The HP Photosmart A646 Compact Photo Printer offers a few surprising features for its midrange price.

The HP Photosmart A646 has some impressive features. Most snapshot printers take only one size of media, but the Photosmart A646 accepts three: 4 by 6 inches (the size of our test photos), 4 by 12 inches (panoramic), and 5 by 7 inches.

On the inside front panel are two media slots for Memory Stick, SD Card, and XD-Picture Card. The HP Photosmart A646 also has a PictBridge port and built-in Bluetooth support. Interestingly, the printer chassis is made from more than 30 percent recycled plastic; the carrying case is constructed entirely from recycled plastic bottles.

However, while the case design implies portability, HP doesn't offer an optional battery pack with the HP Photosmart A646.

On the HP Photosmart A646's display panel is a 3.45-inch colour touchscreen LCD, flanked by touch-sensitive controls. You can browse and select menu options using your finger or the included stylus. It's fun to try the many available photo enhancements, including borders, captions, and clip art; you can also create a doodle overlay or apply a posterised or retro look.

HP makes the Photosmart A646 easy to use. The Setup menu contains an extensive set of animated and text-based help topics. If you install the printer on a PC, an HTML-based Quick Help file installs with the driver. The driver is contained in the printer's firmware, so no CD is required, but you will have to spring for a USB cable.

The HP Photosmart A646 performed pretty well in our tests. It kicked out each of our test photos in less than a minute at normal settings. Aside from flesh tones that were orange enough to be jarring, most colours were bright and well balanced. All images showed a nice level of depth and detail.

For the best possible ink costs, buy the combination ink/paper packs.

The print cartridge is housed in a front compartment. Simple colour labels inside the cover illustrate how to remove and insert the cartridge, but it can still be tricky. After my first attempt, an error message appeared on the LCD, and an animated clip showed how to insert it properly.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

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HP Photosmart A646: Specs

  • Compact photo printer, colour inkjet
  • 252x117x134mm
  • 1.1kg
  • HP Thermal Inkjet
  • 3.5in preview screen, touchscreen
  • USB, Bluetooth, PictBridge
  • Borderless printing, red eye reduction
  • 64MB RAM
  • supports CompactFlash Card type I, CompactFlash Card type II, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, MultiMediaCard, SD Memory Card, xD-Picture Card
  • Photo paper, index cards
  • Media Sizes: 101.6x152.4mm, 101.6x203.2mm, 127
  • EPA Energy Star Compliant
  • 1-year warranty
  • Compact photo printer, colour inkjet
  • 252x117x134mm
  • 1.1kg
  • HP Thermal Inkjet
  • 3.5in preview screen, touchscreen
  • USB, Bluetooth, PictBridge
  • Borderless printing, red eye reduction
  • 64MB RAM
  • supports CompactFlash Card type I, CompactFlash Card type II, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, MultiMediaCard, SD Memory Card, xD-Picture Card
  • Photo paper, index cards
  • Media Sizes: 101.6x152.4mm, 101.6x203.2mm, 127
  • EPA Energy Star Compliant
  • 1-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

Is the HP Photosmart A646 the snapshot printer for you? Weigh the trade-offs. It falls a little short on flesh tones and ink costs. On the other hand, it lets you print on more sizes of paper than the competition, and it offers lots of fun, on-board editing options.

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