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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NeatConnect

The Neat Company's NeatConnect scanner takes the hassle out of digitizing the paper lying about your desk and sending it to your Mac or Windows PC or any of nine cloud services. It's a stylish, thoughtfully designed device whose biggest flaw is its hefty $500 price.

The NeatConnect is a stylish, slanted desktop scanner that's designed to fit well in a work or home environment. The wedge-like device stands 7.5 in. tall and requires a minimal footprint, measuring 11 x 8.7 in. (though you'll need a little extra space to accommodate the paper guide that extends from the automatic document feeder, plus another 7 in. for the pull-out paper output tray).

NeatConnect
NeatConnect

The slanted face of the scanner is defined by its 3.5-in. LCD touch display and its three distinct paper slots at top. Each slot is labeled to represent the most likely document type you'd use it for: Documents, Receipts and Cards.

"Documents" is intended for letter- or legal-size pages measuring 8.7 in. wide and up to 30 in. long. The Documents section is the only one of the three to have an adjustable paper guide, and this moves smoothly and easily. For full-size documents, an extension pulls out from behind.

"Receipts" accepts paper up to 3.5 in. wide, good for the typical receipt and wide enough to accommodate a boarding pass. "Cards" is intended for -- you guessed it -- business cards and other papers measuring up to 1.5 in. wide. Each paper slot supports up to 15 pages.

You can remove the top plastic paper tray that contains the slot (magnets make it easy to remove and replace) and use the ADF beneath to scan up to 50 sheets (which can measure up to 8.7 x 30 in.).

Setup

The NeatCompany did a terrific job with the setup and getting started process. Everything, from the box's packaging -- with its neatly labeled components inside -- to the setup wizard offered a good user experience. Getting started is easy: Just push the large power button at back, and you'll get a display that looks like that on a mobile phone, with clear, large finger targets and modern text design. You sign into your network, sign up for a NeatCloud account (if you don't already have one), and then get a quick walkthrough of the scanner's abilities.

The walkthrough wizard actually mimics what it's like to do an actual scan. There are different options you can choose before starting a scan: color or grayscale, one-sided or two-sided, and whether each page should be scanned as a separate document or as a group. NeatConnect will remember these settings for subsequent scans, but you can change them as needed. (Which I found handy, since I'd often forget to change whether I wanted to scan my documents as a group.)

After you've completed an initial test scan, the onscreen wizard guides you to find the Neat Mobile App for iOS or Android. The wizard even serves up QR codes to simplify the download. But don't get too attached to the app: It will only be useful to you if you sign up for the NeatCloud service.

As terrific as the initial setup wizard is, the one thing missing is a direct path to walk you through setting up additional destinations. While this is simple enough to do under the settings menu -- the option is easy to find -- it would have been nice to have this built into the setup process. SkyDrive (soon to be OneDrive), Box, Dropbox, Evernote and Google Drive are all presets, as are AOL, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Hotmail, so all you do is select the service and add your login info.

Scans are automatically named with the date, which is of limited help; I appreciate automation, but would have liked the option to add a name of my choice. (A Neat representative says this is coming later this quarter.)

After you've made the aforementioned scan choices, just choose your destination from the onscreen menu -- you computer, Neat's own NeatCloud service, or another cloud service such as Google Drive -- hit scan, then hit send once the page thumbnails appear (you can tap each to crop, rotate or delete a page). Scans sent wirelessly show up in the scanner's outbox, an onboard repository of your scan activities so you can verify they were sent successfully.

The device scans to NeatCloud as a PDF at a default of 300dpi; all other cloud services can be sent as JPG, TIFF, BMP, GIF or PNG files with scan densities at 150dpi, 200dpi or 600dpi.

Scan to the cloud or your computer

With NeatConnect, using the included USB cable to connect the scanner to your PC is purely optional. The scanner is designed to work via Wi-Fi with a variety of Web storage and email services such as Gmail or Yahoo. In fact, my favorite way to use NeatConnect was in this way -- the resistive touchscreen LCD was intuitive and responsive, and made it easy to scan documents to PDF files and send them to a service such as Google Drive or Dropbox.

When the scanner is connected to a computer via USB, scans default to being sent to the Neat Desktop software (if you want a PDF, you must manually export the document from the desktop). The software performs OCR on files, so you can easily search documents, but it doesn't make documents editable. Neat Desktop includes a TWAIN driver, so you can use the scanner with other software.

I was disappointed by the lack of additional bundled software beyond the Neat Desktop. Specifically, I found the lack of a full OCR engine annoying.

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