Handheld scanners were always destined to be a niche market. Back in the day, they were sidelined by their bigger standalone A4 cousins before the latter were swallowed whole by the expanding all-in-one market that made integrated scanners the de-facto standard. Now, the rise of smartphones with better rear cameras, faster processors, dedicated image chips and smart capture applications is threatening to make the scanner, as a whole, a tool restricted to a few niche tasks only.
Handheld scanners however have moved on and adapted. They’re no longer restricted to low-resolution grayscale capture peripherals (like the Logitech Scanman scanner of old) and have evolved into leaner, full-width ones that are more versatile, especially for the roving salesperson or businessman.
Although smartphones are great for taking adhoc pictures of documents, dedicated scanners are better at certain other tasks, for example, documents that are not flat (binded books or tubes), in poorly-lighted areas (at night) or on surfaces that are uneven (car seats). It is also easier to transfer content from them.
IRIS, which is now part of the Canon Group, sent us two models; the Book (otherwise known as the Book 3) and the Book Wifi (also known as the Book Executive 3).
They are similar but offer slightly different features that will appeal to two different audiences. The first one has a colour display while the second one has an LCD one but can connect wirelessly to the host devices. They both come with a 2GB microSD card (with a converter), image compression software, a leather holder, a 1m USB cable and, for the colour model, a one-year subscription to Evernote worth around £30.
They both look like a square tube, with sides around an inch wide and roughly 10in long. They both run on AAA batteries (four for the first one and three for the second one) that can power the scanners for up to 1,600 pages. They also come with a microSD card slot which makes transferring content very easy across platforms. Of course, you can connect them via USB to a computer, and the wireless version actually connects via Wi-Fi Direct and can transfer files in real-time either to a traditional PC or to a mobile device (iOS or Android).
The sensor strip is 5,136 dots wide on both scanners. Both devices have three scanning resolutions (low (300 x 300 dpi), medium (600 x 600 dpi) and high (900 x 900 dpi)), roughly similar scanning speeds (from two seconds to 13 seconds for an A4 sheet depending on the resolution and whether you’re scanning in mono or colour) and can shove up to 1,800 pictures in the bundled 2GB card.
IRIS developed the applications that go with both scanners and they are smart enough to handle various paper types and material. The Book 3 comes with the now-obsolete, four-year old ReadIris 12 and the Executive 3, the ReadIris 14 Pro. The latter is worth nearly £50 on its own and is not only a great OCR but also quite adept at document management and file conversion.
Note that the applications are on a CD-ROM which makes installation on recent laptops problematic, given that many have shunned optical drives.
Images are scanned rapidly, almost instantaneously, and the quality is decent without being exceptional (see the sample below). Good enough for an invoice or for basic OCR but don’t expect to get a pristine copy of Mona Lisa from it. One needs to bear in mind that we’re dealing with handheld scanners rather than fixed ones. How sturdy the user’s hand is during the acquisition process is almost as important as the scanner itself.
The scanning process is not without its quirkiness though. Trying to slide the scanner too quickly will generate an error message as it scrambles to keep up. I did have a few issues with the microSD card handling on one of the models and as expected the onscreen navigation on such a small display is problematic and frustrating.
My suggestions for future models: stick to one device to avoid confusion; can the CD-ROM and put all applications on the microSD card slot, as the target audience can use the scanner as an adhoc card reader at worst; make it possible for the scanner to be rechargeable via USB, thereby negating the need of batteries; make the mobile applications more robust and provide the ability to use any screen as the scanner’s remote display. Perhaps most importantly, these steps will reduce the size of the packaging and the cost of shipping too.