Looking rather like Fujitsu have gutted a batch of bubblejet printers, ScanSnap brings new technology to a familiar package, and although the model number is longer than that of a Star Wars robot, this is the third iteration of this device. This latest version is £100 cheaper, and scans at almost twice the resolution of its predecessor.
Aimed at the small office or home, the scanner is incredibly simple to operate, with design following ‘Noah's principle', ports and buttons being provided in pairs. The two ports are located on the back, one for mains power and the other for USB2.0 and two operations buttons are located on the front, one for power and the other to activate the scanning function. To break this monotony of duos there are three dedicated applications supplied with the scanner, ScanSnap ‘Manager' controlling the functions of the scanner, and ScanSnap ‘Organizer V1.0' and ‘Card Minder 2.0', to arrange what's you've scanned.
The scanner's versatile enough to be able to handle paper sizes from Letter through to A3, although pages larger than A4 have to be folded in half and scanned inside a special carrier sheet, both sides being scanned simultaneously, using Duplex technology, and the resulting images being stuck together to give a single file. The carrier sheet can also used when small clippings are being scanned to keep little bits of paper from jamming up internal mechanisms. The scans, once created, can be moved and managed via the supplied ScanSnap ‘Organizer' software. Organizer allows the easy creation of file ‘Cabinets', ‘Organizer's' version of ‘albums', as well as offering a useful preview and e-mail facilities.
The scanner is calibrated via the ScanSnap ‘Manager' application, although certain type of pages require more tweaking than others to obtain decent results. Options can be altered to change the quantity of the scanning, which ranges from 150DPI to 660DPI for colour and 300DPI to 1200DPI in monochrome, as well as the level of file compression applied to the resulting PDFs. If the scan quality is low, and compression high, then the scanner can get through 15 sheets of A4 a minute, on the highest quality this drops to 0.5 pages per minute. The manager application also allows a number of programs to be selected as the default destination for the scans. The scanned images are stored as PDF files and both Adobe Acrobat versions 6 & 7 are supplied in the box, so you can load the version best suited to your PC operating system. While PDF files are a standard format, out of the 3 files I transferred from home to the office to include in this review only one could be opened at work and manipulated in Adobe Photoshop, so compatibility between systems may be an issue, especially as you need to reduce the PDF size for use online.
What's particularly impressive is the way in which the ScanSnap deals with business cards. Via the CardMinder software, simply press the scan button and a business card is scanned on both sides, in colour, and text recognition software places the clients name, company name, telephone number and e-mail address in the correct fields on a contact form. All the scanned entries are then arranged in alphabetical order, creating a contacts book. The text recognition is not perfect but out of the dozen cards tried, 9 were processed perfectly. If corrections need to be made, simply go into the contact entry and update any errors.
I struggled to find any gripes about this hardware. Lack of flexibility and customisation of the Manager application is the only one. Even on the highest setting of 1200DPI, a black & white print advert failed to come out with any depth of tone. This A4 image was originally printed in a magazine and when scanned and stored as a 16Mb file a better overall quality should have been attainable. Flatbed scanners running standard TWAIN acquire software allow the scan qualities DPI to be set in smaller increments, where as the ScanSnap simply uses ‘normal', ‘better', ‘best' and ‘excellent', offering no fine tuning. There is also no option to store the files in any format except PDF, which means that if you are trying to get images online you'll have to convert everything you've scanned in an application like Photoshop, which is time consuming.
Overall, If scanning business cards is your thing, or there are pages of typed A4 that you want to quickly convert to an electronic archive, then this could well be the answer to your prayers. If on the other hand you are after something that will generate high quality scans of pages, concentrating on fine detail of artwork then I think you will end up ultimately disappointed. The design is compact and naturally takes up a good deal less space than a flat-bed, but the limitations of only being able to scan paper based items cannot be overlooked. If Fujitsu had added in some method for scanning film negatives, or developed the complexity of the Manager application, then we're talking, but as it is, the ScanSnap seems a little light on features which might broaden the appeal.