New HP Photosmart printer gets funky but pricey

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Edward C. Baig
USA Today

The HP Photosmart A826 looks like it could waddle off like a penguin. It?s due to arrive in stores next month.

A familiar late-summer scenario: Folks remove memory cards from digital cameras and insert them into kiosks at drugstores and neighborhood photo finishers. Minutes later, they take their vacation prints with them.

I’ve been printing snapshots of my own family’s recent beach vacation by inserting a card into a far smaller kiosk-style printer in my house. It’s the HP Photosmart A826 Home Photo Center that Hewlett-Packard launched Tuesday. The rather funky-shaped $249 printer, complete with touch-screen and stylus, hits stores early next month.

Indeed, the light-blue-and-white model is probably the oddest looking compact printer I’ve come across.

I liked the design but don’t expect it to appeal to everybody. The 5.5-pound contraption stands nearly 11 inches tall and wide, and you can almost envision it waddling off like a penguin. It boasts a 7-inch touch-sensitive screen you can draw on.

It’s large enough to show off pictures slide-show style. In fact, the printer can double as a digital photo frame. Because of the peculiar shape, though, I don’t expect many people to use it that way.

Instead, they’ll stick to its main purpose: printing. For the most part, the quality of images (on the advanced HP photo paper the company recommends you use) rivals the prints you receive from the local lab. HP says such fade-resistant prints are meant to last generations.

Check back with me in a few decades to see if the pictures stand the test of time.

I did run into some snags. And keep in mind that, as with any compact printer, you are mostly limited to smaller prints, typically 4-by-6 or 5-by-7. This latest model can also handle panoramic 4-by-12 paper, as well as photo sticker paper and index cards.

But it’s an inappropriate choice for those who want to blow up large images or who need a printer for standard non-photography-related 8½-by-11 tasks.

A closer look:

The basics. You can connect the printer to a PC or Mac via USB, though it’s not necessary. It’s simpler to insert memory cards into open slots on the front. The printer can handle Secure Digital, CompactFlash, Memory Stick and xD-Picture Cards, among other types. You can also print wirelessly off a Bluetooth-capable computer or phone through an optional $39 adapter.

The machine uses a single tricolor inkjet cartridge, which you slip into a compartment on the front.

While the internal paper tray can hold a batch of 100 sheets of same-size paper (you can’t load 4-by-6 and 5-by-7 sheets simultaneously), the cartridge will more than likely give way before the supply of paper is exhausted.

HP says you’ll get about 55 4-by-6 images off a single cartridge, which is not all that many. I was able to print 25 4-by-6 and 15 5-by-7 images before receiving a low-ink degradation warning. And the last few pictures I printed before receiving the warning came out darkish.

The company also says ink/paper costs amount to 29 cents per 4-by-6 photo, if you purchase a $35, 120-sheet value pack (containing two cartridges) at

You’ll pay $15 for a 60-sheet pack of 5-by-7 paper. Ink cartridges fetch about $20. Actual results will vary, of course, depending on the type of pictures you print.

It took about 75 seconds to spit out each of the smaller snapshots in my tests and not quite double that time to produce larger prints. Pictures are deposited onto an output tray folded out in front.

•Touch-screen tricks. Though no substitute for more robust editing on a computer, you can use the printer’s touch-screen to doctor photos. You can crop pictures, remove red-eye and automatically sharpen, brighten and improve the contrast.

With a stylus or your finger, you can draw on photos, a nifty feature, though the slippery screen makes it a tad difficult. You can change the color and line thickness of your scribbles or erase them before printing.

You can also use an onscreen keyboard to create albums, add captions or apply sepia, black-and-white and other effects. And you can add simple clip art and frames to pictures, though I wished for a bigger selection.

Paper woes. Loading paper involves lifting a lid on the top, gently pushing an internal tray backward, and sliding a paper-width guide inside. It’s a surprisingly awkward and flimsy operation. I fretted about breaking something.

A couple of times, I received out-of-paper warnings when there was still paper in the tray. Another time, the whole printer shook menacingly until I received an onscreen warning to “load paper face forward along the left edge.”

Worse, I received a “blue screen” with an error code reminiscent of the type you sometimes get with Windows computers. The blue screen disappeared by itself, and I was able to resume printing.

Such problems aside, the new machine has several welcoming features for people who want to print snapshots, including the large touch display and funky but appealing design.

I’d be more cheerful if it offered greater ink capacity, was smoother on paper handling and less expensive.

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