Katherine Boehret

Printer, Digital Picture Frame in One

Digital picture frames store numerous images and display them in a mini-slide show, adding life to a room filled with unchanging, framed print shots. And digital shots always have a leg up on prints because they can be edited, cropped and improved. But people value the permanency of prints, which they can hold, frame or add to an album.

This week, I tested a product that marries prints with the digital frame: Hewlett-Packard‘s $249 HP Photosmart A826 Home Photo Center.

The A826 is the latest in H-P’s series of compact countertop home snapshot printers, meant to turn out small photos quickly. But it has an unusual form, with a large seven-inch screen that also allows for images to be displayed in slide shows, like a digital picture frame. This touch-screen also lets users edit shots using a finger or stylus. Pressing one button prints the image in about a minute and a half.

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HP Photosmart A826 Home Photo Center

This new model, due in stores this weekend, is meant to work as a home photo kiosk, so it’s a bit bigger than H-P’s compact photo printers, which have built-in handles for portability and take up less space. The A826 is also pricier than these smaller printers — $70 more than the newest model.

I liked the idea behind this photo printer, editing station and digital frame. Its large screen, 5.6 inches of which are used for the photos, was a welcome change to most photo printers with preview screens that can’t be seen without squinting. But I was disappointed by some of the A826′s features. The newly added ability to draw on images, for example, yielded results that looked fine on-screen but printed out looking like scribble. Removing red eye didn’t seem to improve images on the screen; only when printed did these shots appear red-eye free. And the touch-screen wasn’t as sensitive as I would’ve liked, requiring a few tries to get some buttons to respond.

I couldn’t help but compare the A826 with standalone digital frames. Unlike almost all such frames, the A826 lacks internal storage meaning that in order to keep a slide show going, a memory card, USB drive or camera would need to be plugged into the device. Some digital frames also come with built-in wireless networking to pull images from the Web; the A826 doesn’t have this capability.

This device is hard to miss. Its rounded edges are covered in a stylish white plastic, and the screen is surrounded by black and a pretty shade of pale blue, making it look like a prop from the Jetsons cartoon. It measures roughly the same width as H-P’s compact photo printers, but stands more than twice as tall with the screen at the top so users don’t have to bend as far down to see images. Photo paper measuring 4 by 6 or 5 by 7 inches feeds into the back of the printer in a neat, enclosed compartment that holds up to 100 sheets.

A tiny speaker on the front side of the A826 emits cutesy chimes whenever the device powers on or finishes printing a photo, which I liked. It also uses its large screen for illustrating how to perform tasks like loading paper or inserting a print cartridge.

I got started using the HP Photosmart A826 for its digital frame capabilities, inserting my digital camera’s SecureDigital memory card into a slot below the viewing screen and queuing up about 400 images from my memory card. Images appear on the screen six at a time and in the bottom left corner of each there is a white circle, which can be touched to give it a red checkmark, putting it in the slide-show queue. Tapping the center of any shot magnifies it for editing.

I marked about 30 photos and played them in succession by touching a Slideshow button on the far right edge of the screen. This touchscreen button and others — representing Menu, Back, Print, Scroll Left and Scroll Right — line the left and right black borders of the screen. Only the buttons that make sense to choose at any given time will glow, so users know which ones can be selected and, therefore, can navigate a little easier. For instance, in the Get Creative editing menu, only the Scroll Left, Scroll Right and Back buttons glow.

I folded up a flap that covers the memory-card slots and left my slide show playing for a while on my kitchen counter. It worked like a digital picture frame, for the most part. If the A826 isn’t used for about 10 minutes, it will automatically switch into slide-show mode — a feature I found useful for moments when I didn’t remember that I left it on. This automatic slide show switches over to a black screen after about an hour, though programmed slide shows stay on until turned off.

Touching the screen when an image appears, mid-slide show, will pause the slide show for editing or printing. I used my finger to do simple editing, and most options are offered in large touch-screen buttons, though in more than one instance I had to press buttons with my finger a few times to get them to work. A small white stylus helped, especially for drawing on photos.

I drew cartoon bubbles coming out of people’s mouths and wrote little messages like, “Hey y’all!” bubbling from a Texan friend in a shot from her trip to Europe. These touches can be done in different colors and line thicknesses, and mistakes can easily be erased. They looked good on-screen, but when printed, turned pixilated and detracted from the photo.

I tried some more normal photo editing, such as cropping photos, enhancing a photo’s brightness and removing red eye. The last of these options didn’t work so well in my photos, seeming to leave eyes glowing on the screen. When I printed these shots for the sake of testing, I realized that red eye was actually removed in almost all instances. But this is confusing for users who don’t want to waste ink and paper finding out whether or not the image was corrected.

I found the A826′s most useful photo-enhancing option to be the ability to add captions to shots. These can be entered by using an on-screen keyboard, choosing from five fonts and six colors. The caption can be dragged around the screen to test where it will look best. These typed fonts looked professional and neat, especially compared with my own drawn-on editing.

Printing on the HP Photosmart A826 worked without a problem. It comes with five 5-by-7-inch sheets of paper enough ink for 20 4-by-6-inch prints. Value packs of paper and ink for 120 4-by-6-inch prints cost $35. The printer automatically detects whether it’s loaded with photo paper measuring 5-by-7 or 4-by-6 inches, and prints accordingly. A 5-by-7-inch shot takes a bit longer to print, but looked rather good.

The HP Photosmart A826 seems like it was designed with good intentions, and its large touchscreen is an improvement all on its own. But too many features of this device didn’t work the way they should, from red eyes that didn’t appear fixed on-screen to the touchscreen that didn’t always respond right away. H-P will find an eager audience with this home photo kiosk, but it needs improvement.

Edited by Walter S. Mossberg

Email: mossbergsolution@wsj.com


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