The rapid adoption of digital camera technology has also made it possible to print decent quality photos in the comfort of your own home and without the need to build your own light-proof room full of noxious chemicals. HP was quick to enter the home photo printing market and its Photosmart printers are among the best available. Its compact range is designed to let you get on with printing without being forced to connect it to a computer. It is small enough to carry around (and has an integrated carrying handle) and it will let you print photos up to 13 x 18cm in size.
Inside the front cover you have a pretty decent selection of card slots (xD, Memory Stick, CF and SD) as well as a USB port, which is PictBridge enabled so you can either hook your PictBridge camera straight into it or just use any USB memory device. And if that sounds like just a bit too much physical effort, then you can also use the integrated Bluetooth to wirelessly print your pics.
The sheer ease of use in the A618 is by far its greatest asset – it really is about as straightforward as printing can be. All you have to do is pop in any compatible storage card/stick and it automatically sniffs out all your photos, even if they are hidden away in multiple layers of subfolders. Then you hit ‘print’ and that’s it.
Of course there a few other options to play with, such as adding multiple pics per page. The zoom buttons quite cleverly allow you to zoom out to select multiple photos to print one after another, or you can zoom right in to only print a certain section of a photo, which is a convenient way of doing things.
The print quality is pretty much superb and in a direct comparison with a Canon Selphy there was universal agreement that the HP printer produces slightly brighter pics with more vivid colours. Printing time is also fairly swift for a compact photo printer. On the box it claims “as fast as 39 seconds”, which, to be perfectly honest, is bullshit. In my tests it had an average of around two minutes for a highly detailed 13 x 18cm photo, which isn’t the best on the market, but not too shabby either.
Although the A618 isn’t really aimed at professional photographers, the in-printer editing options still feel a little shallow. You have a choice of a few generic, zany photo frames for which you can choose different colour options, but they do appear a bit gimmicky. The artier options are also quite limited: your choice consists of black and white, sepia, and “antique”, which are really just variations on the same theme.
Physically, there is little to complain about and opening the front flap conveniently opens the paper bay at the rear and pops up the LCD screen at the same time. However, the device and its buttons do feel a just a little bit too plasticy to be that hard wearing, but to be fair, when all its parts are folder away it does feel quite sturdy. The quality of the LCD screen appears may also have been limited to keep the price down as it is just a little grainy and may not reflect the eventual quality of the print that accurately.
Print technology: HP Thermal Inkjet
Print quality: Up to 4800 x 1200 optimised dpi when printing from a computer and 1200 input dpi
Paper sizes: 10 x 15 cm, 10 x 30 cm, 13 x 18 cm
Capacity: Up to 20 sheets
Connectivity: USB 2.0, PictBridge, xD, MS, CF, SD, Bluetooth
Optional Li-Ion battery
You can now pick up this printer for under £100, which does strike me as a real bargain. Of course it is common knowledge that printer manufacturers sell the hardware cheaper to make their real money from the inks and papers. Nonetheless, a couple of quick calculations reveal that these are still pretty cheap. HP sells its standard Photo Value Pack for £25 which has paper and ink enough for 120 prints; that means one photo comes to about 20p.
This compares favourably with other printers of its kind, although it is a little more expensive than what you would pay for an online print service. However, the benefit is that you don’t have to faff around waiting for your pics to upload to a website. For me though, the real joy was snapping pics on my mobile and then Bluetoothing them straight over. Great for immediately capturing drunken New Year’s Eve antics…