Cheap but good: Dell's Photo 926 all-in-one printer

, posted: 11-Apr-2007 20:36

A NZ$159 printer can't be good, I thought, but I've been using the Dell Photo 926 inkjet for over a month now and it's put in sterling service. Here's what it looks like, courtesy of Dell's photographers:
Dell 926
That handy ruler there gives you an idea of the size of the 926: it's not obtrusively big, but not tiny either. There's a two-stage lid on it, with the bottom one giving access to the print heads and cartridges, and the top one to the scanner with 1,200 by 2,400 dpi optical resolution and 48-bit colour capability.

On the front you can see the memory card reader (handles all formats bar the tiniest ones), and a PictBridge USB jack for printing straight out of cameras. On the top of the printer, a simple control panel with power switch and menu buttons, plus a simple, backlit status LCD. The 926 doesn't lack features, in other words. There's even faxing capability as well, using the modem in your computer.

Paper (US and Euro sizes, Letter and A4 and smaller) goes into the printer via a stand-up feeder at the back, providing a straight paper path.

Setting up the Dell 926 was easy enough, after you figure out which way the print cartridges go. There are colour, black and photo ink ones for the 926. They can only be ordered via the web which is a bit odd. As I haven't run out of cartridges yet, it's not something I've tried so can't comment directly on how well the process work. Other reviewers however say it cartridge ordering works just fine. It looks like you'll get just over a 100 pages per cartridge depending on the type of print job, which works out at 30-35¢ per page.

This is Dell's first entry into making and selling printers, so I won't kvetch too much about the bundled software and All In One application. The latter has a somewhat clunky interface but works fine in XP; avoid installing the bundled applications though. You get better ones as free downloads elsewhere.

Now you're going to ask me if the printer works with other operating systems than Windows XP. As far as I can tell, this is a very Windows-y USB printer indeed that uses the host operating system and computer for processing. There's no mention of Mac OS X support, but that doesn't mean it won't work on that operating system with manual effort, or on one of the Open Source ones. Will check on this later when time allows, but it doesn't look too hopeful in that respect.

Vista is a different story. It recognised the Dell 926 on startup, proceeded to download the drivers, installed them, proudly proclaimed success and... I can't print under Vista, only under XP. The Dell AIO app doesn't start up, even when it runs as Administrator. However, Vista sees the scanner and the memory card reader, and doesn't pop up any error messages that would tell me why I can't print. Not holding this against the 926 however, as Vista is one big problem area for me in terms of compatibility.

For the money, the Dell Photo 926 delivers great results. Sure, there's a bit of banding on colour printouts despite the 4,800 by 1,200 dpi resolution, but it doesn't bother me much. Text is quite crisp overall and I believe Dell when it says the 926 does 15 to 20 pages per minute. Better yet, the printer is nice and quiet in operation - and completely silent when not in use.

The scanner's pretty good as well. It works best for documents with scans of photos looking a bit too soft to be good. You can improve on that with tweaking though.

I'd say the Dell 926 hits the right notes if you're looking for an affordable Windows all-in-one desktop printer/scanner. The price of consumables is always an issue with inkjets though, so if you're going to print out lots, look elsewhere for a solution with lower per page costs.


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