The HP Photosmart A626 is supposed to bridge the gap between the A826 and the A526 snapshot printers by providing lots of features, good print quality, and decent print speeds, but it falls short on the last two counts.
The HP Photosmart A626 is the middle offering of HP's 2007 Photosmart snapshot printer line. It combines the features and touch screen of the A826 with the small size of the A526. Unfortunately, it also has the same speed and quality issues that plague the A526, and for $180, we expect a lot more. This printer is stuck in an odd middle ground: You can either go $80 cheaper for the A526 and lose the features, or go $70 more expensive and gain the print speed and quality of the A826. If you're aiming for the lower price point, the Epson PictureMate Dash provides loads of features and fast prints.
The A626 is very small and portable, much like the A526. Its black-and-light-blue body stand 9.9 inches wide, 4.6 inches deep, and 5.2 inches tall, and weighs just 3.4 pounds. The entire front panel flips down to reveal four memory card slots and a PictBridge USB port; it also serves as the output tray. Opening the front panel also causes the input tray to pop open in the rear and the LCD to spring open from the top of the printer.
The 4.8-inch LCD is a touch screen, mounted on movable panel so you can adjust the viewing angle. Alongside the panel is a well for holding the stylus when you're using the printer and a slot to stash away the stylus when you're transporting the printer or putting it away after using it. The touch screen works exactly like the one on the A826 and offers all the same menus. The major difference is that the thumbnail view lets you see only four images at a time (versus the nine images on the A826). Otherwise, the process for viewing, selecting, and editing photos is exactly the same. (Please refer to the Features section of the A826's review for additional details.)
Like the A526, the paper can't be stored within the body of the A626, so if you don't plan to use the printer for some time, you should remove the paper and store it in a folder or envelope so that it doesn't become coated with dust. (The A826 allows you to store paper inside the printer's body.) The input tray can handle as many as 20 sheets of paper, up to 5x7 in size (the A526 can only handle 4-inch-wide paper). The ink and paper options for the A626 are the same as those for the A526 and A826. Replacing just the ink cartridge costs $20, and HP estimates that the cartridge can print as many as 55 4x6 photos. HP also offers an ink-and-paper package for $35 that includes 120 sheets of 4x6 paper and enough ink for that many photos. This works out to a per-print cost of 29 cents, in line with the competition.
In CNET Labs' performance tests, the A626 performed more like the A526; that is, on the slow side. It produced 4x6 photos at a rate of 0.65 page per minute, in line with the A526's 0.70 page per minute. It was slower than two $100 models we recently reviewed, the Canon Selphy CP740 (0.92ppm) and the Epson PictureMate Dash (1.42ppm).
|4x6 photo speed|
We found the prints produced by the A626 to be very similar to those by the A526, as well. The colors were pleasing, but color blocks showed graininess. The whole picture needed to be sharper, too. The dark end of the grayscale showed lots of compression, so we lost details in dark areas. Overall, the image quality is fine for basic snapshots for your fridge, but we'd prefer something better for photo albums or framing.
HP backs the Photosmart A626 with a standard one-year warranty. Toll-free phone support is available 24-7, or you can chat live online with tech support, also 24-7. HP's site has drivers, software downloads, FAQs, and troubleshooting guides, as well.