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David A. Wimsett
Providing Technological Solutions

David's interest in technology extends back to his teen years with science fairs and amateur radio. He is fascinated with hardware, but his real interest is how people use technology. David's goal in providing technological solutions has always been to listen to the end users.

HP Photosmart A826 Home Photo Center

Even though you can send digital photographs in an email, post them on a web site, or present them in slide shows on any television, many people still want a physical print to share or display. Whereas the colours on most inkjet prints fade after a few years and smear if exposed to water, the new HP Photosmart A826 Home Photo Center allows you to make brilliant, sharp and waterproof prints that will resist fading for over a century.

The A826 can be used with a computer or it can act as a stand alone printer with built-in slots that allow you to plug in your camera's memory card or print directly from the camera without the need to connect to a computer. It supports xD-Picture Cards, Compact Flash I and II (except Microdrive), Memory Stick, Secure Digital (DS), and MultiMediaCard (MMC). You can also plug in a USB memory drive or any PictBridge compliant camera; such as the HP Photosmart R817, the Canon PowerShot A520, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-P200, or the Nikon D70.

When the A826 is used as a stand alone printer, it is controlled through a 7 touch screen which consists of a 5.6 viewing area with menus. Photos are presented as thumbnails (9 at a time) with the ability to scroll through all the images on a memory card. Photos can be printed one at a time or several photos can be selected and printed as a batch. You can also expand a single photo to fill the entire viewing area. Beyond selecting and printing photos, the menu controls allow you to edit them by zooming, cropping, adjusting brightness and removing red eye. A well, you can add graphics in the form of borders, clip art, captions in several fonts and free form drawings.

The HP Photosmart A826 uses HP's Vivera dye-based thermal ink. The 5ml cartridge has 600 print head nozzles to deliver 5 pl ink drops. It takes under 2 minutes to produce a print at a resolution of 4800 x 1200 dpi. Vivera ink offers enhanced shadow detail and reduced image grain with a pallet of 72.9 million colours. HP claims the A620 produces photo lab quality prints and they certainly deliver on that promise. As well, the thermally cured ink reduces smudging and is water resistant where standard, water soluble inks will run or rub off when exposed to moister. Prints also resists fading for 104 years when used with HP Advanced Photo Paper. Water soluble inks start to fade in less than a decade.

When you edit a photo or add graphics to it, the changes are not saved back to the memory card. These enhancements exist only for the current printing session. The advantage of this that you will never accidently write over an original photo, however, it would have been nice if HP had included the ability to save changes with a different file name.

The printer uses a single HP #110 ink cartridge that has the three primary colours but does not have blank ink. As a result, the three primary colours must be used to create black, which consumes ink at a very fast rate. Hewlett-Packard states that you should be able to get approximately 55 4" x 6" prints per cartridge, but I was only able to produce 45. Due to the fact that the A826 uses the Vivera thermal ink, there are no substitute cartridges from other manufacturers. The price per print is a little higher than the least expensive photo labs, however, you get the convenience of making the prints on demand in your home with the ability to crop, adjust brightness, and add graphics such as borders and captions.

You can connect the printer to a Windows or Macintosh computer with a USB cable or through Bluetooth technology. The software runs under Windows XP Home, XP Professional, XP X86, and Vista , or on MAC OS X 10.3.x and 10.4.x. Once transferred to your computer, you to use advanced photo editing tools such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel Painter to adjust or enhance your pictures. The setup CD loads all required drivers along with the HP Photosmart Essential 2.01 software to enhance photos and print them. Once installed, theA826 can be used like any other printer.

The one disappointing part of this package is the HP Photosmart Essential 2.01 software. It is intended to let you print any digital photo on your computer or to set up an account on HP's web site to share photos. Unfortunately, the software is extremely cumbersome and unintuitive to use. Worse, the quality of the prints it produces are terrible. I printed the same set of photos in HP Photosmart Essential 2.01, Adobe Photoshop CS3, Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0, Corel Painter Essentials 2, Paint Shop Pro 8, and directly from a SD memory card. The results from Photoshop, Painter, Paint Shop, and the SD card were clear, brilliant and colourful. The prints made with Photosmart Essential showed high contrast and were muddy, dull and grainy.

Other than the lack lustre performance of the HP Photosmart Essential 2.01 software, using the A826 in stand alone mode or with another photo software package provides a convenient, cost effective way to make long lasting, excellent quality prints at home.

Suggested Retail Price: $199.99

Internet Price: $179.00 to $201.00

Recommended Paper: Advances HP Photo Paper ($12.99 to $18.78)

Cartridge: HP 110 ($ 17.95 to $23.56)

Prints per cartridge: Approximately 45 to 55

Price per print: $0.45 to $0.55

Lab price per print: $0.30 to $0.70


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