Portable Scanners Blaze a Paper Trail

Sleek, light devices digitize documents, business cards and receipts.

April 13, 2010— -- In 1994, more than a decade before the makers of the Flip Video camcorder turned video capture on its head, a startup called Visioneer sought to do the same to the scanner market with a product called the PaperMax.

So narrow that it could sit between a keyboard and monitor, the PaperMax was designed to digitize all the random bits of paper that PCs were supposed to have eliminated, but instead have proliferated. Nowadays, scanning capabilities have been built into many multifunction printers.

Nonetheless, according to NPD's Retail Tracking Service, overall scanner sales increased 18 percent in 2009. And the PaperMax paved the way to a number of portable scanners available today.

The Neat Company's $200 NeatReceipts scanner can accommodate a wide array of scanning tasks, such as scanning business cards or translating documents directly to PDF via a dedicated button, but it is optimized for capturing receipts.

NeatWorks Software Includes IRS Tax Information in Database

NeatWorks can recognize receipt totals, sending expense information to a range of software products such as Quicken, Excel and TurboTax. The software is well organized and easy to use, but sections of it can be slow to launch at first.

The NeatWorks software even includes IRS tax information in its receipt databases, making it an ideal organization aid for tax time. But parts of the software can be slow to load initially.

For those who have large volumes of receipts or other information to scan, The Neat Company also offers the $400 NeatDesk, a larger version of the scanner that includes fast scanning and separate loading trays for scanning up to 10 documents, receipts and business cards in one scanning session. The tray can be removed to accommodate 50 full-sized sheets.

Range of Mobile Scanners Available to Tame Paper Tigers

Plustek's MobileOffice AD450 (about $250) is one of the latest in the company's broad family of scanners in different form factors. What sets it apart from other portable scanners is its automatic document feeder, which allows it to scan multiple sheets of paper without them having to be individually fed.

The AD450 can be powered using a USB port, but in that case you must use two USB ports -- one for power and one for the data connection. The Plustek scanner comes with a number of applications that can take some time to sort out.

Plustek's automatic document feeder also adds a fair amount of size and weight to the device compared to Plustek's mobile sheet-fed scanners, and holds only a few sheets anyway. Still, Plustek includes a protective case for keeping everything organized, and it can be a timesaver if you need to diminish your paper load on the road.

Apparent's $129 Doxie scanner is festooned with pink hearts, which may be a reflection of its love of cloud-based services. The product, which should ship by the end of April, can work with both Macs and PCs and can tap into a wide range of Web sites that focus on sharing photos and documents.

Among these are Flickr, the popular photo sharing site Scribd, a "YouTube for documents," Picasa, the photo management software program and Web site created by Google, and Evernote, the note-capture program available on Macs, PCs, and several smartphones such as the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android devices.

Whether you're looking to capture expenses in time for taxes or share your latest screenplay, the variety of affordable mobile scanners now available are sure to tame the paper tigers stalking your work space.

Ross Rubin (@rossrubin on Twitter) is executive director of industry analysis at The NPD Group (@npdtech on Twitter). He blogs at The NPD Group Blog as well as his own blog, Out of the Box.