HP’s standalone photo printers have been a big success for the company, but it’s not that easy to think of ways to improve them. The length of the printer, which still looks something like a small, black and grey toaster, is the giveaway. It has to be that bit longer because it can now produce 18 x 13cm (7 x 5-inch) prints, as well as the 15 x 10cm ones its predecessors could handle.
Once you've opened the black front cover of the Photosmart A618, its grey front panel still manages to look like the inside of something. In the centre is the latch, which holds the cover closed and to either side are memory card slots, together with a PictBridge socket, so you can connect virtually any kind of photographic storage. At the right-hand end is a flip-open cover giving access to the single, three-colour ink cartridge. At the base of the front panel is a long slot where prints feed out.
On top of the machine is a 60mm LCD panel, which hinges up to any convenient angle. In front of this is a rectangular button, marked Print and a smaller square one, labelled Cancel. To the right is a toggle button for zooming in and out of any displayed photo and a four-way toggle with an OK button in the middle, used to navigate the printer's menu. To the left of the screen, another four-way panel calls up the top-level menu, automated Photo Fixes, different print layouts and the delete function. Finally, there's a row of three indicators showing Bluetooth activity, battery state and any error condition, and an illuminated power button.
The back panel opens only slightly, enough to slide up to 20 sheets of photo paper into the paper feed. Sensibly, HP has coloured the paper support and width guide in a Day-glo green, so you can see them easily. There are also sockets here for an external power supply and a USB 2.0 cable. You can optionally add a lithium ion battery pack for complete portability and a spring-loaded carrying handle is well integrated into the case design.
You don't really have to install this printer at all; it'll work quite happily without being connected to any external device. Just plug in a memory card or a PictBridge camera and you can display and select images to print. An automatic fix takes care of things like redeye and improves colour rendition in shadow. You can zoom in to select an area of an image and add simple effects like sepia or black-and-white colouring and a variety of jazzy frames.