At AU$109, the Dell Photo 926 is a very inexpensive inkjet multifunction that offers print, copy, scan, and e-fax features. As such, we weren't expecting much from it by way of print speed and print quality. In the end, it failed to meet our meager expectations. Surprisingly, its output was particularly poor using Dell's own photo paper and photo ink tanks. By comparison, the Canon Pixma MP180 shows that you can get decent print quality from multifunction at around the AU$100 price point. And if you're willing to spend just a bit more, the AU$149 Canon Pixma MP460 will make you even happier.
The Dell Photo 926's sleek white-and-light-gray body is reasonably compact for a multifunction printer: it measures 441mm wide, 319mm deep (without the output tray; closer to 21 inches with the output tray fully extended), and 183mm tall. The scanner lid conceals an A4 size flatbed scanner and, since the Photo 926 lacks an automatic document feeder, A4 is the largest scannable size.
The output tray pulls out from the front of the printer, and the input tray and paper support reside along the printer's back edge -- the standard setup for inkjets. A low, plastic guard sits in front of the input area, deflecting wayward objects such as paper clips and pens from falling into the input slot (we recently noted this feature on the Lexmark Z1420, too). The input tray can hold up to 100 sheets of plain paper.
The Photo 926's basic control panel features a two-line text LCD, menu navigation buttons, and Start and Stop buttons -- providing enough control to manage its various tasks. The Canon Pixma MP180 also offers just a text LCD, but the slightly more expensive Pixma MP460 has a 1.9-inch colour graphics LCD. The printer includes two built-in memory card readers that accept most major types of memory cards, though some will require an adapter. The printer also offers a USB port on the front.
This printer uses a two-tank ink system. For regular printing, use the black cartridge and tricolour cartridge. Dell also offers an optional photo cartridge (to replace the black) for six-colour prints, but our advice is to stick with the black and tricolour -- even for photo prints (see the Performance section for more details). The colour cost is high, even for an inexpensive inkjet printer.
The Dell Photo 926 prints, scans, and copies, and while fax isn't a listed task, you can make e-faxes using the bundled Dell Fax Solutions Software. When copying, your options are fairly simple: you can make up to 99 copies at once and scale between 25 and 400 percent. When scanning a photo or document, you can save the scan as a file on your PC, scan to e-mail or fax, or scan the document into a number of programs such as Word, Excel, or any of the bundled software, including Corel Paint Shop Pro. If you save the scan as a file, you can choose from a variety of file types, including JPEG, PDF, and TIFF. You can even scan a document across a network if you've networked it using Dell's optional wireless network adapter. Despite the fact that the Dell Photo 926 has a USB port for flash storage drives, you can't save a scan to such a device. Both of the Canon Pixma models mentioned above have a front-mounted USB port for printing from PictBridge cameras, but you can't use USB flash drives with either of them.
When you plug a flash drive into the USB port, the control panel automatically switches into photo mode. Here, you can apply improvement features such as red-eye removal or auto-enhance, but keep in mind that you can't preview photos on the control panel's basic, two-line LCD. Nor can you select individual photos to print through the control panel. The Photo 926 does have a photo index sheet option, however, that lets you print a scannable index sheet that includes all photos, just the last 25, or those taken in a particular date range. You can then use the index sheet to print just those photos that you choose. If you don't want to print at all, you can simply transfer photos from the flash drive to your PC. Printing photos from a memory card works in the same way. The printer also gives you the option to print Microsoft Office files directly from a memory card or thumbdrive: just use the menu navigation buttons to back out of Photo mode to choose the Office File mode. If you have a PictBridge camera, you can print directly off the camera using the same USB port.
Faxing with the Photo 926 requires that the attached PC be turned on, as the printer itself lacks a fax machine. Basically, you are using the printer to scan the file to your PC, which then sends out the fax. You can schedule faxes, forward received faxes, receive and print faxes, and block junk faxes. All fax tasks are accomplished through the Dell Fax Solutions software, which is bundled with the printer.
All of the above tasks can also be initiated through the Dell All-in-One Center on your PC. In fact, you get more flexibility because you can preview images and make additional edits or enhancements to them.
The Dell Photo 926 made quick work of text prints, compared to its comparably priced competition: it produced text pages at a rate of 7.60ppm, which was faster than offerings by Canon, Epson, and Lexmark. It was slower with 4x6 photo prints, producing just 0.74ppm, almost half the speeds offered by Canon's Pixmas. It was the second slowest with scans: 4.52ppm for grayscale and 4.50ppm for colour.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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We were even less impressed with the Photo 926's print quality. Text prints were nicely dark and saturated, but the edges of characters showed a lot of jaggedness, even with high quality inkjet paper. Italicised text, in particular, looked bad, with a hazy ghost image around the text. While the print quality is fine for casual reference prints such as directions or shopping lists, we wouldn't use it for professional purposes or even school reports. The colour graphics print had a generally faded look about them, even when printed with a fresh ink cartridge. The entire print was beset by faint, horizontal striations, which were distracting. The photo elements were grainy and the barcode-style patterns were fuzzy. White text on a coloured background was unreadable at 4 point type.
The photo quality prints left us a little baffled, too. Most printer manufacturers recommend that you use their own photo paper for best quality, but we found that prints made on HP's Premium Plus Photo paper were better than those made on Dell's own Premium Photo Paper. To add to the confusion, prints made using Dell's optional photo ink (for six-colour photo prints) had an overly yellow cast; photos printed using the standard CMYK inks showed better colour. Dell acknowledges the problem with its photo ink and is working to rectify the issue on future formulations. Even on HP's paper, the photo prints suffered from the same graininess and striations that plagued the colour graphics prints. Also, the image wasn't as sharp as we like, and the light areas were overblown, resulting in lost details.
The grayscale scan was also marred by distracting striations, and showed compression in the dark end of the spectrum, as demonstrated by lost details in dark areas. The printer did its best work with the colour scans, though even these couldn't escape the striation problem. Colours were reproduced well, though the scanner couldn't handle the barcode patterns well. Overall, the Dell Photo 926 disappointed us with its print quality. You can find better print quality in a similarly priced printer, such as the Canon Pixma MP180.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Service and support
Dell backs the Photo 926 with a one-year warranty, though you can pay to upgrade to two or three years of coverage. Dell's Web site offers e-mail support and user forums as well as product-specific support in the form of online user guides, drivers and software downloads, and a troubleshooting tool. You can find basic how-to tips as well, such as how to change the ink cartridge.