HP Tango full review

Most inkjet printers released in the past few years have adapted to mobile technology by providing apps that allow you to print and scan from smartphones and tablets, as well as from ye olde desktop and laptop computers. However, HP's Tango has completely embraced mobile technology - to the point where HP's website specifically states that the Tango is 'designed for your smartphone' and even implies that it can't be used with a Mac or PC. (The Tango doesn't even have a USB port for connecting directly to a computer, and simply relies on dual-band Wi-Fi to connect to all your devices.)

That claim isn't entirely true - there is printer software for Macs and PCs available on HP's website if you need it - but the design of the printer and the way that HP promotes its 'Instant Ink' subscription scheme make it clear that the Tango really is all about selfies and smartphones. And it even works with voice commands using Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant - although not, sadly, with Siri, so you can't just say: "Hey Siri - print that photo of Pete falling over drunk..."

It sounds intriguing, but is the HP Tango printer any good? We put it through its paces to evaluate print quality and speed, running costs, features and design. If you're looking for something more desktop-oriented, see Best printer for Mac.

Features & design

At first glance, the Tango's £129 price tag looks pretty expensive - especially as it's just a printer, and doesn't include a built-in scanner and copier. It doesn't even have a control screen, as HP assumes that you'll be controlling it from your mobile devices most of the time.

It is possible to 'scan' documents by taking a photo with your smartphone or tablet and then printing that photo on the Tango - and the Tango does support Apple's AirPrint, which helps to speed up printing from iOS devices - but the Tango really isn't meant for mundane tasks like scanning letters and documents.

Besides, adding a scanner would spoil its admirably compact design, which measures just 389mm wide, 246mm deep and 91mm high. It's actually small enough to fit into a backpack, and there's a second model, called the Tango X, which costs £179 and includes a wrap-around cover that doubles up as a carrying case so you can take it with you to a friend's place for an evening of Instagram indulgence.

Print quality

Above all else, a printer like the Tango needs to produce good-quality photo prints, and we weren't disappointed when we tested it using glossy postcard paper. All our test photos displayed crisp, bright colours, with good contrast that helped to bring out all the detail in the Tango's 1200 x 1200dpi resolution.

And although it's clearly not designed as an office printer, the Tango does a good job with simple text documents too, producing smooth, sharp text that is more than adequate for the occasional letter or school report.

Print speed

This isn't the fastest printer around.

HP quotes speeds of 11 pages per minute (ppm) for text, 8ppm for colour and 37 seconds for a 4x6in postcard print. In fact, our tests indicated speeds of around 7ppm for text, and a modest 5ppm for documents with text and colour graphics, while our postcard prints took a full 70 seconds to drop into the output tray.

That's the Tango's main weakness, since an expensive photo printer should provide snappier performance when it comes to, y'know, printing photos.

Running costs

Most inkjet printers sting you in the pocket when it comes to replacement ink cartridges. But there's some good news here, as the Tango actually offers a way of printing photos completely free of charge. However, you'll need to be a real Instagram addict, printing selfies on a regular basis, to really benefit from this option.

If you're only going to use the Tango for the occasional letter or photo print then you can do things the old-fashioned way and just wait for the printer to run out of ink before buying replacement cartridges. These cartridges are available in standard and XL sizes, and you just have to buy two cartridges - one for black ink, and a tri-colour cartridge that combines the cyan, magenta and yellow inks in a single cartridge (rather than using four separate cartridges for each colour).

Unfortunately, the black ink cartridges work out really expensive, with even the XL cartridge (around £26) costing you about 4.3p per page for letters and documents with simple black text. The colour cartridges are more affordable, as the standard cartridge (£17) gives you a cost of 10.5p per page, and the XL cartridge (£31.44) brings that down to a competitive 7.6p. That's HP's way of telling you that you should just stick to printing selfies and other photos.

That message is reinforced when you take a look at HP's Instant Ink subscription scheme. This scheme has been around for a couple of years now, and allows you to print a fixed number of pages each month for a flat monthly fee.

Prices for these subscriptions start at £1.99 per month, which allows you to print 50 pages per month. And when the Tango sees it's running out of ink, it will automatically send an email to HP to order more ink - which is included in the cost of your subscription. That works out at a flat rate of 4p per page, which is great for printing photos and colour documents such as cards and calendars, but still expensive for simple black and white text.

However, HP throws in an added bonus for the Tango when you sign up for the Instant Ink scheme - which is that photos printed from your smartphone or tablet (but not from a Mac or PC) don't count towards that 50-page monthly quota, so you can snap away to your heart's content and print out your mobile photos free of charge.

Verdict

What a modern concept: a printer catering specifically for selfies - or at least for photos taken on a mobile device. And you'll probably know at once whether that concept is right for you.

If you're looking for a general purpose printer that you can use with a computer for printing letters, school reports and other text-based documents then the HP Tango isn't a good choice at all. But if you're a keen photographer who likes to print out selfies and other shots taken on your smartphone or tablet then the free photo-printing option available with the Tango could be a real bargain - as long as you're prepared to commit at least £1.99 a month for HP's ink subscription scheme.

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