The Photosmart A526 is simple to use but very slow. The prints are worth the wait, though.

HP's low-cost HP Photosmart A526 aims for simplicity. If you'd rather print than fuss, this is the model for you - assuming you can tolerate its relaxed printing pace.

The inkjet-based HP Photosmart A526 is fairly compact and sports a handle for carrying about. The front panel unfolds to make the output tray and to reveal the media slots; this also triggers the input tray to unfold automatically from the back. The four media slots take most major formats; there's also a PictBridge-compatible USB port.

The HP Photosmart A526's input tray takes both 4x6in photo stock and 4x12in panoramic stock. The tricolor ink cartridge loads easily into a lidded bay on the right side.

The control panel is minimal but usable. The HP Photosmart A526's tilted, 2.4in LCD is adequately sized for viewing images and navigating menus. Among the few buttons is one for reducing red-eye. A large Print button is flanked by left- and right-arrow buttons; you press it to confirm your settings. A button labelled 'ok', though, would make the HP Photosmart A526 easier to use - we find it unintuitive to confirm settings by pressing Print. (We also prefer word labels over icons any day.)

The HP Photosmart A526's menus offer plenty of maintenance and how-to content, but just a handful of printing options. Photo Fix automatically tries to improve the sharpness, lighting, and colour quality of a printed photo; you can disable it. You can also select a level of print quality, or bordered/borderless printing.

Want more? Install the HP Photosmart A526 on your PC so you can use HP's Photosmart Essentials software (or another program) to fine-tune an image before printing it. You can also use the HP Photosmart A526 to transfer photos from a memory card to your PC.

Photos we printed on the HP Photosmart A526 looked very good overall. Flesh tones tended to look orangey, but other images looked natural. The larger issue was speed, or the lack thereof: prints took well over a minute to emerge.

Installing the HP Photosmart A526 on a PC takes a little while, because it loads a good dollop of software. HP's Solution Center interface centralises all the tools and applications, including a thorough onscreen user guide.

The HP Photosmart A526's other documentation - a setup poster and a printed "Basics" guide - are clearly written and cover the primary usage issues.

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