without ever leaving PrintCentral you can:

  • Print and manage files
  • Manage email
  • Surf the Web
  • Move your files across multiple servers

There are a few sticking points

  • You have to manually save your files
  • Wireless printing is less than stellar
  • Don’t count on technical support

In addition, I discuss comparative theories of iPad users, compare urban and quasi-rural Starbucks and briefly relate the history of the once proud Oak Hill which has lately disappeared into the Austin city limits.

There are two theories about iPad users. There’s the iPad commercial theory, that iPad users are hip kids on Vespas looking for a good time, and the iPad is the perfect good time device (as long as they remember to keep their iPhones handy and their iPods clipped to their belts).

Then there’s the lesser mentioned, better than MacBook Air theory that says iPad users are serious professionals who need a streamlined life and these users will jettison their computers for a portable device. That’s my theory, because that’s essentially what I did. And I see more and more iPad users at Starbucks who are pounding away on their virtual keyboards and not browsing the web or playing games.

None of us are young, none of us would fit on a Vespa and none of us seem to think our iPads is a toy.

Now, I will admit that a handful of users in a Starbucks is hardly an adequate sample group. This isn’t your ordinary Starbucks. This is the Oak Hill, Texas, Starbucks.

What’s really surprising is my Starbucks is the only merchant in an Oak Hill strip mall whose development wasn’t abandoned about the time everybody’s investments took a nosedive. The business economy’s back, even though the jobs aren’t, but no one is lining up to build in the center. Which suits me just fine.

If I had my way, I would still be driving another five minutes to the Starbucks in Sunset Valley and the trees they bulldozed for the strip mall that became a Starbucks would still be there.

But this is Oak Hill, a satellite of Austin, which the City annexes when they want the rednecks to vote on a proposition they know we’ll support, and de-annexes again when they know we’ll vote against a proposition. Fortunately, our little corner of Oak Hill is now permanently de-annexed because the City of Austin failed to provide the services they were supposed to provide when they re-annexed us after de-annexing us to get an an airport approved that no one outside the city limits wanted.

If that sounds confusing, so is Oak Hill, a small town with no reason to exist other than the fact that it grew up around the junction of two state highways. Mostly rednecks with a few ex-hippies and retirees who used to drive home from the city when they were working and the town was still way the hell out in the country.

There was a time when Oak Hill was a couple of subdivisions behind some offices that looked like the sets decorating a Pothead Western. The buildings were in Wild West architectural style but painted pastel blue and bright orange. The city began suddenly on a two-lane highway 290 and petered out not long after the Tom Thumb at the Y intersection of 290 and the two lane 71.

Then Austin ran out of land and thirty years later, we got a Starbucks. And the barristas aren’t the peppy young kids you expect to see behind Starbucks counters. Oak Hill Starbucks has middle aged and retirement aged barristas, barristas with drawls so thick you need to cut them with meat cleavers, and employees who can’t wait to crowd the patio and light up their cigarettes.

Cigarettes. I mean, really. Near a Starbucks. In Austin?

It’s like stepping back in time to find a Starbucks staffed with Dairy Queen’s employees.

Digital Briefcase pro

Before the release of the iPad, I used an iPhone app called Briefcase Lite to carry Word and Excel files. I couldn’t edit them, but if a student cornered me in the hall I could at least check his grades and I could carry all my scripts for a short-lived comedy series I did for channelAustin TV. I could also move the files to my iPhone from my Mac wirelessly. This made the app great for backing up files on the road.

EuroSmartz software released an entire suite of apps to emulate a digital briefcase shortly after the iPad was launched. By suite, I don’t mean a word processor and a spreadsheet. Rather I mean the same app in several versions, each more expensive but adding a few more features. The basic app is called Print, for five dollars. I first downloaded the eight dollars PrintNShare, whose email features I reviewed soon after I started this blog.

I went ahead and downloaded the ten dollar PrintCentral because it was supposed to support wireless printing without having to go through my home computer. PrintBureau clocks in at 13 dollars. The description is much longer than the description for PrintCentral but I’ll be damned if I can find any extra features that count for the extra charge. Maybe it does them better. Maybe the wireless printing actually works on PrintBureau as opposed to being advertised to work on PrintCentral.

They have enough of my money. PrintCentral works well enough.

This is document management not document editing

You can create and edit text documents and emails in PrintCentral and that’s about it. You can definitely open your Word and Excel files but they’re read only. So why would you want PrintCentral as opposed to real Office emulators like Documents To Go?

If you have to choose one over the other, and you have to edit your Word and Excel files on the road, Documents To Go would be my choice. But PrintCentral still has a lot of nifty features, and not all of them can be found in the Office oriented software.

Think of PrintCentral as your digital briefcase. You use it to access or carry your work files, reference works and tools, but you don’t actually use it to work on your files. Like the simpler Browser4two and Desktop, however, you can do everything in one app. You can’t access multiple tools in the same window, but you don’t have to leave PrintCentral to surf the web or check your email.

PrintCenter’s toolbar lets you quickly move to any app.

Full email access

PrintCentral has pretty good email, although I think the cheaper PrintNShare’s email was a tad more stable.

PrintCentral’s email is far superior to iPad email in a number of ways. You can organize your emails into as many folders as you want. You can see every one of your email servers in a single window instead of having to navigate from server to server through a little tab. You can designate your favorite server and launch that immediately.

Best of all, when you tell it to delete files from the server it deletes files from the server, and only when you tell it to delete from the server. iPad mail users have discovered their versions can behave very differently, even with identical system settings.

I will go a step further and say, when it works, PrintCentral’s email works so much better than iPad mail you’ll be tempted to never use iPad mail again. For the longest time, I did. The only reason I stopped was because it seemed to choke when opening .doc or Pages attachments larger than two pages. I contacted technical support about this problem and you’ll learn what happened further on in the blog.

In fact, it just dawned on me that I can send all my backup drafts to a different address and use iPad mail for that address alone. Then I can start using PrintCentral for my main account again.

I think I will.

In app browser

If you need to look something up on the web while composing a text file, you only need to click on the browser icon at the bottom of the page. You don’t need to leave the application and find your browser then leave your browser and return to the app. You can also organize your bookmarks into any number of folders with a separate bookmarks page.

If you want to save a page intact, you can send it directly to any folder or even to iDisk.

I saved this page directly into the files folder
to review off line later.

Access to all of your file servers

PrintCentral lets you move or copy files between any server with an available connection, and the list of servers is pretty extensive. If your laptop is running WebShare software you can move files wirelessly between devices (without the iTunes/USB cable hook up). Setting up a location is remarkably easy, provided you remembered to write down all your account names and passwords in a text document (which you can open in PrintCentral).

PrintCentral allows you to connect to the major online servers.

Other utilities

PrintCentral’s toolbar offers access to a number of useful utilities including your contact book and a clipboard editor. It also has an image library if you want to move images from your camera roll.

The clipboard editor is perhaps the most useful tool, and the reason I still keep PrintCentral on my iPad. If you want to keep a library of often used text clippings, Print Central stores anything on the clipboard when you open the app. You can edit the text, name the clipping and save it for future use.

The clipboard library is extremely useful for often used text.

If you need a single app to do your day-to-day business and don’t need to revise your word processing and spreadsheet documents, I would go with PrintCentral. Before you make that decision, however, there are a couple of things you need to know.

Don’t forget to save

If there’s one thing that really irritates about Print Central it’s that it doesn’t automatically save text documents. This is becoming a standard feature on iPad apps, but not on Print Central. There isn’t a “save” button, you have to click “Done” and then it asks if you want to save your files.

When the iPad first came out I was using PrintCentral for text editing because Pages was wonky in landscape mode (which you wanted to use when typing with the iPad snugly secured in Apple’s iPad case). I had typed about an hours worth of notes when I got a push notice for an email. I was expecting an important message so I clicked on “view email” without thinking and lost all of the notes I had been typing.

I immediately moved to Pages permanently, mainly because I realized how easy it would be to lose data with an accidental touch.

In fact, about two paragraphs ago I needed to refer back to some information on EuroSmartz in the App Store and exited from PrintCentral to get that info. I made the mistake of typing in the app so I could take screenshots without switching back and forth between Pages and PrintCentral. But when I hit the quit button to jump to the App Store, I lost everything I’d been typing.

That was when I remembered that it doesn’t save automatically.

You have to shake the app to read or edit in full screen mode

This isn’t a problem when you’re reading or typing with the virtual typewriter. When you’re using the iPad keyboard and you need to check an email or refer to a web pages it gets a little irritating to have to remove the iPad from the dock, and shake it to view the browser in full screen. Not to mention shaking again when you return to your text file to type again.

Wireless Printing leaves a lot to be desired

This is if you can get it to print wirelessly at all. By the time I had the PrintCentral and Canon documentation side-by-side to figure out how to make PrintCentral print wirelessly to my printer, I realized I would have to tamper with my original printer settings (which I long ago lost) using my printer installation software in combination with a web-access only window.

Then I noticed the passage in the PrintCentral documentation which stressed that wireless printing wouldn’t be formatted and I decided to forget it. I don’t feel completely ripped off. I still like the clipboard editor. Maybe not ten dollars worth of like, but enough that Jenny won’t be panning the app at the end of this blog.

Terrible technical support

I have emailed them with three issues. They replied every time and basically they answered, “PrintCentral does exactly what you’re requesting help with.” Wow, I feel much better. Problem solved. In fact, I finally quit using Print Central for email because at least the Apple Genius would try to solve my problems even if she never could actually solve them.

The only companies who were worse with technical support were Macromedia and Quark. Macromedia cleaned up their act after a couple of years of my constantly telling them how crappy their support was (I’m sure I wasn’t the only one), but maybe that was so they could sell out to Adobe.

I guess that means there’s really only one company with worse technical support.

Quark had one answer to every question: “Why would you want to do that?” I stopped using Quark with version 1.0 of InDesign—even though it wasn’t as powerful—simply because I was tired of someone questioning why I would use their software.

Are they still around? I no longer care enough to check.

Come to think of it, I’ve pretty much quit using PrintCentral too. This won’t reduce the rating, I simply found several apps did the one thing I needed from them better than PrintCentral did all the things I needed. But lousy technical support definitely nudged me in that direction.

On the other hand, if you don’t need to edit your Word and Excel files, but need a good central location for storing email and web pages as well as accessing your files online, this is a great app.

Jenny Manytoes rates PrintCentral

Jenny Manytoes can’t decide whether to take a nap or go ahead and purr. She really likes the one app fits all aspect, but would really prefer it if I could actually edit Word and Excel documents as well.

Then I could delete those office apps and email programs and web browsers leaving more room for cat games and cat pianos on my iPad.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

Location:Pitter Pat Ln,Austin,United States


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in Accessories, Browsers, iPad, Mail and Mail management, Utilities and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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