April 4, 2007

A Scanner Sam I Am

About once a week I have nightmares. Not about monsters in the cupboard or falling off a cliff but about filing all the paper that lives on my desk. I've got paper bills, paper notes, dockets, sticky notes - you name it, if it exists on paper then it is on my desk. That's why when I heard about Fujitsu's new ScanSnap range of desktop scanners I got excited.

Paper is public enemy number 1 for me. There is always too much of it in my life. Think about this; My average mobile phone bill is 10 pages long. I get one invoice a month, and I have to keep the invoices for 7 years (as per government regulations). An A0 sheet of paper weighs about 80 grams (80gsm) and there are 16 A4 size sheets per A0 sheet. So each A4 sheet of paper weighs about 5 grams. That's 840 pages or close to 5kgs of paper! I know that sort of analysis is purely analytical but for me there is also the question of filing. Does the telephone invoice go under "T" for telephone, "P" for phone or "V" for Vodafone. I don't know and I never will.

With the ScanSnap S500M (or fi-5110C for Windows XP) on my desk all of these worries are behind me. The ScanSnap is the first fully functional desktop scanner that literally changes the way you manage your documents. The ScanSnap is compact with a tiny footprint (29x16x16cm) and runs over a USB connection.

When you have a document to scan you simply place it in the document feeder, press the button marked 'Scan' and within 20 seconds a PDF with your document pops up on your computer. That's it. No cropping, scaling or working out the resolution - it's all automatic. Was that invoice double-sided? Don't worry, the ScanSnap is duplex. It scans the front and the back at the same time. The S500M is capable of scanning 18 duplex full colour pages per minute. That's fast, very fast. The only thing you'll need to do is give your file a relevant name like 'ANZ Statement Dec 06' and file it in the correct folder.

Out of sheer excitement I created my own script that launches each time I scan a document and forces me to file it correctly. With Mac OS X (and now Windows Vista) you also have the option of adding meta-data to the file. Meta-data is information you can attach to the file that isn't included in the file name. It might be the bank account number, the date you paid the bill and the receipt number. The benefit of adding this information to the file is it can make it easier to find in the future.

Fujitsu have also added some other great features to the ScanSnap like auto size and blank page detection. If you scan a business card for example the PDF ScanSnap produces will only be as large as necessary. Likewise, if you scan a bank statement and one page is blank ScanSnap excludes the blank page when creating the PDF. ScanSnap can also differentiate between colour and black and white documents. As a sweetener Fujitsu bundles the full version of Adobe Acrobat 7 with the ScanSnap however I still prefer to use Preview, Apple's built in PDF software as I think it is faster and more efficient.

In my testing the ScanSnap performed admirably. I experimented with mixed scan jobs, from a small receipt to an A4 sheet in one scan session and the ScanSnap figured it out every time. I even tried scanning photos with great success. On occasion the ScanSnap hit a snag and jammed. After some practice I worked out this occurred for two reasons; the paper wasn't 'flat' enough or I had placed it in without setting the guides correctly. When a jam does occur the software politely pops up and asks you to either correct the problem (a simple task of lifting the lid and removing the jam) or cancel the scan. When the ScanSnap did scan a document crooked the built-in corrected the rotation almost perfectly every time.

At $899 for the fi-5110C and $1199 for the S500M document scanners aren't cheap. However, if you have an urge to purge your home of paper then the ScanSnap is for you. You'll get a reliable, fast and small desktop scanner that will give you extra desk space and less clutter. And isn't that what everyone wants?