Three document scanners: Move your data from paper to pixels

Desktop scanners from Brother, Fujitsu and Panasonic make it simple to store your hardcopy documents.

While the dream of a paper-free world has yet to materialize (assuming it ever will), using scanners to store digital copies of hardcopy documents has become de rigueur for most businesses, from enterprise-level operations to single-person startups.

It has also become a solution for individuals who need to keep their house -- and their tax statements -- in order. "These devices are marketed as the antidote to clutter," says Anne Valaitis, director for image scanning trends at market research firm InfoTrends. "Anything scanned takes up no space and hard drives have never been cheaper."

As a result, the desktop scanner market is growing quickly. According to InfoTrends, 685,000 units were sold in North America in 2011, the last year the firm has complete figures for. Of those, 300,000 units -- nearly half -- were entry-level devices that scan between 16 and 30 pages per minute (ppm). Valaitis forecasts entry-level scanner volume could rise to 395,000 units this year and continue growing for the foreseeable future.

In this roundup, I look at three of the latest desktop document scanners -- devices designed specifically for scanning and storing a variety of single-sheet documents: the Brother ImageCenter ADS-2500W, the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 and the Panasonic KV-S1015C.

High-end features

These are not simple one-sheet-at-a-time scanners. These desktop devices have been designed to scan a small pile of documents quickly and efficiently; as a result, they include many of the features that once could only be found in higher-end business devices.

For example, all three have a single-pass document path that scans both sides of a sheet at once. You can also scan originals to a variety of file formats (such as PDFs, Microsoft Word DOC files or various graphic file types). And you can decide the quality of the scan; for example, you can do a basic monochrome scan for use with an optical character recognition (OCR) application (and most scanners include OCR software with their software package), a 200dpi grayscale scan for archiving business receipts or a 600dpi color scan for photos and other color documents.

Document scanners don't take up a lot of desktop space -- like origami, they fold. Scanners open to deliver an automatic document feeder (ADF) at one end and a tray for the scanned items at the other. Each of the three scanners reviewed here comes with a 50-sheet document feeder and a top optical resolution of 600dpi.

In other ways, however, they are very different. For example, the Panasonic has three preset buttons assigned to different scan profiles for different types of documents, while the Fujitsu ScanSnap has a minimalist single scan button. Meanwhile, the Brother ImageCenter offers a small color touch display with up to eight scan profiles. You can also use the display to choose where to send your scan.

All three of the scanners include a variety of software that allows you to organize your scans. The Brother ImageCenter offers applications for the widest number of devices: It can work with Windows PCs, Macs and Linux computers as well as Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices. The Fujitsu ScanSnap works with Windows, OS X, iOS and Android, while the Panasonic currently works only with Windows.

All of the scanners let you save your output to the cloud, using online storage repositories like Dropbox.

None of these are inexpensive -- two of the scanners reviewed here list for $495 and the other goes for about $800. If you only need to scan the occasional tax document or photo, you'd probably be better off with an all-in-one device or even a smaller mobile scanner. But when it comes to cleaning up the paper clutter in the typical office, one of these desktop scanners can help do the trick with speed and grace.

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