We may be in the digital age, but paper is still everywhere -- from the tiny receipts you save while traveling to invoices from vendors to that handwritten note from your favorite aunt. A page scanner can be handy solution to digitize and save all your hardcopy documents. Even better: The latest scanners have tie-ins with cloud storage services, so you can upload scanned content directly to the cloud.
However, methods used in scanning to the cloud can vary dramatically. I evaluated three very different scanners, each with its own angle on how to handle cloud services and how to handle the scanning experience as a whole.
All three contenders -- Brother's $300 ImageCenter ADS-1500W, The Neat Company's $500 NeatConnect and DCT's $159 SimpleScan DP -- support scanning directly to a host of popular cloud storage services. In addition, all have cloud storage services of their own for managing your scans independently.
Two of the three -- the Brother ADS-1500W and the NeatConnect -- have automatic document feeders, while one, the SimpleScan DP, is just a sheet-fed scanner. Two -- the Brother and the NeatConnect -- are optimized for scanning receipts and business cards. All three have software and services that already, or soon will, support ties into Intuit's QuickBooks.
How I tested
For all three scanners, I used the same set of business documents and papers, to see how each handled the challenge of scanning to a Toshiba KiraBook Ultrabook laptop and to the cloud.
I scanned a single page, a stack of a dozen pages (served up single-feed on the SimpleScan DP), a stack of 10 business cards (the same group of mixed paper stocks and types I used when reviewing business card apps), and a mixture of small receipts, from a thin taxi print-out to more sturdy but awkwardly sized restaurant receipts.
I tested each scanner's ability to connect with cloud services by sending them to Google Drive and Dropbox accounts. To test speed, I timed how long it took to scan a single page through each unit.
Which scanner is right for you? Read on.
The $300 Brother ImageCenter ADS-1500W wireless portable scanner has hooks into cloud services, and it packs a slew of power options. However, the software has an old-school interface design that impacts usability.
The scanner itself is built like a tank. It measures 11.2 x 4.1 x 3.3 in. and weighs 3.5 lb. That means the scanner is technically portable, but Brother refers to it as a desktop scanner -- and the truth is, only serious road warriors who have need of heavy-duty scanning would even consider toting what amounts to the weight of an extra laptop.
The Brother's cover opens up to become the automatic document feeder for up to 20 sheets. Guides let you choose how to adjust the paper guides for A4 letter and legal size paper (up to 35 in. long), B5, A5, and business card-width paper. Brother includes a long, narrow plastic sleeve so you can safely feed in receipts. (If you leave the cover down, you can still scan plastic ID cards using the slot at the rear right.) The scanner also offers a USB port (so you scan directly to USB) and a Kensington lock slot. The scanner connects to a computer via a mini-USB cable or 802.11n Wi-Fi.
Installation was simple. The scanner comes with an installation CD, but I downloaded the software from the website and ran through the full suite install; then I rebooted my PC and plugged in the scanner. I chose to set up via USB connection the first time around, but the second time I used the wireless network option; both worked smoothly.
The LCD interface: Convenient but confusing
A 2.7-in. color LCD on the scanner lets you initiate and route scans to your computer or the cloud; you can also initiate a scan from the included desktop software. Sadly, I wasn't impressed with the scanner's user interface. The display has a resistive touch screen that I found unresponsive and difficult to navigate. I'd often have to press an icon more than once before the display responded, or I'd press one button when intending to hit another.
These traits were complicated by the small, narrow onscreen keyboard buttons, and by the fact that the buttons often go right up to the edge of the display, leaving little room between them and the plastic bezel that surrounds the display.
The scanner's top-level menu has a set of six icons, with preset shortcuts for scanning to FTP, network, computer system, USB drive, email server and Web. You can't reorder the icons and some -- like Scan to network -- prompt you to configure them via "Web Based Management" on your computer, an odd entreaty considering there's only an option for Remote Management, not Web Based Management, among the included utilities. (It turned out that "Web Based Management" referred to the act of opening a Web browser and manually entering your system's IP address in order to manage the scanner).
Beneath the icons, there's a button that leads to your own shortcuts -- you can set up to 12. While having the option to set up your own shortcuts is handy, it's also annoying that you can't replace one of the preset icons in the carousel with your own shortcut of choice.