capsule review

HP Photosmart A636 Compact Photo Printer

At a Glance
  • HP Photosmart A636 Compact Photo Printer

    PCWorld Rating

    A few shortcomings can't stop this speedy, simply designed printer from being lots of fun.

Other snapshot printers, beware: HP's new Photosmart A636 Compact Photo Printer sets a high standard. This medium-priced, inkjet-based model is fast and very easy to use. Its print quality is nearly as good as that of the Epson PictureMate Dash, which costs roughly the same price, and it accepts more sizes of paper to boot.

The Photosmart A636 rewards the impatient. The 4-by-6-inch photos we printed for our tests each came out in less than a minute. Many images looked dark but were still reasonably good compared with its competition. Flesh tones appeared slightly orangey. Monochrome photos look just faintly pinkish.

The squat, black machine is impressively versatile. You'll need to provide your own USB cable to connect it to a computer (since HP doesn't offer one), but you won't have to load a CD: The driver, stored in the printer's firmware, automatically installs itself. No computer, no problem: Just insert a media card into one of the A636's many slots, and you'll be ready to start. The printer's 4.8-inch, touch-sensitive color LCD responds to your finger or to a stylus (HP includes one of these). The backlit navigation icons flanking the central display area are easy to understand, as are the on-screen images and messages. The printer comes with a carrying handle for road trips; an optional battery costs $25.

Printing options include captions, clip art, frames, and effects such as sepia toning and cartooning; you also get simple editing tools. The printer takes an unusually broad range of paper sizes, from 4-by-6-inch photos to panoramic (4-by-12-inch) paper to 5-by-7-inch photos.

A few of the Photosmart A636's features perplexed me. You're supposed to open the front panel (which then serves as the output tray) by inserting a finger into a slender canal above the panel. This detail, while arguably intuitive, is not illustrated anywhere. Opening the front panel releases the LCD and the 20-sheet input tray, too--it's easy. But lowering the LCD is a trickier operation: It involves squeezing difficult-to-see rear latches that illustrated but not explained in the documentation. A hole in the top of the printer for holding the stylus upright (there's a slide-in storage slot for the stylus, as well) is not discussed anywhere.

The machine ships with starter supplies: a few sheets of 5-by-7-inch photo media, plus an ink cartridge that can print 10 to 20 photos. The high-yield replacement cartridge ($35) lasts for approximately 120 prints, which works out to 29 cents per print. A lower-capacity cartridge ($20) lasts for about 55 prints, at a pricier 36 cents per print.

The Photosmart A636 may miss on a few minor points, but it's a fast, capable printer--and its ability to accept an unusually extensive range of paper sizes is a definite plus.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    A few shortcomings can't stop this speedy, simply designed printer from being lots of fun.

    Pros

    • Fast; easy to use; many printing options
    • Prints on 5-by-7-inch media

    Cons

    • Documentation skimps on some key details
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