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HP Tango review: can HP deliver on its free photo prints promise?

HP Tango review
HP Tango
HP Tango review

Product Name: HP Tango

Product Description: A beauty of a printer with a compact design that fits in perfectly to a modern home

Price: £129

Availability: InStock

  • Features & design
  • Speed & quality
  • Value for money

Summary

A printer with a unique business model that will appeal to those who print photos at home 

Overall
4.7

Pros

  • Compact, quiet and versatile
  • Great photos and print quality
  • Free photo prints from your phone

Cons

  • Expensive to buy compared to a normal printer
  • Slow compared to a normal printer
  • Not a great choice for “heavy” users

Two words never before used together: “interesting”, “printer”. Yet the HP Tango really is an interesting printer. And HP is making bold claims to accompany its release, including that you can print free photos for the life of the printer. What’s the catch?

HP Tango review: the catch(es)

There are actually four catches. One is that you can only get the free prints of photos taken on your phone; if you email existing photos to yourself, but print from the phone, then you’ll have to pay.

The second is that you’ll have to sign up to a paid-for HP’s Instant Ink plan. This involves paying a monthly fee, where HP will send you ink refills automatically when you need them. But this can be as little as £1.99 per month, so that’s hardly a terrible price to pay.

You can choose from these four Instant Ink plans in the UK

The third isn’t really a gotcha, but of course the “free prints” don’t include the photo paper. HP provides five 6 x 4in photo paper sheets in the box, but after that you’ll need to buy your own paper. The good news is that HP doesn’t force you to buy its products, so any paper will do. 

(There are two reasons to stick with HP paper though. One is longevity: the prints will last your lifetime. The second is guaranteed quality, although third-party paper can be very good.)

The final catch is that the “free” prints only cover sizes up to 7 x 5in, so don’t go thinking you can print 100 A4 photos of your family to give out this Christmas. Actually, don’t do that at all.

HP Tango review: quality of photo prints 

The quality is excellent. Right up there with Photobox and its ilk. That’s despite HP using a four-colour process, with a pigmented black to accompany the three-colour cartridge. 

My only criticism is that the printers aren’t borderless: on each of the photos I printed, one edge had a millimetre of white border (see above). Easy to trim, but a minor blemish.

You don’t have to wait long either: two minutes at best quality for a 6x4in photo. That’s fine.

HP Tango review: secret skills

While the free photo prints are the headline-grabbing feature, that’s not the HP Tango’s only selling point. What I love about it are its size, how quietly it prints, its design and its flexibility.

Because you can replace your bulky all-in-one printer, complete with scanner, with this tiny device. About the size of two hardback books, one on top of the other. 

HP Tango review
Anyone fancy a game of spot the printer?

That’s because HP sees the Tango as a partner to your phone. Rather than physically scan a bank statement, say, you would snap it with the HP Smart app. It’s then clever enough to straighten out the image and either copy it or send it via email (as a PDF or JPEG photo).

There’s no built-in scanner, but you can use the app anywhere – and then either email or print out the result

You can also send a document to print from wherever you happen to be. That might be something you’ve just scanned, or a Word document on your computer: you would simply email the document to the printer’s unique email address.

One irritation, though: while the app integrates with Google Drive and Dropbox, you won’t be able to browse to a Word document or Google Doc and print it. Weirdly, the app only recognises JPEGs and PDFs. You can, of course, print directly to the printer from Google Docs etc.

Finally, if you own an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker then you can send verbal commands to the Tango too. These aren’t terribly sophisticated (“Echo, ask my printer to print today’s crossword”, “Alexa, ask my printer to print a colouring page from Crayola”) but I do like the one that tells it to print out lined paper.

You’ll be happy with the results too. The fact HP uses pigmented ink means that blacks come out strongly, and it had no problem with skew-wiff text even when it was small. It’s not fast (around three pages per minute at default settings in general use) and there’s no automatic two-sided printing, but it’s fine for family use.

HP Tango review: should you buy it?

The HP Tango X is a great printer and deservedly wins our top accolade

This is the first printer I’ve tested that breaks free from the old ways of thinking, and my only regret is that it’s still tethered to the wall via a power cable. A built-in battery, so that you could tuck it anywhere, would make it even better.

Also note that there’s no USB connection: this machine is 100% wireless, so when I say “tuck it anywhere” I mean “anywhere that has a good Wi-Fi connection”. 

And if you’re a “heavy user”? Maybe not. The input tray only holds around 50 A4 sheets, so refilling that will quickly become irritating. 

For everyone else, though, it’s seriously worth considering. Yes, it’s far more expensive than the £40 all-in-ones you’ll find in Tesco, and it only really makes sense if you sign up to the Instant Ink programme: the best deal I could find for replacement inks was £31 for a Value Pack, which includes photo paper. 

But if one of HP’s Instant Ink options suits you then this makes an excellent replacement to the bulky, noisy all-in-one you’re probably using at the moment.

HP Tango vs Tango X: which to choose

The HP Tango X includes the wraparound fabric cover, but isn’t worth the additional £50

Final choice: do you go for the plain HP Tango for £130 or the HP Tango X with a rather nice fabric cover for £180? I like the cover, not least because it helps to camoflauge the printer, but it ain’t worth £50.

HP Tango review: specifications

Print resolution4,800 x 1,200
Paper tray capacity50 sheets (input – no output tray)
Monthly duty cycle1,000 pages
Compatible cartridgesHP 303 (black and tri-colour)
Pages per minute (black and white, claimed)Up to 11ppm (ISO), but note this is closer to 3-5pm in reality
Double-sided printing?Manual
Automatic document feederNo
Dimensions (width x depth x height)389 x 246 x 91mm (lid closed)
Weight3.4kg
Guarantee1 year

Read this next: What’s the best photo printer?

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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