Lauren Goode

A Scanner for All Seasons

Every year, come tax season, I curse myself. I might write about all things digital, but when it comes to receipts and important documents, my record-keeping is analog amateur hour.

So this year I’m getting serious about scanning. Fortunately, there are plenty of portable scanning options out there, ranging from mobile apps to wand-like scanners.

This week, I set out to determine whether an app or a pocket-sized scanner with receipt-management software can really do the job of a larger scanner. I tested three options: The smartphone app JotNot Scanner Pro by MobiTech 3000, PlanOn’s tiny SlimScan SS100 scanner and Xerox’s new wand-shaped Mobile Scanner.

The JotNot Pro app uses the iPhone’s camera to capture images of documents. And after five days of testing, it became apparent that the app was great on the go, but I wouldn’t use it to scan tons of files. The SlimScan scanner’s size was attention-grabbing, but the device and its software were problematic for me. Despite its larger size and $250 price point, the Xerox scanner was my top pick, because of its fast scanning and its wireless connectivity via an Eye-Fi card.

I began the scanner tests with JotNot Pro for iPhone, which was updated late last year and costs $1.99.

I was at a conference last week, accumulating business cards and receipts, so it was a good opportunity to test the app. After I snapped a horizontal photo of a business card, the app immediately found the edges of the card and cropped the image. Then it processed the image, and the text in the final file was clear and easy to read. I did this with receipts as well.

JotNot Pro let me enhance each file before processing it, whether it was a hard-to-read receipt or a file with lighter text; and I could also adjust the contrast or add a timestamp to the files.

Next, I shared the files. I had the option to email the files, print or fax them, open them in compatible apps, such as DropBox, or copy them to DropBox, Evernote, Box and Google Docs. JotNot Pro can also easily convert the saved files into PDFs.

I was impressed with all of the options packed into the JotNot Pro app, and would continue using a mobile app to scan when I have my phone and no other options. But for high-volume scanning, I wouldn’t rely solely on an app.

I had high hopes for the SlimScan, but it didn’t deliver. The SlimScan SS100 is a super-thin, credit-card-sized device that launched last month and currently lists on for $106. It claims to store up to 600 scanned images before you have to dump the files off of it, and its expected battery life is 200 to 300 scans per charge.

It confused me from the start. The SlimScan has five tiny unmarked buttons, and I had to read the instruction manual to figure out which one was the power button, which is never a good sign. I had to dig my nail into each button to press it down. When I removed the bottom portion of the stainless steel device to start scanning, I felt like I might break it.

I found that with the SlimScan, I had to have a slow, steady hand as I was rolling the device across a file, or the images wouldn’t scan properly. The first few images I scanned were cut off or missing lines of text as a result of this.

PlanOn’s software for the SlimScan, which is installed straight from the device, was confusing at first as well. The software doesn’t work on Macs, so in order to test it I installed the software on a laptop running Windows 7.

I initially had some trouble transferring files from the scanner to the SlimScam file-management system. The PlanOn software on my laptop would only recognize the files when I renamed them with a JPEG extension. It turned out I needed to install an additional software component in order for SlimScan to convert the files to readable files, and PlanOn suggested I upgrade the software running on the actual scanner as well. According to SlimScan, any SlimScan software earlier than version 4.3 needs to be updated, and my SlimScan was running version 3.8.

After I managed to import images of receipts, business cards and a portion of a book cover, I had the option to move the info to Contacts and export it to Outlook, among other things. Some of the scanned data from business cards didn’t transfer over to Contacts, though optical-recognition software often isn’t 100 percent accurate.

The $250 Xerox Mobile Scanner launched in January, and is comparable in size to the mobile scanner made by The Neat Company, which has been making digital filing and scanning products since 2003. The Xerox scanner can be set up to wirelessly share images, too.

The scanner is 11.5 inches by 2.75 inches by two inches, and weighs 1.5 pounds. Its expected battery life is 300 scans per charge. Like the SlimScan, it isn’t fully compatible with Macs, though Xerox says a Mac utility will be available soon. The Xerox scanner has ports in the back for a flash drive as well as an SD card, so you can scan directly to those, then transfer the files to your computer.

Getting set up to transfer files from the Xerox via Wi-Fi was a bit of a process. First, I inserted an Eye-Fi card, which comes with the scanner, into my laptop, and signed up for an account online. Then I moved the Eye-Fi card to the back of the scanner. I had to temporarily disable other nearby wireless networks so I could “train” my devices to use the Eye-Fi card as a wireless hotspot.

I also had to download a Xerox app for my smartphone if I wanted the files to wirelessly transfer to my phone.

But after all that, I was a scanning machine. The Xerox device scanned all of my business cards, receipts and documents well — and quickly. And files transferred seamlessly to both the Xerox mobile app on my phone and my Eye-Fi dashboard on my laptop. From there, I could email the files or share them with more than 25 productivity, social networking and picture sites.

If the Xerox app itself took photos, it would be the perfect mobile app companion to the hardware. The Xerox mobile scanner may be expensive and slightly less portable — and it probably won’t make tax season any more fun — but for scanning lots of documents and easy file transfers, it gets the job done.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus