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HP Photosmart A826

Dedicated photo printers are small machines with tiny screens, right? You open them up and load them with paper each time you want to print, because they only take a few sheets of photo paper at a time and the paper sticks out the top, getting dusty.

None of the above is true of the Photosmart A826. This new photo printer from HP wouldn't look out of place in the Command Centre of Space: 1999's Moonbase Alpha. The rounded teardrop shape in white, pale grey and silver looks sleek and retro at the same time. It sits on the desk like a small backpack. Fold down the front cover, which becomes the output tray, and it reveals a set of memory card slots, a hatch to access the single, three-colour cartridge and, more unusually, a small plastic stylus. The memory slots cater for CompactFlash (Type I and II), Memory Stick, SD/MMC, SmartMedia, and xD.

The stylus is used on the 177mm full-colour, touch-screen LCD, though a fingertip works just as well for most tasks. HP has cleverly enhanced the functionality by incorporating three dedicated touch-buttons down either side of the screen, so it can show photos at a good size.

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A hatch at the top takes 10 x 15cm or 13 x 18cm photo blanks, up to a hundred of them at a time and they can be left in situ when the printer's not in use. It's none too easy to take a pile of blanks back out through this hatch though, if you need to change media.

At the back is a socket for a low voltage input and HP uses an external power supply, this time built into a three-pin mains plug. There must be a lot of space inside this case and it's a shame some of it couldn't be used to incorporate the power supply internally. There's also a USB 2.0 socket for PC connection, but this would be less obtrusive if it were positioned at the bottom of the case, rather than halfway up the back.

You can happily use this printer without a computer, but it's good to have the option to print photos from any PC or Mac. HP supplies Photosmart Essentials software, which provides photo management and simple editing, as well as a driver. Once installed - a simple process, the machine works just like any dedicated photo printer.

The Photosmart A826 is designed primarily for standalone printing and when you plug a memory card into any of the slots it automatically comes up with thumbnails of them on the big touch-screen. Click on any of the thumbnails and they enlarge to full screen, so you can perform basic edits, like cropping, adjusting brightness and removing redeye.

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