Scanners, like printers, often get a bad rap — and for good reason. They sometimes stubbornly resist connecting to your computer, even if they’re physically connected to the machine, and require the user to install computer software that’s a pain to use.
If you’re nodding as you read this, there’s a solution for you. But there’s a catch: It costs $500.
I’m talking about the new NeatConnect scanner, from the Neat Company. Neat is known for making nifty scanners, like NeatDesk ($400) and NeatReceipts ($180), as well as a cloud-storage service for all those scanned files. But this is the first time the company has upgraded to a desktop scanner that requires no software downloads and connects wirelessly to your favorite cloud accounts.
I’ve been using the NeatConnect for the past week, and it definitely makes scanning less onerous. The set-up is the simplest I’ve experienced with a scanner, like the iPad of desktop scanners.
But did I mention that it’s $500? When I asked Neat who this product is meant for, the company said it is targeted at small-business owners or “chief information officers” in the home.
So if you’re the person who handles all of your family’s bills and paperwork, then this would be great for you. But if you’re someone who uses a handy mobile app once a month to scan your business expenses, this expensive product might not be necessary. I tested a couple other portable or wireless scanners last year, and while one was pretty much a piece of junk and the other required Eye-Fi cards to work wirelessly, there are options out there for less.
Also, the NeatConnect isn’t meant for photo scanning, and it’s recommended that you don’t even try to, because this type of scanner could damage photos. Lastly, I did experience a couple of glitches with NeatConnect. Scans sent directly to email were delayed, and the search function in Neat’s cloud-storage service didn’t work great for me.
From the front, the NeatConnect looks like a sleek, shiny white scale, propped up on an angle on a dark-gray plastic box. This is clearly not a “mobile” or portable scanner. But it’s not as large as a printer, and if you absolutely had to travel with it, as I did this past weekend, or cart it to a friend’s house, it wouldn’t be totally awkward.
The front of the scanner features a responsive vertical touchscreen, and there are three trays — for documents, receipts and business cards — at the top.
Setting up the NeatConnect was as easy as plugging it in, connecting it to my home Wi-Fi network using the touchscreen and signing up for a NeatCloud account. The first few months of NeatCloud are free with the NeatConnect; after that, you’ll end up paying anywhere from $5 a month to up to $25 a month, depending on whether you opt in to a personal account or a business one.
You don’t really need NeatCloud to use this particular scanner because, as I mentioned, it will scan all files directly to other cloud services of your choice, like Dropbox, SkyDrive, Evernote, Google Drive and Web-based email accounts. But I’ll get to that a bit.
NeatConnect’s user interface is pretty intuitive. Through Settings, you connect the scanner to non-Neat accounts. I connected to Evernote, Google Drive and Gmail, which took just a few seconds, once I typed in my account information. The only drawback is that the letter and number keys on the touchpad are pretty tiny.
There are menu options for color, one-sided or two-sided scans, and whether you want to combine your scans into one PDF or scan each one separately. Finally, there is an Outbox folder that lets you check the progress on items being sent, and also provides a really easy way for you to re-send scans.
So, if I sent something to Evernote but later on needed to send the same file via email, I could do that quickly from the scanner’s Outbox without having to scan the paperwork again.
You scan by pressing a giant orange “Scan” button on the touchscreen. NeatConnect allows you to scan up to 50 pages at once, and, in my experience, scanning multiple-page documents worked well (though I didn’t try scanning a 50-page pile). I could also easily scan a batch of four or five business cards, and even a handful of flimsy or wrinkled receipts.
Some manual file organization was still required after I scanned a bunch of items. For example, Neat says the NeatConnect will scan PDF files to the “root” or top notebook in your Evernote, but it wouldn’t scan to directly to my “September 2013 Expenses” notebook, so I ended up having to grab and move around those files myself afterward.
Neat says that one of the benefits of using their cloud is that it offers optical-recognition technology that will help make all those PDF files searchable for you.
But in my experience, the NeatCloud search was less than optimal. For example, after scanning a receipt from a coffee shop called University Cafe, I searched for “university” in NeatCloud, and it didn’t pull up the receipt. I also searched for “James,” clearly scanned from a business card, and that didn’t come up, either. Neat says this should be a temporary issue, as the company has recently been updating its cloud-storage system to make search work better.
Lastly, a couple of scans that I tried to send directly from the NeatConnect machine to email addresses took an hour to appear as “Sent” in my Gmail, and one recipient said she still hasn’t gotten the email.
But Neat says this is likely an issue with my service provider, because email data is processed differently than the data being sent from NeatConnect to other apps. And my Internet at home has been spotty lately. Sending to other cloud services from NeatConnect worked fine, and files arrived immediately.
NeatConnect will definitely cost you big bucks. But if you’re looking for a hassle-free scanner that’s easy to set up and does most of what it promises to do, the NeatConnect is it.