The HP Photosmart 6520 e-All-in-One Printer is a midpriced ($150 as of 08/13/2012) consumer-level color inkjet multifunction printer with a good set of features for light-volume home or student use. If you're trying to decide between this model and its slightly lower-priced cousin, the HP Photosmart 5520, note that the Photosmart 6520 has a bigger touchscreen control panel and a dedicated photo tray.

The Photosmart 6520 connects via USB or Wi-Fi and has media-card slots for MMC, MS, and SD cards. It comes with an 80-sheet, bottom-mounted, slide-out main input tray. Duplexing is automatic for prints and copies from this tray. The tray takes both letter- and legal-size media. Piggybacked onto the main tray is a 20-sheet feeder for 4-by-6-inch or 5-by-7-inch photo paper. Up to 20 printed or copied pages may come to rest on the lid over these trays. A fairly flimsy extension pivots and flips out from the lid to finish the output area.

HP's new style of documentation is heavy on pictures and animations, and sometimes lacking in useful details such as paper capacities. And though legal-size media isn't commonly used, I was surprised that HP would support it but not tell you how to load it. (Hint: Flip down the front panel of the tray; the sheets will hang out the front a bit.)

Above the printer sits the scanner, which has basic specs: a letter/A4-size platen, a lid that doesn't telescope to accommodate thicker materials, and no automatic document feeder for scanning multipage documents. (In this price range, look for an ADF on small-office models such as the Canon Pixma MX512. A thicker lid beneath the slender scanner lid provides access to the ink cartridges and to the internal paper path.

A 3.45-inch color touchscreen and peripheral controls that light when needed dominate the easy-to-use control panel. I especially liked being able to preview a scan on the screen. Note that the touchscreen requires slight pressure to register a touch--a bit surprising at first, if you're used to more-sensitive touchscreens, but not difficult to adjust to.

The Photosmart 6520's print, copy, and scan speeds hover above and below the average. Text and monochrome graphics exit at a peppy 8.5 pages per minute on the PC and 8 ppm on the Mac. The printing speed for snapshot-size photo prints is about 3 ppm on plain paper at default settings (a little faster than average) or just of 1 ppm on glossy photo paper (slightly below average). Single-page copies come out slightly slower than average at 2.9 ppm. Full-page photos printed on the Mac arrive at about 0.4 ppm--slightly slower than average.

The output quality of pages from the Photosmart 6520 is quite good. At standard settings, text is nice, though it falls short of perfectly black and crisp. Color graphics tend to be slightly yellow, with an evenly grainy look on plain paper and a smoother effect on glossy photo paper.

The Photosmart 6520's ink costs are average. The standard black cartridge costs $12 and lasts for 250 pages (4.8 cents per page), while the standard cyan, magenta, and yellow color cartridges cost $10 each and last for 300 pages (3.3 cents per page). That works out to about 15 cents for a four-color page. You can reduce your color ink costs appreciably by using the high-yield XL cartridges, priced at $18 for a 750-page cartridge, yielding a figure of 2.4 cents per page per color--almost a cent per page cheaper for each color. However, the $23 XL black lasts for only 550 pages (4.2 cents per page), making it only slightly more economical than the standard black. A four-color page would cost 14.8 cents with the standard inks and 11.4 cents with the high-yield inks.

OUR VERDICT

Offering better-than-basic features and speed, the Photosmart 6520 e-All-in-One would be a reasonable choice for a home or student user who prints no more than a few dozen pages per week. For the same price, you can get more paper handling and a few other bonuses in the Canon Pixma MG5320.