A paperless office might seem an unattainable goal, like perpetual motion, cold fusion or alchemy. While sheet-fed USB portable scanners can’t turn paper into gold, they can make tax time a bit easier and bring that paperless office dream a little closer to becoming a reality. But which portable scanning solution is right for you?
One of the most heavily promoted products in this field is the $199 Neat Receipts scanner. You can’t open a magazine or go through an airport without seeing a Neat Receipts ad. As the name suggests, it deals with receipts amazingly well. Be sure to get the right version (Windows (s msft) or Mac (s aapl)), as it is not cross-platform.
When scanning a receipt, the software parses the vendor, amount, tax category and more, and keeps the information stored in a custom database; no more shoe boxes of receipts for the accountant. The scanner comes with its own carrying case and is the smallest of scanners I tested: 10.8” by 1.6” by 1.3”, weighing in at only 10.6 oz, which makes it perfect for scanning receipts while traveling. No matter how crumpled or tiny the receipt was, Neat Receipts had no problem scanning it.
Outside of receipts, however, the software can be a bit difficult to use. While scans can be set to automatically export to folders, documents are normally stored in the database and not accessible to the OS. Scanning business cards directly into the address book is possible, but beyond receipts and business cards, Neat Receipts performs poorly as a general scanner. Optical character recognition (OCR) built into the Neat Receipts software does not accurately convert scanned documents, although it works well on receipts and business cards. If you live and die by your expense report or business cards, run out and buy a Neat Receipt scanner. Otherwise, check out one of the other scanners below.
If you can get over Doxie‘s over-the-top cuteness, it’s not a bad product. This scanner weighs slightly more than the Neat Receipts model at 10.9 ounces, and it’s bigger at 11.5” by 2.0” by 1.6”. It has a rounded design making it more difficult to properly fit in a bag.
As a scanner, the Doxie performed adequately on pictures and documents. It did have some problems with small receipts as it didn’t always engage the sheet feed option, and crumpled receipts would sometimes get stuck. It’s slightly curved paper path could warp pictures, so I’d be careful scanning anything valuable.
Doxie’s “cloud” function allows scanning directly to services such as Evernote, Google Docs, Flickr and Picasa, among many others. OCR is carried out by Google Docs, for which Doxie warns it can’t accept responsibility, and notes that Google puts unspecified limits on the amount of items that it will convert. Fortunately, Doxie can also scan directly to a local folder for conversion by a third-party program. If you are scanning mostly documents and take reasonable care with any receipts you want to scan, the Doxie provides great value at $149.
Fujitsu Scansnap S1100
The scanner I fell in love with was the $199 the Fujitsu Scansnap S1100. While Fujitsu’s Scansnap brand has dominated the mid-range desktop sheet-fed scanner market, it hasn’t had a mobile product until recently. The S1100 is scanning powerhouse that fits into a 10.74” by 1.87” by 1.33” package weighing 12.3 ounces. Of the three scanners, this one scanned the fastest and handled anything I threw at it with aplomb. The included software, similar to Doxie, scans to Evernote and Google Docs, but also provides OCR (via ABBYY Finereader) for conversion to Word or Excel.
The design of the scanner is truly unique as it supports both a straight-through and curved paper path, so your precious documents don’t literally go through the wringer, and documents are less likely to get stuck. If they do get stuck, however, the Scansnap allows you to easily open the scanner assembly for removal. This is such a simple design feature, but anyone who has had their scanner grind up a document will really appreciate it.
If your primary goal is scanning documents, Doxie is good value. If pictures, receipts and other smaller and delicate items are part of your paperless goals, the Neat Receipts and the Scansnap S1100 are a better choice. My preference was the Scansnap with its optional paper paths and easy paper removal. If you need to scan receipts and want the Scansnap, it’s not a problem as Neat Receipts sells its software separately for $79.95 and it supports the Scansnap.
While it seems that paper will always be a part of our lives, these sheet-fed portable scanners can at least make your tracking of valuable deductions and other paperwork easier for your accountant.
Disclosure: Neat Receipts and Fujitsu both provided free samples for this test, while the Doxie was returned at the end of review. Thus, Dave can’t deduct the cost of any of these items on his 2011 taxes.