Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500: Paper’s Bridge to the Digital World
I think one of the reasons people enjoy the movie Tron is that it describes what we do each day: We cross the bridge between analog and digital worlds. That’s our job: to enter the realm of the computer and manipulate data—whether through code or graphics, or the text I’m typing and you’re reading. And while designing a logo or laying out a book rarely takes on the drama of this hyper-stylized movie, there are certainly parallels in the battles we wage and the strategies we must all use to get our work done.
If our job is to span the analog/digital divide, then we must pay particular attention to the tools we use—especially the bridge itself, the device used to transfer images from this world into the zeros and ones. When it comes to digitizing flat images—typically paper or printed photographs—the tool is typically a scanner.
I own a lot of scanners. (To be honest, I’ve had a bit of a scanner-hoarding problem since I co-authored Real World Scanning & Halftones two decades ago.) But the scanner I use most often for both home and office use is the Fujitsu ScanSnap. It’s a document scanner; that means you can place a stack of paper in it and let it pull each sheet in, one at a time. It scans both sides of the paper simultaneously, at a fast pace that always surprises me. And, best of all, it’s just a really good scanner.
Direct to Tablet or Phone
The biggest difference between the last generation of the ScanSnap and my new ScanSnap iX500 is that I can now use it wirelessly, scanning directly to my iPad, iPhone, or even Kindle Fire HD running Android. While you need to plug in the scanner to a computer to first set up its WiFi network access, you can then move the scanner anywhere. I put it in my kitchen for a while, just to make it more convenient to scan a folder full of old papers while I cooked.
The hip, black and blue, high-tech look even looks inspired by Tron.
The scanner has a built-in “GI” processor that handles the scanning and conversion to PDF onboard. You can control the settings (such as single-sided versus duplex, image compression options, and so on) from the iOS or Android app. Then you just load one or more sheets of paper (up to about 40 or 50 at a time) and tap Scan on the tablet or phone screen.
As I said, the scanner is fast, rated at 25 double-sided sheets per minute. In one test I did, it took only 34 seconds to suck in 16 sheets (various page sizes, some single-sided and some double, some color and some black and white), scan them, deskew them, remove the blank backsides, and save a finished 27-page PDF on my iPhone. Sweet.
I can then take that file with me on my device, to view inside the free ScanSnap software, or open it in another app. However, I typically instruct the app to either email me the file or, even easier, save it in a Dropbox folder.
Of course, the scanner also works the “old” way—attached to a computer and run from the ScanSnap Manager software. There are even more bells and whistles in that software which make that approach attractive, including automatic OCR (converting scanned text so that you can search, export, and edit it). With a click, the final version can be sent to Evernote, Google Docs, Word, or several other destinations. Someone hand you a printout of a spreadsheet and you’re loathe to retype all those values? Just scan and send to Excel. (I would proof the numbers, of course, but in my tests it worked amazingly well.)
The iX500 also offers several new hardware features that make it far easier to use than its predecessors:
- It can connect to either Mac or Windows. (Earlier versions of the scanner were designed for one or the other.)
- It has a new, more reliable feeding mechanism design. (It was pretty good before, but would sometimes feed two pages through at the same time. That rarely happens now.)
- Fujitsu has added a sensor based on ultrasonic sound waves to see if two or more pages are overlapping. Even if you have a taped receipt or sticky note on a page, the scanner can tell and alerts you; fortunately, it’s a one-button click to accept and move on.
It’s No Flatbed
As I said, the ScanSnap is a document scanner, not a flatbed or camera scanner, so you’re not going to use it to scan 3D materials or high-quality artwork. That said, the quality can be surprisingly good (especially when you choose the higher-quality settings in the software), and I often use it to scan printed photographs or pages ripped from magazines or newspapers.
If you need to scan a book, you’re going to have to cause grievous harm to it. (I have actually ripped out all the pages from a small book, scanned them, and OCR’d the result so that I could have a digital version of it. It was easy and cheap, and I’d do it more often if I had a blade large enough to cut the binding off quickly. Without that, if I had a lot of books to do, I’d probably use a service such as 1DollarScan.
Ultimately, I think the best use of the ScanSnap is to digitize the file folders full of papers that clutter our offices. I normally can’t bring myself to let old bills, receipts, and paperwork go. But I realized that as soon as I scan them, I don’t care about the physical papers anymore. The ScanSnap has let me reclaim literally cubic feet of space in my office and garage.
There’s a reason that Fujitsu owns over half the global marketshare of imaging/scanning devices (including enterprise, government, and so on): They really know how to scan. By packaging that high-level knowledge into a reasonably-priced prosumer-level device, they’re putting the power to digitize quickly and efficiently into our hands.
The character for which the movie Tron is named has a motto: “I fight for the user.” And as I wirelessly scan hundreds of pages, migrating them from this world to the digital, I glance over at the ScanSnap and feel like it’s fighting for me.
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