Great pictures, small packages
Despite their disappointing performance, the HP printers scored well on ease of use. The A826 and A626 both feature a truly impressive and innovative touch-screen interface that you control with a stylus. Although the standard push-button control panels are easy enough to use, the touch-screen interface streamlines the process of printing photos: you just insert a photo storage card, tap on a screen, and then tap on the Print icon. Most users will appreciate the ability to crop their photos using a stylus and a touch screen instead of having to repeatedly mash buttons on a control panel. Other than that, the touch-screen interface made it so simple to navigate through the printers’ menus that I never needed to consult the user manual. HP’s interface is a good sign for things to come in the consumer printer market.
The PictureMate Zoom’s interface consists of a standard multibutton control panel and a 3.6-inch LCD screen. Though not as fancy as a touch screen, the PictureMate Zoom’s interface is straightforward and easily navigable. I had no problems choosing, editing, and cropping images to print photos just the way I wanted them.
The Pixma mini320’s interface is slightly more complex than the PictureMate Zoom’s. Like Apple’s iPod, the mini320 provides a scroll wheel for navigating through your options and media. It also has a few additional buttons for basic functions. Overall, I found this control panel intuitive, but the printer’s menu layout and organization were a bit confusing. For instance, after applying some edits to a photo, I saw a Preview option on the menu. But when I pressed its corresponding button, the screen displayed a thumbnail of the image that I couldn’t enlarge. The mini320 actually has no option to preview edited photos before printing them, despite the presence of this menu item. It was also difficult to find the printer’s special Color Balance mode because it was not under the Special Options menu where I expected to find it. These small interface quirks were misleading and disorienting.
Canon’s Selphy CP740 has the simplest, most minimal interface. One button gives you the option to print dates on your photos, another lets you choose whether to print a border, and a display button gives you a larger preview of your photo. It also has a red-eye–removal button, and, of course, power and print buttons. A Mode button lets you choose whether to print a single photo, multiple copies of a photo, or all the photos on your memory card. To me, the single- and multiple-copy options seem unnecessary, since the plus (+) and minus (–) buttons should allow you to increase or decrease the number of prints without switching modes.
The image-editing options varied greatly among this batch of compact photo printers. The unique editing capabilities of the A626 and A826 are perfect for scrapbookers. For example, you can write directly on your photos using the stylus—to, say, sign a photo, compose a message, or doodle an illustration. The stylus and touch screen also make it easy to crop photos, add or remove effects, type captions, add frames, and insert clip art.
The PictureMate Zoom also provides a satisfying selection of image-editing options. With the Zoom, I was able to crop, remove red-eye, apply color effects, and more. In contrast, the two Canon printers—the mini320 and the Selphy CP740—are a bit disappointing. The mini320 has cropping, color-tweaking, and image-optimization features, but doesn’t give you the option to preview your image edits—so you could waste a lot of ink on test prints before getting the perfect one. Aside from a red-eye–removal option, the CP740 doesn’t provide any image-editing tools.
The A826’s design is unique. With its egg shape, reminiscent of a photo kiosk, the A826 caught the attention of several passersby, who stopped by my cubicle just to look at it. An important note about the A826: though it’s a compact photo printer, that doesn’t mean it’s easily portable. Measuring 14.7 by 15.1 by 10.4 inches with its output and paper trays open and ready to use, the A826 is bigger than the other compact photo printers we tested. Its touch screen is also especially large, at 7 inches. The printer lacks a handle, so carrying this device around on trips or to events would be impractical. Rather, it’s designed to serve as a personal kiosk or home photo center. Still, the printer could use a feature that would make it easier to grip, in case you wanted to move it from one room to another in your home. The egg shape makes it slippery and difficult to hold.
In terms of interface and features, the A626 is practically the same printer as the A826, but in terms of size and shape, their designs are completely different. Significantly smaller than the A826, the A626 measures approximately 7.7 by 8.7 by 9.9 inches with its output and paper trays open. Equipped with a small carrying handle, the attractive, boom-box–shaped A626 is designed for carrying along on trips or special occasions. The A626 also weighs only 3.4 pounds, so it won’t weigh down your luggage when you bring it with you on a trip to Hawaii. The problem I had with the A626 was its input tray. You access the tray by prying open a cover on the back of the printer, but that leaves very little space to load the paper. The A626 could stand some design improvements, such as easier access to its input tray and greater paper capacity.
Similar to the A626, the PictureMate Zoom is designed for mobile use. Equipped with a convenient carrying handle, the Zoom has a boxy form that resembles a car battery. The PictureMate lineup’s appearance has changed a lot over the years. The original model ( ) was shaped like a small, rounded boom box. Most Macworld editors agree that this new design is not as aesthetically pleasing as that of previous generations.
Sporting a cool silver-and-white case, the Pixma mini320 has a retractable carrying handle. When you’re using the printer, you can simply push the handle in so it’s out of the way. Though this printer does a good job of protecting its control panel with foldable covers, I was surprised that no cover protected the printer’s memory-card slots. Their location on the right side of the printer allows dust to enter.
Like its interface, the Selphy CP740’s design is by far the simplest in this group. A small, rectangular box with rounded corners, the CP740 was the only printer in the group that had no flip-up LCD screen. Rather, the 2-inch display is fixed on top of the printer, surrounded by control buttons. Like the mini320, the CP740 leaves its memory-card slots unprotected. Also, getting used to the input tray’s anomalous design could take some time if you’re accustomed to ink-jet printers. Instead of simply standing up paper in a vertical tray, you must place the paper in a small, covered tray, open the tray’s lid at an angle, and shove the tray into the paper feeder.