HP gives scanning a third dimension

The scoop: TopShot LaserJet Pro M275, by HP, about $350

What is it? This multi-function laser printer provides your typical copy, print and scanning functions, but changes the scanner part slightly. Instead of a flatbed for scanning photos and documents, the TopShot comes with an adjustable arm that lifts up and takes a top-down photo of the object with its embedded camera. This method gives you the ability to scan three-dimensional physical objects in addition to flat objects like photos or documents.

The printer includes an Ethernet port and Wi-Fi radio, with full support for HP's ePrint cloud-based printing services, along with a bunch of apps that let you receive printed materials (forms, weather reports, news items).

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Why it's cool: The 3D scanner aims to replace the traditional method of taking photos of those objects. For departments (or consumers) looking to take photos of products for sale, for example, you would have to take a photo with a regular camera, then transfer the image to a PC, then edit and finally upload into your site or content management system. With the M275, you can scan the object directly into a connected PC, or even scan and send the image directly to an email address (if the printer is network-enabled). I showed this printer to a colleague whose wife sells a lot of bracelets on eBay, and he immediately said, "This would save her a ton of time."

The HP ePrint service gives you a customized email address; you could send anything to that email address and the image would print out (you can customize this email address and change it as well to prevent spammy printouts); ePrint apps for smartphones and tablets let you print images directly to the unit without needing to go through a connected computer.

The scanning software on the PC was also nice and easy to use, especially with the ability to remove the background from a scanned image. It was also nice to see that Macintosh systems were supported.

Some caveats: The addition of the copy and print functions on the device seem tacked on, as if HP was using this device as a way to sell more printer ink and paper. Fans of multi-function printers will be fine with this, but the really cool part is the scanner -- maybe HP could make a stand-alone device that only features the network-enabled 3D scanning function, saving customers from having to get the additional printer. In addition, the unit had some rough edges; scanning directly to the Web could be made easier, such as scanning images directly to a user's Facebook, Flickr or other social media site instead of sending it to an email address. I did see one app that let you scan directly to Google Docs, but you could only scan a PDF, not a .jpg or .png image.

The resolution of the scanner was only 300 dpi, which may turn off users who take high-resolution images with their cameras for the items they're selling.

Grade: 4 stars (out of five)

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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