NEAT Receipts: Scanner In Your Pocket

ScreenshotNEAT Receipts has been selling their pint-sized scanners and associated software for about five years now. Recently they put out an “advanced release” of their Mac software – the “advanced” part because it doesn’t yet have all the features of their established PC software. But it has plenty of useful features, and I took a review unit for a spin to see how well they worked. The scanner, along with the associated software, retails for $179.95 directly from the company; you may be able to beat that price slightly through a retailer.

The actual scanner is indeed small enough to tuck into a large pocket, though you’ll probably want to put it in a bag with your laptop instead: about 11″ x 2″ x 1″. The software install was simple and (apart from requiring a reboot) painless. After that, the scanner connects to your Mac via a single USB cable. Put in a piece of paper, press the “scan” button, and your document is scanned, OCR’d, and put into the dedicated database that the software creates. There’s also a “PDF” button the creates an external PDF copy of whatever you’re scanning.

The scanner accommodates documents up to 8 1/2″ wide, and there doesn’t seem to be a particular length limitation. It can manage thin cardstock as well as single sheets, though I wouldn’t want to try putting something like a credit card through it. It appears to be quite well constructed, and I wouldn’t worry about it getting damaged through average web worker transportation (like getting tossed into a bag in an overhead bin).

The scanning speed is adequate for personal use, though a small business might end up pushing its limits. A full 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet with a bunch of printing on it took about 15 seconds to scan, and another 30 seconds for the software to trim and OCR the image and build a PDF out of it. Scanning isn’t blocked during the latter process. The OCR works well; searching quickly brought up documents I was looking for based on a single word. I would have liked to see the preview of the document highlight the found text, though.

The NEAT Receipts application offers reasonable basic functionality: storing documents in collections, creating “smart collections” (saved searches), adding metadata to documents (so you can categorize them, put in a vendor ID, or whatever else you like). One nice touch is the ability to sync any collection in the application to an external folder, with PDF copies of scanned documents ending up in the external folder.

Compared to the PC version, the software is missing a few features: if you’re working on a PC, you get a business card module and exporting to financial software. But NEAT Receipts say they’ll be putting out a new release in early 2009 with feature parity, and existing customers will get a free upgrade.

For its target market – the computer user on the go who needs a thoroughly portable scanner with good software for filing things – NEAT Receipts looks like a good fit. If you’re deskbound much of the time, or have a large volume of paper to deal with, you may want to look at something with a multi-sheet feeder, like the Fujitsu ScanSnap, instead. But as a tool for getting closer to the paperless traveling office at a good price, NEAT Receipts is definitely a winner.

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