The Dell 966 Photo lacks a lot of the features that make a photo-centric printer compelling for users. When printing from a memory card or a flash drive, there are a couple of restrictions to keep in mind. First, the printer can read only drives that have been formatted using FAT32; NTFS drives must be converted first. Second, only JPEG files can be printed directly from a memory card or a flash drive; all other formats need to be transferred to your PC first. Aside from viewing the contents of a card in a slide show, printing all the photos, and printing selected photos, you don't get a lot of options. For example, while you can print a sheet of thumbnails, you can't print a scannable index sheet the way you can with the many Canon Pixma and HP Photosmart models. The thumbnail sheet tells you the image number but not the filename, which is crucial for cross-referencing the contents of your card. For adjusting your images, your only options are to rotate, crop, correct red-eye, and adjust brightness. You can do a lot more using the photo manipulation tools from Corel (included on the installation CD), but we like having more options on the printer itself, especially on a printer with Photo in its name. This printer also lacks built-in creative layout options that are commonly found on photo-oriented printers.
You can save the contents of a card to your PC by choosing that option in the control panel. Doing so will open Dell's Memory Card Manager utility on your PC, where you complete the task by either selecting all or picking and choosing the files you want to download. The Card Manager is painfully slow to render all the thumbnails of a large card, so find a book to read or something else to do while you wait, if you need to do so. Luckily, you can proceed with the download even if the thumbnails aren't all rendered if you know the filenames of the images you want or if you're simply downloading all the images. Unfortunately, if you're picking particular images, you'll have to check each one individually, and each time a new thumbnail is created, the window goes back to that file, so trying to skip around can be an exercise in patience.
The Dell Photo All-in-One Printer 966's performance was all over the board. It was slow at printing text--compared to both photo- and office-oriented inkjets--with a score of 4.82ppm. By comparison, the Canon Pixma MP600 scored 7.88ppm on the same test. The Dell Photo 966 did a middle-of-the-road job with 4x6 photo prints: 0.67ppm. With grayscale scans, it was once again in the middle of the pack, with a score of 4.71ppm, but it sped things up with color scans, at 6.57ppm. Using the ADF, the Dell Photo 966 produced copies at a rate of 1.19ppm, slower than both the HP OfficeJet 6310 and the Canon Pixma MP530.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Copy||Color scan||Grayscale scan||4x6 photo||Text|
The Dell Photo 966's print quality left a lot to be desired, especially for a photo printer. Its text was beset by ragged edges, adjacent bold characters sometimes merged, and the text could achieve only a dark gray instead of a solid black. The graphics print had a faded quality to it, as though the cartridges were running out of ink (they weren't). That said, it handled gradients nicely, but had problems with bar-code-style patterns. Color blocks showed a faint crosshatch pattern that was distracting, and the photo elements were hazy. The 4x6 photo print's details weren't as sharp as we'd like to see, and colors were faded and didn't pop. The photo prints were also marred by obvious graininess.
The printer fared much better at grayscale scans. The image was sharp, and details and patterns were nicely rendered. We saw very minor compression at both ends of the grayscale, but overall, the scan was impressive. Likewise, the color scans were sharp, with lots of good detail, and it handled color reproduction remarkably. Clearly, scanning is the high point of this unit.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Color scan||Grayscale scan||Photo||Graphics||Text|
Service and support
Dell backs the Photo 966 all-in-one with a standard one-year warranty. You can upgrade to two years for an additional $39 or three years for $49. Dell provides free, toll-free phone support 24/7, but it recommends trying the live online chat option first. For less urgent inquiries, you can e-mail Dell's support team or check out its user forums. Dell's Web site also has product-specific support in the form of online user guides, drivers and software downloads, and a troubleshooting tool. You can find basic tips on common how-tos, as well, such as how to change the ink cartridge.
Because you can purchase Dell products and consumables only through Dell, the included software package comes with a program that monitors your ink levels. When your ink starts to run low, the program will remind you to place an order. In fact, you can click a link in the reminder that will take you directly to Dell's site where you can order ink cartridges, if your printer is networked.