QR codes are popping up everywhere in the U.S. In case you aren’t familiar with the tech, a QR code is a type of barcode which is square and is made up of a complicated pattern of black and white dots. You can find them in magazines, on business cards, and even on billboards. When read with a camera and the right software, the code magically becomes a phone number, a URL, contact information and more.
Many feature phones from other parts of the world have QR readers built-in, but not the iPhone (s aapl). Fortunately, we have the App Store. I tested a whole range of different QR reader iPhone apps, and picked out five of the best. All are free to download. I tested each with three QR codes representing different content: a phone number, a piece of text (The quick brown fox…), and a URL (http://theappleblog.com).
#5: QR App
The interface for QR App can be a little confusing; in scan mode, what looks like the standard camera app shows up, making it seem as though you have to press the shutter button then the Use button. However, this isn’t the case — if the app detects a QR code anywhere in its view, it’ll automatically take the photo and read the barcode. I did have some trouble getting it to recognize codes sometimes, though.
Another annoyance I had with QR App was that the app will automatically open Safari or the Phone app without prompt f the code contains a URL or a phone number. Sometimes I like to be able to grab the information, but use it later on. The app does save a history of the codes you read, but I just don’t like the way it switches apps without asking permission first.
#4: i-nigma 4
There are two versions of i-nigma: i-nigma 4 for devices running iOS 4 and the other made for iOS 3. Like QR App, i-nigma saves a history of the codes you’ve read. However, i-nigma has a few sharing options for the codes in your history. You can display the code itself on your device’s screen for someone else to scan, or you can share on Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, sharing on social networks requires closing the app and opening the i-nigma website in Safari.
i-nigma has a few limited customization options: You can change the sound which plays when you scan a code, choose whether codes are automatically saved in the history, and whether you want URLs to be launched instantly or not. You can also save phone numbers you pick up into your contacts. It’s not the most flexible of apps, but it also isn’t the worst.
I’ll start with a downside to TapReader: when you launch the app for the first time, you need to give it an email address and set up a password, which it says is so that your QR codes are saved to your account for later viewing. However, the app has a local archive of recent QR codes, so I don’t see the need for an account.
My favourite feature of TapReader is that, although it can be a little hard to find at first, there’s a mode where you can scan multiple codes in succession without visiting the archive between scans. There may not be many occasions where you need to scan more than one code in a row, but at events like trade shows where you might be meeting a lot of people at once, it could come in handy.
There are also some settings in the app which allow you to turn off sound and vibration, and to decide which data types automatically launch other apps. This is good if you’d like phone numbers to automatically dial, for instance, but you don’t want URLs to open automatically.
#2: QR Scanner
Coming in at an extremely close second, QR Scanner is fast; you don’t have to align the code with the scanner on-screen; and it has settings similar to TapReader’s, which allow you to customise the apps which automatically launch when you scan a code. In its Recent Scans view, you can tap an item and have the option to open it with the appropriate app (it even suggests View on Map for addresses), or copy it to the clipboard.
The only reason QR Scanner falls to second is because of its interface. To put it simply, it’s ugly. Look at the screenshots in the gallery below for proof. Other than that, I can’t fault the app, but when it comes down to it, this is an iPhone, so I expect my apps to look good and work well.
The developers of QR Reader for iPhone got it exactly right. It’s the quickest to scan out of the five apps; it has a huge range usability and sharing options; and it also looks good.
When you read a code, the app will show you a “details” view which allows you to launch another app to open the information, except text and URLs, which both open within the app itself. For URLs, there’s a built-in web browser which cuts out the need for launching Safari. There are ads within the web browser view, but that’s a small price to pay with an app as nice as this.
Tapping Share in the details view brings up a list of ways to get the information out of the app, including email, Facebook, Twitter and Copy to Clipboard. The Facebook and Twitter options post to the service without leaving the app, so once you’ve logged in the first time, it’s a one-step process from then on.
Like I said, QR Reader for iPhone is the best app of the five, so if you’re going to download just one code reader, make it this one. Happy scanning!
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):