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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SimpleScan's computer software offers four tabs at top: Capture, Route, Access and Support. After installation, SimpleScan drops new users into the Route tab to link up your choice of the aforementioned cloud services. Simply select the service you want and provide your login information. SimpleScan will then set up what it calls a "connector" (known in common parlance as a link) between the cloud service and the SimpleScan service.

After this initial visit to the Route tab, you'll log in directly to the Capture tab, a start page that's divided into four sections. At the top of the page are your destinations (by default, simply Local Docs and Mail, for use with local email clients only); to the right, a status display showing the scanner is connected; and beneath sits the document container, which holds the thumbnails of scanned pages for your review, before you send the pages off to your destination.

To start a scan, you just have to choose the destination. You'll next get the chance to use an auto-generated name (including the date) or to rename the file. The ability to easily and organically rename the file with something meaningful is very useful, and something that the NeatConnect can't do as of this writing, at least not when you initiate the scan directly from the scanner's LCD.

SimpleScan also offers iOS and Android apps that allow you to upload photos of documents to the SimpleScan Connect cloud service (or to one of several other cloud services).

Test results

It took eight seconds to scan a single page and see the image appear in the Web interface. As soon as the single sheet was done, I could continue to feed sheets to the scanner as needed; the scanner scans both sides simultaneously. The speed was adequate, but I had trouble making sure pages scanned straight.

I also found the scans were darker and not as sharp as my originals. If I changed the scan settings from the default "color" to black and white, a black and white page scanned lighter, and with better text clarity (and fuzzier image clarity). You can also adjust for paper size, auto-detect and remove a blank page (such as the flipside of a single-sided scan), and adjust the dpi setting; but you can't adjust contrast and brightness. And the calibration feature didn't work at all; it kept prompting to scan the blank paper, but wouldn't go beyond that step.

I found this scanner best at handling full-size pages. It will accept business cards and small receipts, but only if they're inserted flush to the right side, and you may have to deal with cropping or straightening after the fact (the auto-cropping did not work well in my experience). SimpleScan has a connector coming for business cards, but it wasn't ready as of this writing and the company couldn't confirm when to expect it.

Once scanned, the pages show as thumbnails waiting for approval. You can delete, rotate and reorder images before sending them to their appropriate destination.

While I appreciated the straightforward interface language and icons, I disliked some aspects of the software. Among my nits: the Web interface doesn't have the ability to edit or adjust the scans, and the interface doesn't scale to take full advantage of different display sizes. Most annoying: While tending to a phone call, my session expired and I was signed out of my SimpleScan account, with no visual cue or warning. That meant when I tried to send the images I scanned, the "send" button didn't respond, and I had no visual indication of what the problem was.

The SimpleScan cloud service can handle OCR, but you need to choose that specific destination for the document to become editable text. For example, all OCR-capable services also have a non-OCR destination; only the one labeled as "OCR" will get you editable end results.

The service has two tiers: a free service and Premium service that costs $5 per month (the scanner includes one year of Premium for free). Both allow you to add an unlimited number of cloud connectors. The free account limits you to 30 scan uploads per month, while the Premium allows 1,000. The free account also limits the number of OCR'd pages to 3 per month vs. 40 per month with the Premium account.

The Premium account supports invoice processing to Prizm Capture and Intuit's QuickBooks, and sending outgoing faxes to Efax -- a particularly handy feature. According to the company, document conversion to editable Word and Excel files is coming, as is converting business cards for use with contact management systems, but the company didn't confirm timing when asked.

Bottom line

The SimpleScan DP is reasonably priced and lives up to its goal of simplicity, but the limitations of its Web interface frustrate and are inefficient to use. It's light enough for road warriors to tote and could be useful when in the field, especially given some of the cloud connection options.

But those with high volume, or multiple paper sources (such as receipts and business cards in addition to documents) will be better served looking elsewhere. They may also want to consider the company's new SimpleScan ADF model, whose upright design is closer to that of the NeatConnect.

Conclusions

With these three scanners, you get three very different paths to the cloud. All have something to recommend them. SimpleScan DP has some of the best hooks into cloud services and is the most portable of the bunch. The NeatConnect thrives on the PC-free experience. And the Brother ImageCenter ADS-1500W has enough network and driver options that it will work in the largest variety of enterprise environments.

Of the three, I found NeatConnect's pleasing aesthetic design and efficient interface made it the most appealing and functional of the lot, although its high price and lack of included full-bore OCR software is somewhat frustrating. Meanwhile, those who want a flexible and configurable scanner (and who can deal with its complex interface) may want to check out the Brother, and travelers could do a lot worse than try the SimpleScan SP.

Melissa J. Perenson is a freelance writer and an avid user of the gadgets and mobile gear she writes about.

This article, Review: 3 new scanners store your documents in the cloud, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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