Requirements: Mac OS X 10.2.8, 1.25 GHz G4, 512 of RAM, USB. Universal.
Recommended: 1.6 GHz G5, USB 2.0.
Like many serious computer users of all platforms, the concept of a paperless office has often occurred to me as something of a pipe dream. As much as I love the idea, I had been fairly convinced that anything close to a realization was a long way off.
When I first heard about Fujitsu’s ScanSnap, however, the brass ring of a (nearly) paperless office seemed within reach for the first time. As I have two four-drawer filing cabinets (both about three-quarters full) sitting beside my desk, plus another four drawers’ worth of files in other places around the house, I would love to see these scale down a bit (or completely).
Where the ScanSnap is different is in the purposeful design. Most scanners are either flatbed scanners, designed primarily for photos, and able to handle documents primarily for duplication purposes—not for archives or searchable replicants; or they are scanners built into a multi-function printer, and the scanner is again geared toward copying or faxing a document. A dedicated document scanner that easily handles any size paper up to 8.5 inches wide is a completely different tool.
What’s in the Box
The ScanSnap comes ready to use: of course the scanner itself and a power cable are included, and it also includes a six-foot USB cable and bundled software.
The ScanSnap atop one of my (soon to be vanquished) file cabinets.
Though the price is well above most home/consumer scanners, the return on investment is immediate: ScanSnap is bundled with Adobe Acrobat Standard (though version 7.0 came with mine, not the latest version 8.0) and ReadIris Pro 11. With Acrobat selling for $299 and ReadIris Pro for $129, you could say the scanner itself only costs $65—though that would imply a value far below its worth. The real return on investment will come on the hours saved by what this scanner offers.
When it comes to a scanner of this sort, the usefulness is limited only by the imagination of the user. This could be the solution to a household that has trouble maintaining adequate records for tax preparation, a way to archive all of the family recipes, or finally getting the business cards you keep in a Rolodex entered into Address Book or Entourage. It could be a tool for academic research or data mining. What papers do you have stacks of at your house? You could probably figure out a way to use the ScanSnap to get them quickly stored on your computer.
As for the included software—this is a true bargain. To begin with, Adobe Acrobat is a great tool to have on-hand for many reasons. Combined with the ScanSnap, any paper form—an application, a job information form, a report—now becomes an editable document while preserving all graphical and layout elements. With Acrobat, it’s easy to combine PDFs, make comments or add elements, or apply watermarks. A lot of these could be done with good OCR and a robust word processor or layout tool, but Acrobat makes it easy and a lot less painful.
Those early adopters, whose introduction to Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology coincided with the rise in availability of scanners in the late 1990s, will likely be predisposed skeptics. Consumer-level OCR used to outright stink, and many of us who tried it then made up our minds for a while. Let this serve as the official announcement that OCR has matured to a very usable level. If you get the right OCR engine—and ReadIris is the right OCR engine—accuracy is simply not a factor. There are still plenty of clunkers around, but ReadIris nails it every time, in my experience.
When my ScanSnap arrived, I was so excited it was almost like opening a Mac. It was well-packed and easy to set up—complete with a quick-start setup guide—and after a few minutes installing software I was on my way.
For my very first scan, I inserted two single-sided pages into the “hopper” and pressed the large, prominent Scan button. The first time through, the staple holes of the second page caught the trailing edge of the first page, and a page-size error showed up. While this took a little of the magic away, I remained undaunted. I re-inserted the pages and pressed Scan again—this time it took, scanning both pages quickly, and saved them as a PDF on the desktop (where I had specified to save it). The PDF was then opened in Acrobat—when Acrobat was installed, the ScanSnap Manager software set this as the default application to open scanned files. I quit Acrobat and opened ReadIris, dragged the PDF into it, and it was instantly recognized. I asked it to complete the OCR process, and it simply asked me for a file name. The file was saved as an RTF file, again where I specified, and opened flawlessly in TextEdit—verifying that all of the OCR had successfully converted the image to text. Great!
For my second scan I inserted two double-sided pages (putting the duplex scanning to the test) and pressed Scan. This time, however, I had directed the ScanSnap Manager to open them directly in ReadIris (I had to show it where to go; ReadIris, though shipped as a bundled version, was not a default option for the ScanSnap Manager). Once again, ReadIris did a beautiful job of OCR conversion. (Note: because I didn’t know to delete the previous pages, it actually added the new pages to them; I had to delete them manually before conversion), including bolded and italicized text.
My third scan was the “money shot” for my purposes. Inserting nine double-sided pages (17 total), I again pressed Scan. This time, the default application was DEVON Technologies’ DEVONthink Pro Office, which also incorporates the Iris OCR engine. The scanner handled all of the pages well, and DT Pro Office opened the document without trouble. It wasn’t surprising that the OCR built into DEVONthink was a bit slower in converting the scans, but on the other hand it was fully automated—I didn’t need to touch a thing for the scan to appear in my DT database as an editable, searchable PDF document. When the conversion was done, DT opened a dialog window that invited me to change the creation date, title, and author (default to creation date: today; title: scan date; and author: me), as well as as add keywords (which DT uses heavily for its artificial intelligence engine), and a subject line. Very smooth—and everything I could possibly want.
After these initial tests, I began to really put the ScanSnap through its paces. Scan after scan, this machine took everything I threw at it—including pages that were stapled, wrinkled, and even torn. Multi-column documents and documents containing tables and/or images were also no problem, and maintained formatting nicely. Regardless of whether the orientation is portrait or landscape, the scanner recognizes which and automatically switches formats. Even newspaper clippings were a success.
Pages that had been heavily curled needed to be flattened as much as possible—and even then, they would occasionally catch on each other and cause a scanning error. (This cannot be said to be a fault of the scanner, however, as it certainly did a better job at handling these than I expected.) Thus, I learned that, when scanning a set of well-used pages, it’s not a bad idea to watch the pages being fed through—or count them after scanning—to verify that all pages made it in.
I have had one or two really bad snags—one 38-page essay that was especially dog-eared jammed up pretty badly. While the ScanSnap made quite a disturbing noise, there was no real problem in clearing the jam—the unit is well-designed in this way, as well—and starting over, after smoothing the corners a little more.
By the end of the first day, I had more than 50 academic articles and essays—representing more than 600 pages—put through the ScanSnap and imported into DEVONthink. I’d barely begun to knock out the contents of one file drawer, but I realized that with a few more evenings’ work I can put a file cabinet or two up on Craig’s List.
The fruit of my labors.
After using it for a week, I’ve emptied a file cabinet with almost 2,000 pages in it. Wow! I’m excited about the possibilities, and have already begun to brainstorm how useful this can be. For example, I’m planning to set up a local Web-server (already possible with DEVONthink Pro Office) on one of our home computers that has all of our manuals and documentation, receipts, medical records, insurance information, and other documents that fill a four-drawer cabinet, binders, or are scattered about the house; my wife and I can access this stuff through a simple search, rather than tracking them down and digging through them. And my writing research will be so much simpler from now on.
About the Scanner Itself
Fujitsu has been making document scanners for years. Every doctor’s office or hospital that I’ve been to has one on every desk for scanning insurance cards and IDs. What once was available mainly to offices and professional services is now becoming a consumer-level success.
As a unit, the scanner “closes” into a nicely compact “blobject,” with nothing protruding to get caught on (it even turns itself off and on automatically when closed or opened). This is nice to keep the footprint of the unit small when it’s not in use. A carrying case is even available through Fujitsu for a reasonable price (around $40). I can see how this would be nice if a trip to the library were planned for major research work.
All closed up—a compact “blobject.”
You can also order cleaning supplies and other consumables for it, since toner and paper dust will eventually make the platen get hazy, and certain parts (such as rollers) will wear out over time. Fujitsu has thought this through, and it is ready for consumer use.
Obviously I’m an even bigger fan of the ScanSnap than I thought I would be—and it has earned my favor in every step. I think the ScanSnap represents a great addition to any household or office, and could substantially improve the way that records and file archives are kept.
I would even go so far as to say that the ScanSnap/DEVONthink combination could be an essential tool for moderate to heavy academic work. I wish these had been available when I started graduate school—my papers would have improved drastically from the way that research is made more efficient.
As I write this, I’ve literally sat for several minutes trying to think of something to say that isn’t favorable—surely there is something to critique? I haven’t tried the ScanSnap for photos, but I would imagine that it doesn’t excel in that area as much as, say, Epson or Canon does. But so what? That’s not what it is trying to offer. (By the way, the ScanSnap can handle images and even color on documents it scans.)
We’re on our way to a truly all-digital, paperless society—and the ScanSnap is a big step in making the journey a lot less painful.
Reader Comments (69)
Excellent software companion for the scansnap that turns it into a serious business tool.
Thanks for the tips on DocumentWallet and ScanTango. I'm not sure what these do that DevonThink doesn't-- and a quick glance at the websites doesn't really tell me. I'll look into them in time-- but since I was already a committed DevonThink user, at this point I doubt I'll switch.
I also like the concept of ReceiptWallet; that might be worth checking out...
I'm wondering if the ScanSnap will work in a similar fashion. From the description, it sounds like you scan in one step, but then OCR is a separate step. I'm looking for a single step solution -- as with the Canon software -- that also gives me the sheetfeed capability. Can the ScanSnap be configured like this?
Does anybody have information on how well it handles scanning photos as well?
It doesn't, you'll need an old-school flatbed scanner.
As for Sandori's comment, you'd be amazed at the volume of documents that haven't been digitized and aren't available online. The deluge of paperwork that we receive from my childrens' school, for instance. Plus all their projects. I scanned many of these school projects to create digital scrapbooks.
Add to the above, magazine articles and catalog pages that I've ripped and saved (and that often aren't replicated online). Receipts and invoices. Many presentations and handouts that you receive, say at conferences. I really like that includes Acrobat and Readiris too. Used in tandem with DevonThink, this tool rocks.
This changes things significantly: those without DevonThink (or some other application with OCR included) will find that it is not as much a full-functioned tool. Of course, one could always purchase ReadIris in addition to the scanner.
It would have made better sense to me for them to drop Adobe Acrobat, and continue to include ReadIris...
However.... I did find a PDF of the rebate form online and sent it in. The link to the form is here: www.fujitsu.com/downloads/COMP/fcpa/scanners/s500m-iris_0407-0607.pdf
I sent it in because the form indicates that the offer is good through 7/31/07 on ScanSnaps purchased between 4/1/07 and 6/30/07. I'll post to this thread if and when I receive the ReadIris software as part of the rebate.
The only nasty that I have seen is that for some weird reason Fujitsu don't seem to be including the plastic carrier sheet with the S500M when they did with the previous Mac version and continue to do with the S500! One of those things you might not use much but when you need to, you need to :) Other nasty side effect of that is the Mac version also loses A3 support as that seemed to require the carrier sheet. Weird decision on their part. Can anyone with a S500M confirm?
With DevonThink, the progress windows automatically come to the front at the start of every page, and at the start of each new process-- so it can get distracting. Since I use a two-monitor setup, I simply move this to the secondary monitor and do my work in the first one.
Background OCR IS possible.
running beautifully on a 1.5ghz powerbook G4 with 1.5gig ram.
So, how do I do that.
1.ReadIris gives output in RTF. I need to keep original image format in pdf and want output file in pdf too.
2. Is there a way to ask Acrobat to use ReadIris for OCR function.
3.Can Devon thinkpro do this.
How well does it handle having copy, sidebars, infographics and pics all on one page?
I was a bit skidish about ordering from there but they came through. I paid for overnight shipping and got it the next day.
I have a small business and a very small office, and i get a lot of invoices, employee documents, and all kinds of other documents i need to keep. Storing them and organizing them is almost a job in itself. So, when i came across this little scanner i had high hopes.
First impression: It's fast! I own a new MBP,so that may help in the post processing but, it literally takes seconds to get the documents on my computer.
I have started using a program called "Yep" to organize and keep track of documents. Yep lets you tag your files so its accessible by key words. You can also have it write those tags to the comments section in finder. This allows your data to be available to your entire system, as opposed to just the program.
Benefits: I'll just talk about when i actually got to use them system. I had to lookup an past invoice from one of our vendors. It took me seconds to find the invoice and look up the information i needed. Before the scanner, it would have taken me probably 10 min to get the data, and thats if the invoice wasn't put away in our basement storage. Document scanning actually puts files and data at your fingertips.
Negatives: Scanning documents and naming the files is a bit of a pain, it still takes some work. Compared to physical filing it still faster. I am pretty computer savy, working on the computer is much easier and more intuitive for me.
One last thought. After scanning the documents i don't really know what to do with the physical docs. I have decided that i will consider my digital copies as my only copy for certain class of documents. Mostly legal documents will have physical copies that i keep and file away. Anyone have a diff solution please chime in. I really don't want to re-file the physical documents. Such a pain!
from what i can see, the scansnap doesn't come with a twain compatible driver. the scansnap software can launch apps like acrobat or readiris and hand the scanned document over to it though.
i actually got mine bundled with readiris 11.5 directly from the apple store.
is any of the document database apps mentioned above able to feed the ocr results into the spotlight enging?
got the scanner this pm, done 174 pages so far and i'm really impressed. not too impressed by acrobat 7 though. just a ppc app... anybody tried upgrading to acrobat 8 yet? if so, is it worth doing?
It came with Acrobat Standard 8.0 and ABBBY Finereader for SnapScan. I have Finereader Pro 8.0 anyway, but can't get it to launch. This is a problem as I have a lot of Russian docs and neither the SnapScan OCR nor Finereader for SnapScan have Russian support. I will make enquiries about that.
The scanner totally rocks! I heard about it from Merlin Mann on the MacBreak Weekly podcast -- he also recommended using it with Devonthink Pro and/or Yep.
And so to my question: is there anything like Devonthink Pro or Yep on the Windows side? That's the missing link for me right now.
Also, what would it be like for me and my wife to use it together, keep everything on one computer, and then keep only certain files on each of our laptops. For example, I'd want to keep academic files on my laptop, but not the financial files. Can you run DevonThink or DocumentWallet on multiple computers but not share everything?
if you look at my post above, u can see that i wasn't sure what software to use with it at the time i posted. i got devonthink pro office in the end because it offers the best all round functionality to me (your mileage may vary).
i also got the scanner bundled with readiris 11 pro, but i hardly use it. when the scanner is set to feed it's pdf documents directly into devonthink, it's as simple as pressing a single button to 'scan -> ocr -> file' the document. from what i saw, no other product would offer such a convenient way of digitizing/filing printed documents.
devonthink pro also allows you to expose it's search facility via a builtin webserver to other machines on the network. my girlfriend uses a windows machine and through that web interface she is able to find documents in my devonthink database. if you have content that you don't want to expose, i think devonthink only exposes the default db to the network via http. if you have content that you don't want to expose, just file it into a different than the default db.
it may be a little more pricey than documentwallet etc, but the builtin readiris ocr engine is in my eyes well worth the extra buck...
in order to get rtf documents out of it, i believe you indeed need readiris, but the ocr is perhaps a little unreliable when it comes to producing spotless text documents from scanned sources. be prepared to rework scanned documents extensively.
Adam asked about sidebars, etc.-- in my experience, it handles this quite capably. One of the great features is that it is intuitive when it comes to what it sees-- it will easily have OCRed text right next to a picture, etc. No problems here.
Cams commented on the Mac vs. PC version. Cams, there have been reports of successfully getting the PC version to work natively with Macs. A Google search might help track this down, but there was a season of time when there was no Mac version (at least in the U.S.) and some smart fellows figured out how to use the PC version with their Macs.
Tom asked about shared data, etc. and Olaf has already responded aptly. I will only add to that the fact that DevonThink can export files-- including PDFs-- as Rich Text (RTF) if needed, so you get the functions you're seeking built into DevonThink.
Finally, a few people have commented on TWAIN compatibility. The ScanSnap is NOT TWAIN compliant, but the native support built into several applications (such as DevonThink Pro Office) and the very credible ScanSnap Manager (bundled with the scanner) make up for this. TWAIN is designed for image standardization, anyway-- not for documents and OCR-- so if you're buying this scanner to be a TWAIN device, you're getting the wrong scanner. (I will note here, however, that DevonThink Pro Office does support any TWAIN compliant scanner for input, in addition to the ScanSnap.)
It can be done! You have to get the Japanese version of Scansnap Manager - available on the Japanese Fujitsu website.
You'll need to have some other OCR software - or you'll just have PDFs with no searchable text
You'll need to be able to read Japanese to follow the menus OR have access to Scansnap Manager in English running on a PC to see what all the menu items mean (most of the menus are the same between the Japanese and English versions)
Scan your documents into a PC with the bundled software which will OCR them, then copy them over to your Mac
you will need to download a program from the Fujitsu website (English this time) called Scansnap PDF converter which runs on the PC (very easily) to make the documents searchable in a Mac as well as a PC (this last step took me about 5 hours of frustration to discover)
- Speed: Holy cow, is this thing FAST!!! I couldn't believe it when I ran the first document through -- I actually thought there was a malfunction, as I didn't think it was possible it could've scanned the document that fast. But sure enough, there it popped up on the screen in all its PDF glory within a few seconds. I guess I didn't realize how slow my Canon scanner was.
- Size: From the reviews and pictures, I'd expected something on the small side, but it's even smaller than I'd imagined. Very nice, tiny footprint on my desk. I also like how it folds up and turns off when not in use, so as to take up even less space. I recouped a lot of space from where the Canon flatbed was sitting.
- Scan quality: Very impressive. My Canon had pretty good quality, but it the contrast wasn't optimized for documents. On the default "Scan to PDF" setting, the images came out looking more like photographs of a document than a scan (i.e, it picked up all the paper texture detail). The Scansnap comes out looking like what I think a text document ought to. The compression on the Fujitsu is great, too. Much smaller file sized than what the Canon produced.
- OCR: This is one area that I think gave the Canon a slight edge, at least in terms of workflow, if not quality. My primary motivation for workflow is to have a searchable PDF document that Spotlight can index, not to reproduce perfect text (RTF, Word, etc.) representations. The Canon performed the OCR as part of the scan so that the output was a searchable PDF -- there was no extra step. The included Acrobat (which, by the way, was superfluous for me since I already had a copy of Acrobat 7.0 Standard) does a good job, but it's slow to start up on my PowerBook G4 and the scanning process takes a fair amount of time, too. The results are quite good, though. There is currently a free Readiris Pro offer with purchase of the Scansnap and I just sent my coupon in. I'll be interested to see how using Readiris will compare to OCR in Acrobat.
- Workflow: Taking the above OCR issue into account, I still have to give the prize to the Scansnap by a long margin. Did I mention that this thing is FAST? The speed, autofeed, and one-button simplicity make up for the multistep OCR. Right now I'm scanning directly into Yep!, where I am tagging and adding descriptive text manually, and it is still much, much faster than my previous workflow. Of course, the ideal thing would be for Yep! to have integrated OCR, but I hear the developers are working on this feature. I understand that Devonthink Pro has this capability, but I'm going to have to think long and hard on if I need this badly enough to justify the price. Plus, I enjoy the capability and philosophy of Yep!
- Auto document recognition: Fantastic! This thing recognizes everything I throw at it. I scanned one document that consisted of three parts: a two-sided 8.5 x 11-inch letter, a pink 5 x 7-inch data card, and a two-sided, letter-sized form on heavy stock in landscape orientation. The scanner unhesitatingly sucked in all of this and accurately rendered the color document in color, auto-rotated the appropriate pages (much to my surprise!), and got both sides of the two-sided documents. It output all of this to a single PDF. Amazing. That, in itself, won me over.
Bottom line: This is a fantastic scanner and a great replacement for my Canon. I strongly recommend this to anyone with a lot of documents to scan.
Thank you *so* much for your great review, and all the comments from folks. It was in no small part due to everyone here that we ended up purchasing a ScanSnap for Mac. One of the things I discovered was that *right now* there is both a $50.00 rebate on the ScanSnap, *and* a voucher you mail in to get a free copy of ReadIris 11! Yay.
You can get the rebate and ReadIris forms here:
We've written up our own review of the ScanSnap, and it is complete with tons of pictures, plus a short video showing how blazing fast the ScanSnap is, and what the results of a mixed page-size, mixed print-type scan. We have that at:
Thank you again!
I uses bibtex for bibliographies and BibDesk allows linking of a PDF to each entry. The database is searchable and a click on the linked file opens Preview.
Thanks for the review.
P Adams-- I appreciate the comparison details. That is very helpful; I'm sure the readers appreciate it as well.
DeathtoToasters-- your assessment is accurate, and an important thing to mention again: while DevonThink is a useful tool in all versions-- and any of them will hold and sort PDFs well, including those created with a ScanSnap-- it is ONLY the full, DevonThink Pro Office (be sure it is the Office version) that includes an OCR engine and direct ScanSnap compatibility.
Anne-- thanks for the tips on the rebates. Those are awesome.
David-- hey, good to know that BibDesk and bibtex are PDF compatible.
both work fine
scansnap organiser on the PC is far superior to anything on the Mac
AND one crucial difference
a single page document scanned on the PC, OCRd on the PC and copied over to the Mac, fully searchable, comes in at about 90K
The same document, scanned on the Mac and going through these programs;
Readiris Pro 11.5 searchable pdf (image/text option) 800K!!!!
Adobe Acrobat 7 searchable pdf 700K, compressed version 300K
Devonthink Pro Office, searchable pdf export - 250K
I might try some pdf compressors, but the ability of scansnap organiser (on the PC) to batch up scans and OCR work wins hands down for me.
With this I instantly (!) can read any pdf as text (preference to either picture or text). Then I can copy and paste the content, though formatting is not preserved.
Does he do a OCR on the fly? Is this possible?
Do I have to still OCR my scans with this utility?
The Link: http://www.oneriver.jp/SpotInside/
What's the explanation for the big difference in files sizes noted in #59 above? Why is the Mac scanned file so much bigger than the PC scanned file?
i've gone through your review just to know that the snapscan is really what i'm looking for. A question, I can't really understand if there are any hardware differences between the s500m and the s510m. It seems the only difference is the software(e.g. the drivers for leopard, wich i can dwld from fujitsu).The price is very different. Can u help me with that?? Thank you.
Ignazio Pediconi from Italy
Wouldn't it be great if they would release a firmware update that would bring the S500 up to the capacities of the S510? But I doubt it...
i did speak to fujitsu and they told me that the s500m is exactly the same product. Anyways, i did get the s500m and i have no idea of how colud I have waited so long to buy a machine like this! It's great, works well, fast and reliable. Thanks for your help.
Something I've "integrated" for my business is: www.trackvia.com - so, now, I scan my service tickets, store them in my custom database with trackvia, and it's all working "in tune" with my business processes vs. trying to make my business processes fit a piece of software..
I'm not involved in the management of trackvia AT ALL - just a VERY satisfied customer, and the scansnap with it makes the file cabinets go away!!!
GREAT review of this product - mine works like you've described, I have had the occassional jam up, but nothing of a high enough magnitude that would make me stop using the scansnap!!
That said: I’m still using my S500m, and it’s still running like a tank. I’ve lost track of the number of pages I’ve put through it, but it must reach into 10s of thousands. (I’ll confess, too: I haven’t cleaned it as Fujitsu recommends; in fact, I haven’t cleaned it at all! But it still scans fine.) And I’m still using DevonThink Pro Office— now in version 2.x— and it’s as good as ever.
I hear great things about Evernote, and if you don’t need a high-powered DevonThink, it may be a perfect alternative. And certainly any of the newer models of ScanSnap are worth getting. If the 1500m + Evernote looks like a good fit to you, I’d urge you to seriously consider it.
I strongly recommend the combination of this scanner and and iPad (and a Blu Ray burner for backups).
I have turned a ton (literally!) of yellowing paper into a very valuable and very portable resource thanks to Fujitsu and Apple.
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