My flatmate's laptop is sick. The keyboard doesn't work, the touchpad is knackered and it's balanced on a copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to stop it over-heating. He's got his power wire, his ethernet cable, a USB keyboard and mouse and an external hard drive all wired into this shell of a computer, a shadow of its former self. There are fewer wires coming out of people in intensive care units.
Of course, it's all his fault; there's only so many times you can spill your morning coffee onto any electrical appliance before it gives up the ghost, and so he bandages and balances and transfuses wired goodness into it to keep it going. But there's another wire - the inevitable printer cable - for which he can't be blamed. Even if he replaced or lived without the other shackles to his desk, every time he wants to print he's hitting the bookcase again for a JK Rowling volume.
Wireless printing isn't really an innovation, but it's still far from being mainstream. In a way, it was ridiculous that it took printer manufacturers so long to catch up. Perhaps Bluetooth sounds cool, and infra-red sure works well for operating your TV, but to get some actual wireless work done we need wi-fi access to our printers. Some manufacturers chose to develop wi-fi versions of their print servers, with optional integrated wireless solutions for larger models - I'm looking at you, Epson, Dell and Lexmark. But a few brave souls ventured into integrating wi-fi on home and small business printers, and here's the best of the bunch.
I've called this a Top Five, but of course a top five is subject to your particular needs. My personal favourites are rated higher, but the printer that's best for you might be wallowing at the shallow end of the list. Whatever your requirements, I consider these models to be the best around. And here ends the non-competitive sports day sermon!
5 - Canon PIXMA iP5200R (Around £115/$220)
In at five is Canon's PIXMA iP5200R. When Canon released the iP5000, people raved about the quality and speed, but there was no network loving. Well, add a '200R' and you can get the same printer with wi-fi. Easy Peasy? Well not quite - no LCD screen means fiddly PC-based setup. But you're only going to set it up once, and for this quality and function set, you'll do well to find anything else at the same price.
4 - Brother MFC-640CW (Around £220/$420)
Number four is Brother's all-singing, all-dancing MFC-640CW. It's a fax, it's a scanner, it's a photocopier, it's a printer. It'll choose your mother-in-law's birthday present and it will do it all over wireless. It doesn't have a huge screen but it's enough, and it comes with a multi-functional memory card reader. The price and function set make it ideal for the small office that could do with just one fewer wire.
3 - Canon PIXMA MP800R (Around £240/$450)
It's number three, and we're getting to the more serious-looking models. The PIXMA MP800R is another all-in-one extravaganza, and it's got more buttons than the space shuttle, a luxurious 8.9cm screen and direct printing from memory cards. If you're serious about photo printing, this is one of the best choices around, and the value for its relatively hefty price tag is not bad, not bad at all.
2 - HP Officejet Pro K550dtwn Colour Printer (Around £220/$420)
The Officejet Pro K550 means business, and whilst its photo printing isn't the best, it thrives in the office environment, where it can churn out page upon page of pie charts and the other stuff that keeps people in suits happy. The 'dtwn' model is the bigger brother of the family, both in terms of features and price, but the value for money is still impressive. It's number two because I think this is the best choice for the office environment, but doesn't quite have the all-round functionality of...
1 - HP Photosmart 3310 All-in-One series (Around £270/$520)
HP call this the world's fastest printing all-in-one printer, and the Photosmart 3310 has a wide variety of features. It can also be used as a fax, but without an auto feeder, you might find positioning scans on the flatbed a bit tiresome. But that's the only thing you can say against this glorious machine. It's quick, the quality is excellent, and in a business environment it's as reliable as your hole-punch. The screen is a hefty 9.1cm, and it will print your photos in under 15 seconds. Want to view video clips with sound? Go ahead. Want to print sequences of photos? Go nuts. Want to drive to Gretna Green with it in the boot and carry out an inappropriate marriage ceremony? Move along please. Weirdo.
As mentioned before, you might want to simply upgrade your existing printer to wireless using a wi-fi print server. If this sounds more like your cup of tea, see if your printer manufacturer makes a compatible model. If they don't, consider the offerings from Linksys, which is a dedicated print server, or perhaps this Netgear router which has printer support built in. With all of these options available, there really is no reason to keep yourself tied to your desk anymore, and even a small home or business network can easily share printers without laying miles of cable.