HP Photosmart R707

The HP Photosmart R707 has an unusual look for a camera. The rubbery texture of its black body feels secure in the hand, and a polished metal plate covers its front. Apparently, it lends itself to the design of the dashboard of a BMW car.

The Photosmart R707's menus are well designed, attractive, and easy to use. A button on top of the R707 lets you select among seven different scene modes, including panorama. The limited aperture-priority mode gives you a choice of two aperture values at each zoom level, but there is no shutter priority setting. The camera's My Mode lets you save and instantly recall a collection of favorite settings -- very useful, once you figure out how to use it.

Other more typical features include 5.1 megapixel (Mp) resolution, 32MB of internal memory, a Secure Digital Card slot, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and a 3x optical zoom lens.

An innovative help menu offers tips on using the camera and explains its various features. Called the Image Advice function, it can be accessed from the camera's playback menu. It takes a few seconds to analyse an image for problems with focus, exposure, and other criteria, then displays a text message that suggests how you might take a better shot the next time. For example, for a blurred shot it may say: "This image may be out of focus. The camera was not able to focus successfully, possibly due to low light. Increase the scene lighting or use a tripod..." It might be better to get this information before you take the shot, but you can always take another and use what you've learned.

The zoom control, located on the upper-right back of the camera, sits in an indentation for your thumb, but we found it somewhat hard to use. Two dedicated buttons let you tag pictures for printing or e-mailing to a pre-assigned address the next time you connect the camera to your PC. Another onboard tool analyses pictures for red eye, and removes it while the image is in the camera's internal memory or flash card.

In our image quality tests, the R707 scored moderately well, producing reasonably sharp pictures with bright, accurate colors. It performed a little below average in the flash test, however.

The R707 seemed slow to process our shots. If you hold your finger down, you can capture a burst of three images; but the camera then takes about 20 seconds to write them to its built-in memory before you can take another photo.

A disappointing feature is the battery life. We were lucky to get 50 shots taken with the flash on and when it was set to the highest resolution. It was slightly better when taking daylight shots, but does not compete with cameras in its equivalent 5Mp range such as Sony's P100 Cybershot camera.

All up, the HP Photosmart R707 attractively combines a competitive price ($599), small size, and capable imaging, and throws in a few advanced extras. It's especially attractive for novice users, who will benefit from the built-in help.

Howard Dahdah and Alan Stafford contributed to this review.

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