With the iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini and iPod touch nudging us toward a post-PC society, Neat’s cloud-based scanning solution makes a great gift for the busy Apple(s AAPL) device owner that needs less paper and more mobility in their daily life. I’ve already written about the Neat scanner solution, and I’m a fan. Neat sent me a NeatDesk scanner for review as well as a complimentary subscription to Neat Cloud. I took them for a test drive to see how they compare to other existing options such as Evernote or OneReceipt and found it a great option for road warriors who must keep track of receipts.
The sheet feed NeatDesk scanner handled up to 50 sheets of paper at once, as well as crumpled receipts and dog-eared business cards. I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of jams despite my less-than-delicate treatment of documents. And when an occasional jam occurred due to an oddly shaped document, the item was easy to remove without damage.
Neat’s primary market is receipt scanning for those of us that have expense reports or who itemize our taxes. The company has since expanded to general document management for recipes, business cards, contracts and pretty much anything on paper.
The NeatCloud service starts at $5.99 a month for basic service for one user. You can synchronize scanned items from your Mac, PC, iPad or iPhone to the cloud service allowing automatic backup and access from a browser. If you need a receipt you’ve scanned to be emailed to accounting, you can access any of the items from your browser for reviewing, emailing or printing. The Home Business Plan ($14.99) adds remote access via the Neat Mobile app for iPhone, iPad(s AAPL) and Android(s GOOG). The Mobile app allows you to take pictures and have them uploaded to the cloud and synchronized with your devices. Neat will perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on items in order to make them searchable but the results are not exportable.
For an additional $4.99 the Neat Verify service add-on to NeatCloud looks at receipts and business cards and gives you the option to have an actual person read the scanned item and make sure the data is as accurate as possible. The $4.99 plan includes 30 verified scans and for $8.99 you get 60 verified scans. In my tests, accuracy of the automatic OCR was good enough to get the raw information, such as the purchase amount, but I had to manually add a tip or sometimes the business name. The Neat Verify feature got all the data every time.
Without Neat Verify, the service is extremely similar to Evernote and, at first glance, I saw no reason to not simply use Evernote for all of this. Evernote gives searchable access to anything scanned or photographed. NeatCloud allows you to connect your Google, Evernote and Dropbox accounts to search their databases for information as well but you cannot import directly from those services. This universal search was handy for information I was already storing with these services.
The Neat Cloud service differs from other cloud services such as Evernote because of its complete solution and ease of use. Similar to Apple’s solution of marrying hardware, software and services, Neat provides the scanner, the software, the cloud service and mobile app making it a true all-in-one solution. Evernote’s system is an excellent solution but has limits to exporting individual items and limited file formats for export. OneReceipt does a great job of tracking receipts and doing OCR on them, but it’s limited to just receipts while Neat Cloud includes any type of document.
Neat, given its history, really excels at tracking receipts for expense reports, but is great for anything in paper you need to track.. In this post-PC era in which we travel more with tablets and smartphones rather than laptops, the actual Neat scanner hardware is less important because we can’t easily scan on the road. The Neat Cloud service and its mobile app allows you to scan receipts anywhere at anytime for expense reports. The Home Business plan supports two users and the Business plan supports five users making it easy to let someone else do the paperwork while you are on the road.
Overall the Neat Cloud service is a welcome addition to the Neat product line and, for some people, can replace the desktop hardware and software solution.