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HP’s Photosmart A636 could just be the most innovative photo printer we’ll see this year. While at first sight it looks like any of the other, toaster-inspired dedicated ink-jet printers the company has produced in the last couple of years, on closer inspection, it includes a couple of spectacular improvements over what's gone before.
Coloured in black and light grey the design follows the HP tradition. It has a cover that opens at the back to take up to 20 photo blanks loaded nearly vertically and a front cover which folds down to reveal four memory card sockets and one for PictBridge, as well as a wider than normal 13cm slot for prints to feed out from.
We say 13cm, as HP claims the machine can print 18 x 13cm photos, but in reality it’s 7 x 5-inch, smaller by several millimetres in both directions. We know, because we didn't have any 18 x 13cm blanks and cut some down from A4 sheets of HP Advanced Paper… and they wouldn't fit the Photosmart A636.
It's the top of the printer which shows the most innovation as it uses what HP refers to as a 120mm touch screen. While this is technically correct, as this is the diagonal of the touch screen, the LCD display behind it is only 85mm and has a large, black border around it, with six illuminated icons for things like scrolling through images and navigating menus.
It’s not often we get to write the words ‘this printer is radically different in the way it installs’. Installation isn’t normally something anybody pays much attention to, but the Photosmart A636 has been re-engineered. The first inkling of this is the complete lack of a support CD.
All you do to set the printer up for PC printing is plug it into a USB port. Windows recognises it and downloads all the necessary software from the printer. The driver is held in the printer’s firmware and copies and installs as soon as you plug the printer in. It’s ideal for a portable machine like this, as you can plug it into almost any Windows PC and print photos from the computer, immediately. We reckon it would be a good selling point for just about any USB-based printer.