HP’s good-value A626 boasts touchscreen operation with its supplied plastic stylus, plus the ability to produce both 6x4in and 5x7in prints.

  • Print quality: 4/5
  • Average print time: 90 seconds
  • Average cost per print: 21p

Its black design and handbag-sized dimensions, complete with carry handle, are reminiscent of a mini ghetto blaster. The 4.8in LCD is both large and clear, and the A626 uses HP’s Vivera ink set.

Flip down the front and four separate card slots are revealed, along with a USB port for connecting PictBridge-enabled digital cameras (again, you’ll have to supply your own cable). Next to these sits a compartment for front-loading the printer cartridge. If you need Bluetooth, an adaptor is available.

There’s nothing fiddly about the HP A626. Touchscreen operation is generally something you love or hate, but here HP cuts the number of buttons and controls required, affording the A626 a minimalist appearance and user-friendly operation.

The stylus allows you to get creative, doodling on your images and erasing any unwanted scribbles. You can also crop images, remove red-eye and adjust photo brightness.

While fun to use, the A626 isn’t the quickest printer here. It delivers a 6x4in print in 90 seconds that’s still wet to the touch.

On the plus side, there’s plenty of detail and HP’s Premium Plus Photo Paper provides a lovely velvety texture – although the blacks aren’t quite as deep and well-defined as they are on the Epson’s prints. The colours, though rich, are a little over-saturated.

Compact photo printers: buying advice

Compact photo printers: how we test

See also:

Canon Selphy ES2 compact photo printer

Epson Picturemate 290 compact photo printer

Kodak Easyshare G610 compact photo printer

Panasonic KX-PX20 compact photo printer

Sony DPP-FP70 compact photo printer

Compact photo printers: buying advice

The vast majority of us do very little with the photos captured by our digital cameras – except downloading them to our desktop and leaving them languishing on our hard drive. They have to be pretty special for us to go to the bother of creating a print.

But the process doesn’t need to be painful or time-consuming. A handful of camera and electronics manufacturers continue to produce compact and user-friendly home photo printers that can be used independently of a PC.

Featuring slots for common media cards, the ability to wirelessly transmit images via Bluetooth and USB connectivity, they’ll churn out sparkling snaps without you switching on your PC. Instead of your monitor, you view the pics on the printer’s built-in LCD screen or that of your camera.

Standalone printers have been available for five years. The original models – at least those that could accurately be described as portable – were all dye-sublimation models. But things have got more complicated…

Dye-sub or inkjet?

Dye-subs remain the most common type of compact printer, using a heat process to transfer dye from an acetate sheet on to glossy photo paper. Traditionally, dye-subs take up less desk space than general-purpose inkjets and, although they rarely print photos larger than postcards, that’s easily big enough for most of us.

But lately, the likes of Epson and HP have shoehorned their pioneering inkjet technology into ever more portable devices that give dye-subs a run for their money as regards size, design and quality of output.

Inkjets fire microscopic spots of ink through a nozzle to construct an image from a series of dots; dye-sub models gradually build the image via three coloured layers (yellow, magenta and cyan, followed by a fourth protective coating). Inkjet images are generally sharper: the more dots per inch (dpi), the finer the detail.

Epson and HP’s compact inkjets offer higher resolutions than the standard 300dpi offered by dye-subs, but a 300dpi resolution is sufficient to deliver what we’d consider to be photo-quality prints.

Home or high street?

If you’re printing a batch of pics, doing the job yourself will work out as a costlier process. While most high-street labs offer a discount when you buy prints in bulk – gradually dropping down to less than 10p per copy – the price per print stays the same when you’re using a portable device.

For occasional output, however, compact devices regain the lead in economic terms – a typical cost per print for the models we’ve tested is 20p to 30p, compared with around 50p for a one-off 6x4in print at a lab.

If you’re going to be processing more than 50 images at a time, taking your camera card or CD of images to the high-street photo lab will be more cost- and time-effective. But for small batches or the occasional print, dedicated home photo printers offer real benefits.

HP Photosmart A626 compact photo printer: expert review

Compact photo printers: how we test

See also:

Canon Selphy ES2 compact photo printer

Epson Picturemate 290 compact photo printer

Kodak Easyshare G610 compact photo printer

Panasonic KX-PX20 compact photo printer

Sony DPP-FP70 compact photo printer

Compact photo printers: how we test

The average print times listed here relate to the time elapsed from hitting print to the completion of the process: a dry-to-the-touch hard copy in our hands.

These times are, for the most part, slightly longer than those quoted by the manufacturers, which often don’t include the period that it takes the paper to load and the machine to warm up. But they’re nevertheless a fair indication of how long you’ll actually have to wait, whether printing direct from a memory card or via your PC.

For the latter we used Samsung’s equally compact and sleek new Q45 laptop PC running Photoshop CS2 as the hub of our digital darkroom. And, to ensure as level a playing field as possible, we also used the same test shot as a starting point for each printer, so we could directly compare colour saturation, fidelity and, of course, overall sharpness.

For exactly the same reason, although many of the compact photo printers here offer the ability to perform rudimentary image editing and enhancements, we left the printers on their out-of-the-box, fully automatic factory settings.

HP Photosmart A626 compact photo printer: expert review

Compact photo printers: buying advice

See also:

Canon Selphy ES2 compact photo printer

Epson Picturemate 290 compact photo printer

Kodak Easyshare G610 compact photo printer

Panasonic KX-PX20 compact photo printer

Sony DPP-FP70 compact photo printer

HP Photosmart A626: Specs

  • Max print size: 5x7in
  • max resoultion: 4,800x1,200dpi
  • printing method: inkjet
  • cartridge: three-colour all-in-one
  • actual/claimed print speed: 90/78 seconds
  • LCD size: 4.8in
  • PictBridge
  • storage formats: CF/SD/MS/xD-Picture
  • 231x165x250mm
  • 3kg
  • Max print size: 5x7in
  • max resoultion: 4,800x1,200dpi
  • printing method: inkjet
  • cartridge: three-colour all-in-one
  • actual/claimed print speed: 90/78 seconds
  • LCD size: 4.8in
  • PictBridge
  • storage formats: CF/SD/MS/xD-Picture
  • 231x165x250mm
  • 3kg

OUR VERDICT

The HP A626 delivers plenty of bang for your buck. With enough photo-editing and enhancing features to keep the kids occupied, the easy-to-use HP A626 produces crisp, colour-rich prints. Pity about the drying time, though.

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