You can operate the touch screen with your finger, but HP also provides a stylus and even a little ‘inkwell’ to store it in, while working on a batch of images. The company has expanded on the range of effects and creative projects you can achieve, using just the stylus and the printer. Effects include red eye and pet eye retouching – animal eyes tend to reflect in blue or green, rather than the human red.
You can now add captions to a photograph, too, using an on-screen keyboard, in alphabetical rather than QWERTY order, and even choose different font sizes, colours and positions. You can do a lot, without needing access to any kind of computer and the touch screen control is intuitive, though building in gesture recognition, as on the iPhone, would improve things still further.
The headline print speed of 27 seconds for a 15 x 10cm photos, while achievable, is around a minute shorter than what you normally see. Leave all print and quality settings on automatic, as most people will, and it takes just over 1:30 to print from a PC or a PictBridge printer, though printing from a memory card is marginally quicker.
Print quality, in typical HP style, is pretty good. Our test images showed reasonable levels of foreground detail, as well as good shadow detail and very good colour transitions. Colours are bright, but natural and the three-colour cartridge does well in reproducing dark and light tints. For best results, you should use HP's Advanced Photo Paper, though we also produced acceptable results using Premium Plus paper. The printer does just as well with images at 7 x 5 inches as at the default 15 x 10cm.
HP has succumbed to a mean streak, including a ‘starter’ cartridge rated at just 10, 15 x 10cm prints, presumably fewer if you’re printing at 7 x 5 inches. Given that one of those prints is required for mandatory printer calibration, you get just nine before having to go out and buy a ‘regular’ cartridge. The HP110 cartridge offers 55 prints, while the 110 Photopack is capable of 140 prints.
In mitigation for this cheapskate approach, we found the Photopack for £15.04, so the cost per print comes out at 10.7p. This is one of the least expensive print costs we’ve come across, so do shop around for consumables.
The Photosmart A636 is a fine, dedicated photo printer, capable of both Bluetooth connection and battery operation with the appropriate options fitted. Its easy setup and touch screen use are both valuable innovations, and consumables are such that you pay very little for standard size prints. While HP may be taking the Mick with its tiny starter cartridge – it cost it a recommendation – in nearly all other respects this is an excellent machine.