The HP Photosmart A826 is the first standalone snapshot printer we've seen that truly attempts to bring the in-store photo kiosk experience into the home. The printer's large size and extra large touch screen make using it a pleasure. And the fast print speed and wealth of features make it easy to produce a variety of prints. Only its hefty price tag gives us pause. Given the tendency we have to take lots of pictures, but only print a select few, we wonder who the audience for this product will be. Given its size, it's not easily portable, so it would be a hassle to drag it around to family events. We think this printer could find a home among professional party organisers and professional photographers, who could set it up as a photo kiosk for attendees to print images straight off their digital cameras or memory cards, or to display a slide show of the proceedings as they happen.
HP's Digital Mindset blog lists the "busy mum" as the target audience for the Photosmart A826, but our feeling is that most families are sharing photos online these days using various sites. This would be a fun device for kids to use for making prints, but again, at US$250, it's not the most economical choice. Less expensive alternatives for snapshot printing include the Canon Selphy CP740 and the Epson PictureMate Pal, though admittedly, neither is nearly as fun to use as the Photosmart A826. Despite the high price, HP has broken new ground with this design and we liked it enough to award it an Editors' Choice designation.
The HP Photosmart A826 is all smooth plastic and rounded edges. Its design is pod-like, resembling the 1950s take on futuristic, space-age design (it would be right at home in Disney's House of the Future exhibit from the late '50s). It sits 27.5cm wide at the base (the top is narrower), 26.3cm deep, and 24.4cm tall and weighs a light 2.5 kilograms. The printer's top panel flips up for paper loading. Unlike most snapshot printers, the paper is fully contained within the body of the printer. You can load up to 100 sheets of 4x6 or 5x7 paper and close the lid, thereby protecting stored paper from dust.
The control panel on the Photosmart A826 couldn't be simpler -- basically, there isn't one. When you flip down the front cover/paper output tray, you're faced with four memory card slots and a PictBridge USB port, as well as a plastic stylus in its own holder. All of the functionality is accessed through the 7-inch touch-screen display. The large screen makes it a pleasure to peruse images, and the screen is nicely responsive to touch, though we found it prefers the stylus to a finger. (Also, the stylus doesn't leave unsightly fingerprints.)
A small panel on the printer's front hides the single print cartridge. Replacing the print cartridge alone costs about $20, and HP estimates that it will print about 55 4x6 photos. HP also sells an ink and paper value pack that costs $35 for 120 sheets of paper and enough ink for approximately that many photos. This works out to a per-print cost of 29 cents for a 4x6, in line with per-print costs from other standalone snapshot printers such as the Epson PictureMate series (Pal, Snap, and Flash). The PictureMate line offers both glossy and matte paper: The glossy 4x6 prints cost about 25 cents per print, while the matte prints cost about 33 cents each.
The Photosmart A826 is geared toward standalone, PC-free use, so most of its features are packed right into the touch screen. While you can set up the A826 to print from a PC, the four memory card slots and PictBridge port make it easy to print from a memory card or PictBridge device like a camera or camera phone. (For wireless printing, HP offers an optional USB Bluetooth adapter.) Setup is simple: Plug in the power, select your language and location, and then the printer prompts you to insert a card. When you do, the printer calls up the files in a nine-image thumbnail view. To select a photo for printing and/or editing, simply touch the check box; to zoom in on a single image, touch the center of the thumbnail. At this point, you can select all of the images or step through them (in groups of nine or one by one).
Alternatively, you can view your photos as a slide show, with the option of including all the photos on the card, or only the ones you choose. You can tweak settings such as continuous loop, duration of each image, or you can randomise the order.
When it comes to editing and printing photos, the A826 offers a wealth of options. When you zoom in on a particular picture, your top-level options are Edit and Get Creative. Edit lets you crop, reduce red-eye, and adjust the brightness. The crop feature lets you zoom in and out, rotate the cropped area between portrait and landscape modes, and use the stylus to drag the crop box around the image, so you get just the part you want. The edits that you make to the image aren't saved to the original file on the memory card, which is good in that you can't accidentally change the file, but having the option to would be nice.
Get Creative offers a lot of fun options, such as adding frames, captions, making album pages, drawing on the images, color effects, and clip art. The frames span a range of themes and colors, but you can't customize them. The captions are more flexible: Choosing captions calls up a virtual keyboard. Using the stylus, you can tap out a caption, choose among five fonts and six colors, and resize, rotate, and change the placement of the text on the image. Draw lets you add your own creative touch to the image by drawing directly on the screen with the stylus. As it turns out, adding mustaches never gets old! The clip art option lets you drop in one of HP's preset images. You can resize them and even drop in more than one piece of clip art.
The album option is perhaps the most frustrating. It sounds good in theory, but your options are limited. You can start by selecting an album theme and layout and then populating the open spaces on the layouts, or you can select all the photos you want to use and then designate how many pages you want produced. At this point, the software limits the number of shots on a single page and the layout. You can reshuffle the images, though not manually -- the software simply rotates the images through the available spaces; you can't drag and drop, which would make the process a bit easier and quicker.
Finally, you can make index prints with 24 images per 4x6 sheet (and file names) as a reference or you can create specialty printing projects such as panoramic prints, photo stickers, passport photos, and CD/DVD tattoos (assuming you have the proper paper, of course).
Though the Photosmart A826 is meant to be used in standalone mode, we tested it over a USB connection to a PC so we could make comparisons to other printers tested in CNET Labs. Most snapshot printers fall into a lower price point than this printer, however, so it's difficult to compare. The closest we found was a pair of Epsons, the PictureMate Snap and the PictureMate Flash. Both use the same print engine, so they gave the same performance. The HP beat both of them with a score of 2.37 pages per minute for 4x6 prints. The Epson PM Snap scored 1.24ppm for the same prints. For the sake of comparison, we also looked at print speeds for comparably priced non-snapshot printers (i.e., PC-connected general purpose printers with a photo emphasis), and the Photosmart A826 still came out on top. The HP Photosmart D7360 produced 4x6 prints at a rate of 0.54ppm, while the Epson Stylus R380 managed a rate of 1.83ppm.
Editor's note: The Epson PictureMate Pal, Snap, and Flash were used for testing purposes only and may not be available in the Australian market.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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We really liked the photos produced by the Photosmart A826. The colours were lifelike, particularly the skin tones. The details were sharp and we could even make out the fuzzy texture of a peach. If you're an avid snapshooter and like to have prints of everything you produce, the Photosmart A826 should keep you happy.
HP backs the Photosmart A826 with a standard one-year warranty. HP's site has drivers, software downloads, FAQs, and troubleshooting guides.
Australian pricing for the HP Photosmart A826 has not been released. Check back soon for an update with local pricing.