Plustek bills its OpticBook 3800 as an entry-level book scanner, which is an apt description of this £200 flatbed device. The idea is that the design of the OpticBook helps eliminate distortions by letting you scan right up to a book's spine, and its software reduces shadows and makes it easy to scan facing pages to a PDF without having to rotate the alternate pages individually. For those who need to scan books or book pages with any regularity, the OpticBook 3800 is certainly a smart idea in theory, and a piece of hardware that won't break the bank.
Of course, you can use a standard flatbed scanner, or the one built into a multifunction printer (MFP) to scan book pages, and that may suffice if you only do so infrequently. But unlike a normal flatbed scanner, the OpticBook 3800's platen glass goes right to the edge of the flatbed. This lets you scan right up to the edge of the spine, with the page lying flat and the facing page and rest of the book hanging straight down (if you position the scanner at the edge of your desk or table). Thus, you don’t have to crease the spine underneath the flatbed's cover, avoiding the distortion and shadows this introduces to the scanned image.
The OpticBook 3800 is a more basic model than the Plustek OpticBook 4800 (priced at around £460). A key difference between the two scanners is that the 3800 uses a traditional CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamp) light source, while the 4800's lamp is LED based. The Plustek 4800 is also slightly faster, but you’d expect that given that it’s considerably pricier.
The 3800 comes with pretty much the same software as the Plustek 4800: Abbyy FineReader 9.0 Sprint for optical character recognition (OCR); Newsoft Presto! PageManager 7.23 and Plustek's own DI Capture 1.0 for document management; Presto! ImageFolio 4.5 for photo editing; a Twain driver for scanning directly from most Windows programs that include a scan command; and Book Pavilion, a book-scanning program.
The OpticBook 3800 measures 452 x 284 x 104mm (WxDxH), and weighs 3.4kg. The scanning area is slightly larger than letter size – it fits up to A4 paper. To the right of the platen, along with a delete button, are buttons for black and white, colour, and greyscale scanning. In testing book scanning, I initiated scans from the Book Pavilion utility, which lets the user scan to different file types and resolutions, and select different sources such as books, magazines and newspapers – it also allows for automatic page rotation. I also initiated scans directly using the scan buttons.
I timed the OpticBook 3800 when scanning book pages to 300 dpi greyscale PDF at an average of 11.6 seconds per page after a 10 second prescan. (With book pages, you'll probably want to preview each scan, as books can easily get knocked out of alignment). This is reasonably close to the Plustek 4800's 9 second prescan and 9 second scan time average at the same resolution.
Scan quality, however, was mediocre. Type, whether large or small, didn't look particularly sharp (this was true whether I scanned in black and white, greyscale, or colour modes). Switching to 600 dpi nearly doubled the average scan time (to 22.7 seconds) but didn't significantly improve text quality. Type looked better at 1,200 dpi, but scan times averaged 1 minute and 10 seconds per page for a greyscale image.
I also tried scanning a recent Batman comic in colour at 300 and 1,200 dpi. The 1,200 dpi scans showed a little more detail than the lower-res ones, but probably not enough to justify the additional scanning time, and like the 300 dpi scans, the colours didn’t pop. I scanned the same comic at 300 dpi with the flatbed scanner built into my home MFP (a Kodak ESP 3.2), and colours were richer than even the higher-resolution scans from the OpticBook 3800, with comparable detail. Processing the pages was much faster and simpler with the OpticBook 3800, however.
Being a flatbed scanner, the OpticBook 3800 isn't ideal for scanning multipage documents, as you have to open the cover, replace the page with a new one, and close the cover when scanning each new page. For anything more than the lightest-duty document scanning, you're better off with a sheetfed scanner, ideally one with an automatic document feeder (ADF).
The good news is that the combination of the scanner and Abbyy FineReader Sprint 9.0 did very well in optical character recognition (OCR), reading our Times New Roman test file down to 6 points with no errors, and our Arial test file at 6 points with a couple of dropped full-stops but no other errors. I also tried some photo scanning, and the OpticBook 3800 did reasonably well in retaining detail, though colours were somewhat muted.
The Plustek OpticBook 3800 is best for scanning books or other printed matter with thick spines, though it also offers added convenience when scanning magazines or other bound material. It can be used for document and photo scanning as well, though its lack of an ADF effectively limits it to short documents.
Although its scan quality wasn't too impressive, the 3800 should be fine for many students or others who simply want to get book pages into electronic form, and it’s priced far more modestly than the Plustek 4800.