Review: 3 new scanners store your documents in the cloud

Today's scanners keep your documents safe by sending them either to your hard drive or your favorite cloud storage service. We look at three of the latest.

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Software

The CD that comes with the scanner contains Brother Utilities, a launcher from which you access Brother's Web-based services, local scanner management utilities, manuals and the Control Center 4 application that serves as your scanning activity hub.

You also get a wealth of third-party applications: Windows users get Nuance PDF Converter Professional 8, Nuance PaperPort 12SE and Presto BizCard 6 software, while Mac users get Presto PageManager 9 and Brother's Control Center 2 for Mac. Windows users can also separately download Brother's BR-Receipts software, handy for scanning and organizing receipts, generating expense reports and exporting data to Intuit's QuickBooks and Quicken.

(Note: Although the Brother website says that the full software suite download gives you a copy of everything you'd get from the CD, the Brother Utilities and Control Center software are actually the only applications you get in the installer download.)

Unfortunately, Brother Utilities is badly organized, confusing and not at all well integrated with its variety of features. For example, the Brother Utilities launcher contains four tabs -- Scan, Tools, Use More and Support -- each of which includes several icons. The Scan tab has three icons: one that offers access to Control Center 4, the main scanning application; one that leads to the Windows Scanners and Camera setting; and one that links to a website called How to Scan.

The Use More tab is where the important Web Connect link -- which lets you set up direct scans to Web services -- is buried. The link leads to a generic webpage with a warning that the "services available for your machine may vary depending on the model and firmware version of your machine." Clearly, this site is intended to service multiple Brother models, but it left me with the impression that the Web Connect options are not well integrated with the scanner.

Click on the service you want to set up (Evernote, Dropbox, Facebook, Flickr, SkyDrive, Box, Google Drive or Picasa), enter your login info to give the scanner access and the Web Connect service returns a code. You then have to enter that code on the scanner's LCD by drilling down to the Connect to Web option and tapping on the corresponding service.

All of this takes a lot of effort to configure. However, once it's done, you can then label the account with a name, which opens the door for multiple accounts under a given cloud service -- convenient if, say, you have more than one Dropbox account or if you're sharing the scanner with other users. In addition, you can create an optional PIN number for a cloud account. Features like this make the Brother ADS-1500W viable for sharing in a department or small workgroup.

Some of the other utilities include a Status Monitor that tells you if the scanner is online or offline, and a much more useful link to Brother's website for troubleshooting and for buying supplies.

One note of advice: When you first open the Control Center 4 application (again, found via the Scan tab in Brother Utilities), you're asked to choose between Home Mode and Advanced Mode. Advanced Mode, ironically, felt easier to use: It had clearly labeled icons and screens that are more concise and friendly in design than the Home Mode.

Test results

For all of my issues with the disjointed interface and software, I found the scanner worked well enough once I navigated through those issues. The Brother can get scan jobs of all types done well -- and its generous software package gives you the tools to do things with your scanned documents. Scans fed through quickly, and scan quality looked good at the default settings, with reasonable sharpness and clarity.

Using the included Control Center software, it took six seconds to scan a single page at the default 300 dots per inch (dpi) -- it can scan up to 600 dpi -- and another 35 seconds to upload the file to Dropbox. Scanning to PC went much more quickly. When the same page was scanned via the LCD interface, the Brother took 4 seconds to prepare to scan, then 6 seconds to complete the scan to PDF on my PC.

It deposited the file in a Control Center folder in My Pictures. You can also make a host of adjustments (resolution, paper type, etc.) prior to initiating a scan by using the Control Center Software.

I occasionally had issues with the scanner feeding full-size pages through straight, but that was not the norm -- and was more an issue when I was scanning single pages or pages with folds in them (as on a hotel invoice). I had no issues with a stack of business cards. The device includes a plastic sleeve for scanning small, thin papers, like receipts.

The scanner has drivers for TWAIN and Windows Imaging Acquisition, as well as more specialized protocols like ICA, ISIS, and SANE. It also supports a slew of network protocols, making this scanner a good choice if it's going into a corporate network environment.

Bottom line

If you need maximum performance and versatility, the ADS-1500W delivers it in spades, even if many of the tasks require more steps than you'd expect to complete, due to the software's somewhat problematic user interface.

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