HP's low-cost Photosmart A526 aims for simplicity. If you'd rather print than fuss, this is the model for you -- assuming you can tolerate its relaxed printing pace.
- Inexpensive, natural-looking colour palette
- Slow, spartan controls
The Photosmart A526's minimal-options approach to printing photos will be a relief for some, a frustration for others. But it's the slow printing that dampens its value somewhat, even if the photos are worth the wait.
Price$ 129.00 (AUD)
This inkjet-based model is fairly compact and sports a handle for toting. The front panel unfolds to make the output tray and to reveal the media slots; this also triggers the input tray to unfold automatically from the back. The four media slots take most major formats; there's also a PictBridge-compatible USB port. The input tray takes both 4x6in photo stock and 4x12in panoramic stock. The tricolour ink cartridge loads easily into a lidded bay on the right side.
The control panel is minimal but usable. The tilted, 2.4in LCD is adequately sized for viewing images and navigating menus. Among the few buttons is one for reducing red-eye. A large Print button is flanked by left- and right-arrow buttons; you press it to confirm your settings. A button labelled 'OK', though, would make the printer easier to use -- we find it unintuitive to confirm settings by pressing Print. (We also prefer word labels over icons any day.)
The Photosmart A526's menus offer plenty of maintenance and how-to content, but just a handful of printing options. Photo Fix automatically tries to improve the sharpness, lighting, and colour quality of a printed photo; you can disable it. You can also select a level of print quality, or bordered/borderless printing. Want more? Install the printer on your PC so you can use HP's Photosmart Essentials software (or another program) to fine-tune an image before printing it. You can also use the Photosmart A526 to transfer photos from a memory card to your PC.
Photos we printed on the A526 looked very good overall. Flesh tones tended to look orangey, but other images looked natural. The larger issue was speed, or the lack thereof: prints took well over a minute to emerge. If you buy the black cartridge for $35 pack with enough ink and paper for 120 4x6in prints, the cost per page is a tolerable 29 cents.
Installing the printer on a PC takes a little while, because it loads a good dollop of software. HP's Solution Center interface centralises all the tools and applications, including a thorough on-screen user guide. The Photosmart's other documentation -- a setup poster and a printed "Basics" guide -- are clearly written and cover the primary usage issues.
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