3 document scanners: Move your data from paper to pixels

While the dream of a paper-free world has yet to materialize (assuming it ever will), using scanners to store digital copies of hardcopy documents has become de rigueur for most businesses, from enterprise-level operations to single-person startups.

It has also become a solution for individuals who need to keep their house -- and their tax statements -- in order. "These devices are marketed as the antidote to clutter," says Anne Valaitis, director for image scanning trends at market research firm InfoTrends. "Anything scanned takes up no space and hard drives have never been cheaper."

As a result, the desktop scanner market is growing quickly. According to InfoTrends, 685,000 units were sold in North America in 2011, the last year the firm has complete figures for. Of those, 300,000 units -- nearly half -- were entry-level devices that scan between 16 and 30 pages per minute (ppm). Valaitis forecasts entry-level scanner volume could rise to 395,000 units this year and continue growing for the foreseeable future.

In this roundup, I look at three of the latest desktop document scanners -- devices designed specifically for scanning and storing a variety of single-sheet documents: the Brother ImageCenter ADS-2500W, the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 and the Panasonic KV-S1015C.

High-end features

These are not simple one-sheet-at-a-time scanners. These desktop devices have been designed to scan a small pile of documents quickly and efficiently; as a result, they include many of the features that once could only be found in higher-end business devices.

For example, all three have a single-pass document path that scans both sides of a sheet at once. You can also scan originals to a variety of file formats (such as PDFs, Microsoft Word DOC files or various graphic file types). And you can decide the quality of the scan; for example, you can do a basic monochrome scan for use with an optical character recognition (OCR) application (and most scanners include OCR software with their software package), a 200dpi grayscale scan for archiving business receipts or a 600dpi color scan for photos and other color documents.

Document scanners don't take up a lot of desktop space -- like origami, they fold. Scanners open to deliver an automatic document feeder (ADF) at one end and a tray for the scanned items at the other. Each of the three scanners reviewed here comes with a 50-sheet document feeder and a top optical resolution of 600dpi.

In other ways, however, they are very different. For example, the Panasonic has three preset buttons assigned to different scan profiles for different types of documents, while the Fujitsu ScanSnap has a minimalist single scan button. Meanwhile, the Brother ImageCenter offers a small color touch display with up to eight scan profiles. You can also use the display to choose where to send your scan.

All three of the scanners include a variety of software that allows you to organize your scans. The Brother ImageCenter offers applications for the widest number of devices: It can work with Windows PCs, Macs and Linux computers as well as Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices. The Fujitsu ScanSnap works with Windows, OS X, iOS and Android, while the Panasonic currently works only with Windows.

All of the scanners let you save your output to the cloud, using online storage repositories like Dropbox.

None of these are inexpensive -- two of the scanners reviewed here list for $495 and the other goes for about $800. If you only need to scan the occasional tax document or photo, you'd probably be better off with an all-in-one device or even a smaller mobile scanner. But when it comes to cleaning up the paper clutter in the typical office, one of these desktop scanners can help do the trick with speed and grace.

Brother ImageCenter ADS-2500W

If you're the tactile type, the Brother ImageCenter ADS-2500W has something you'll like: an innovative touchscreen that controls many of its functions.

Brother ImageCenter ADS-2500W

Easily the largest of the three scanners reviewed here, the Brother ImageCenter takes up 11.8 x 8.7 x 7.1 in. width/depth/height (WDH) of desk space; when fully opened, the two trays extend its depth to 19.4 in.

The center of attention, though, is the 3.7-in. color touch display that responds to taps and swipes. Three hardware control buttons on the right side of the scanner let you go back a screen, go to the home screen and cancel an operation.

Tap the display to wake the scanner up and you have the choice of scanning to a variety of destinations, including a computer, network file server, FTP server or USB drive.

You can also save to an assortment of online services, including Evernote, Dropbox, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and SharePoint using the scanner's built-in Wi-Fi or Ethernet connections. It takes a little extra setup time, but the versatility that it adds is more than worth it.

The Brother ImageCenter's display offers shortcuts for eight preset scans; however, I actually found the Panasonic's three hardware buttons (to which you can assign different pre-scans) easier to use.

With a pair of 600dpi optical scanning elements, the Brother ImageCenter can digitize both sides of a sheet in a single pass. It is the only one of the three to come with interpolation software, which uses numerical analysis techniques to take information in a 600dpi scan and boost it to the equivalent of 1,200dpi.

The scanner can create single-bit, grayscale or 24-bit color images, accommodate sheets up to 14-in. long in batches or single sheets up to 34-in. long, and handle up to 53-lb. stock originals. Brother rates its 50-sheet document feeder at 24ppm.

With Ethernet ports, along with 802.11n Wi-Fi, the Brother ImageCenter offers the best connection abilities of the three. There's a big bonus on the side of the scanner: two USB ports, one for connecting the scanner to a computer and the other for connecting a USB storage device to the scanner.

At a Glance

Brother ImageCenter ADS-2500W

Brother

Price: $799.99

Pros: Touchscreen control; Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections; 8 preset scan profiles; Windows, Mac and Linux support; tablet and phone apps

Cons: Higher price than other desktop scanners; need to download Windows 8 drivers separately

The scanner's software works with Windows PCs, Macs and Linux computers. (Note: While the included CD contains all you'll need for Windows 7 or Mac OS X systems, I had to download and install software for it to work with a Windows 8 computer. Brother says it will update its installation CD to include the new software in the coming months.)

For Windows users, the system comes with Brother Control Center 4.0 (for general settings and profiles), Nuance PDF Converter Professional 7, Nuance PaperPort 12 for document management (a good organizer that displays the scans as thumbnails and allows some minor editing) and Presto BizCard 6, a contact management system. (Note: Some of the software included is one or two versions behind the current versions being sold separately.)

Mac users get Brother ControlCenter 2, BizCard 5 and, to add more options to the scanning process, Presto PageManager 9.

Phone and tablet bases are covered with free Brother iPrint&Scan apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices.

Performance and quality

A good all-around performer, the Brother ImageCenter was able to turn a stack of 10 pages into digital files at the rate of 18.3ppm and scan a magazine cover at 3.9ppm, results that put it between the faster Fujitsu ScanSnap and slower Panasonic. Five business cards were scanned at the rate of 17.5ppm, the slowest of the group.

The Brother ImageCenter's scans were pinpoint sharp, but often it scanned both sides of a page even when the second side was blank -- something the others didn't do. It successfully scanned a thick driver's license but business cards set up horizontally often got jammed in the feeding mechanism. They worked fine inserted vertically.

Bottom line

The Brother ImageCenter ADS-2500W is not cheap. In fact, it lists for $800, over $300 more than either of the other two scanners reviewed here. (Retail prices range from $644 to $1,306.)

However, the Brother ImageCenter does so much and does it so easily that if you need to archive and organize a lot of documents, it could be worth the price for you. The Brother ImageCenter outclasses everything around it.

Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500

Small and compact, the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 packs a lot of punch with its ability to connect in a variety of ways and work with several online storage systems.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap takes up only 11.5 x 6.2 x 6.6 in. (WDH) of desktop space when it's closed, making it the smallest of the three. The scanner expands to 19.5 in., nearly the same size as the Brother ImageCenter with its feeder and output trays set up.

Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500

While the Panasonic system has three scan buttons and the Brother ImageCenter offers eight different scan profiles, the Fujitsu ScanSnap has only one, making it the most minimalist of the three. The long, rectangular button glows blue when the machine is ready to scan, which is a neat visual effect.

The scanner has a dual-element 600dpi optical scanning engine (so, like the other two scanners, it can scan both sides of a document at once) and can create single-bit, grayscale and 24-bit color files. The automatic document feeder can hold 50 sheets, can scan single sheets up to 34-in. long and can handle up to 56-lb. paper stock. Fujitsu rates its performance at speeds of up to 25ppm.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap connects with a computer via USB 3.0; the other scanners use the older and slower USB 2.0 standard. It is equipped with a Wi-Fi connection as well, but lacks an Ethernet port.

Unlike the other scanners, the Fujitsu ScanSnap uses proprietary drivers and can't work with more standard TWAIN or ISIS drivers. This means that it won't work with all third-party applications; if you're already using, say, a business-card scanning app, it's best to check with Fujitsu to see if your software is compatible with the scanner.

The included ScanSnap Organizer software shows thumbnails of scans, has some basic editing features, adjusts most scanning parameters and lets you assign one of several tasks to the ScanSnap's single scan button.

The device also includes Adobe Acrobat X Standard, Fujitsu's CardMinder business-card software and ABBY FineReader for ScanSnap 5.0, which can render a scanned original as a Word, Excel or PowerPoint file, Google Doc or Salesforce.com contact data.

You can send scans to a variety of applications, including Word and Photoshop. You can also send scans directly to cloud services such as Evernote, Dropbox, Google Docs, SharePoint and SugarSync using the scanner's built-in Wi-Fi networking. However, the Fujitsu ScanSnap can't send a scan to an FTP site or directly to a USB drive as the Brother ImageCenter can.

At a Glance

Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500

Fujitsu

Price: $495.00

Pros: Compact, relatively fast, has USB 3.0 ports, has apps for iOS and Android devices

Cons: Awkward installation, can't scan to external USB drive, no TWAIN or ISIS support

The Fujitsu ScanSnap can work with both Windows PCs and Macs. However, I found its installation scheme, which involves two discs, to be disjointed; it took me about 30 minutes. This may be because it involves a variety of separate operations: I had to install ScanSnap Organizer, Acrobat X Standard and Fujitsu's software for moving scans online; I then had to download and install a 100MB update.

If you want to use the scanner with your smartphone, you can download the ScanSnap Connect Application for your iOS and Android device. There are no apps for Windows Phones at this point.

Performance and quality

The Fujitsu ScanSnap was the all-around performance winner of the trio, with a scan rate of 20.3ppm for the stack of 10 assorted documents and 4.1ppm for the magazine cover -- roughly twice the speed of the Panasonic. The Fujitsu ScanSnap stumbled slightly when turning five business cards into digital files with a rate of 38.1ppm, slightly behind the Panasonic but still faster than the Brother.

Its scans were sharp with well-defined edges and it was the only one of the three not to suffer a misfeed during testing and daily use.

Bottom line

The Fujitsu ScanSnap lists for $495 (the same as the Pansonic), and retails for $450 to $540. This is the one to get if space is at a premium and speed is of the essence.

Panasonic KV-S1015C

The most basic of the three scanners in this roundup, Panasonic's KV-S1015C desktop scanner offers a good measure of scanning flexibility.

At 11.9 x 7.0 x 5.4 in. (WDH), the Panasonic fits right in between the smaller Fujitsu ScanSnap and the larger Brother ImageCenter. With its feeder and paper tray open, it expands to a depth of 27 in., 10 in. longer than the ScanSnap.

Panasonic KV-S1015C

Unfortunately, unlike the other two scanners in this roundup, the Panasonic has limited connection capabilities. It comes with a single USB 2.0 port for connecting to a computer, but is not equipped with either Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

The Panasonic has two separate buttons for turning it on and off and three buttons that can each be assigned to a preset scan format; Panasonic even provides adhesive labels so that you can note which button does what.

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