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The Best Portable Scanners of 2015

There is no such thing as the single best portable scanner for accountants. After months of research, and evaluation of scanners from six companies, our determination is that accountants need to use three different portable scanners, depending on the types of engagements they perform and the needs of their clients.

The scanning industry in 2015 is being driven by four critical influences that will shape both hardware and software development for application to the accounting industry in years to come. These are:

  • Scanners are not devices used by scanning professionals for specific tasks, but rather by professionals using scanners to manage advanced front and back-end functions.
  • While innovation is key, reliability and quality are more critical forces. Innovation is driven by interactions with clients, while quality and reliability are driven by the vendors who strive to advance their technologies and enhance market share.
  • Accounting firms use scanners as a part of an ecosystem to communicate with and gather information from clients, but use different scanners for different accounting tasks.
  • Scanners are moving off of the office desktop and into the field, shortening the processing time for client data and enhancing the workflows for accounting engagements.

The scanning industry for professionals is already divided into four major categories:specialty, mobile, workgroup and enterprise.

Specialty scanners are single-task extensions of flat-bed scanners – photo scanners, card scanners and bar-code readers, for example. They are in use today by accounting firms to fill specific needs, such as building a prospect contact list from business cards, but their use is limited enough that they do not fulfill the needs for general portable scanners. Nor are enterprise-scale scanners used in the field, simply because of their size and weight. These are used in organizations that are large enough and sophisticated enough to leverage the economies of scale that are intrinsic to major international accounting firms.

Our 2015 overview has focused on three major companies with a strong position in portable/workgroup scanners: Fujitsu, the market leader overall for scanners used by accountants; Ambir Technology, an up-and-coming competitor looking to leverage its corporate experience in other vertical markets to gain a stronger position in the accounting and finance industries; and Neat, a consumer and small business provider making inroads in vertical industries it sees as potential partners, particularly accounting.

The Mobile Scanner Dilemma
For more than a year, tech pundits and bloggers in the accounting industry have touted the benefits of taking a scanner on trips to client offices and on accounting engagements. The focus, however, has been on mobile scanners rather than portable scanners.

Mobile scanners deliver on their promise of a small footprint and light weight. We looked at Fujitsu’s ScanSnap 1100i USB Mobile Scanner, which weighs in at .77[lbs. and has a footprint about the size of a three-hole punch. It can handle 8 pages per minute throughput. Ambir’s MobileScan Pro 500i is a little larger and heavier at just over 1.5-lbs. and slightly slower at approximately 6 pages per minute, but offers some higher-end features than typical mobile units. Neat’s Neat Desk weighs in at about .66-lbs. with a desktop footprint similar to that of the Fujitsu ScanSnap and a throughput of 3-4 pages (receipts) per minute.

These specifications make mobile scanners ideal to carry in a computer case or briefcase, ready for use at a moment’s notice. Still, the mobile scanner market has largely failed to capture wide support among accounting professionals, for four reasons:

  • The emergence of smartphone scanning. At virtually the same time as mobile scanners were entering the market, advances in smartphone technology made it possible to handle most small scanning jobs without carrying around a mobile unit. Accountants who need to scan only a few pages may find it faster and easier to simply use their cell phones.
  • The growth in tablet use. The computer tablet may not be a viable alternative to laptops for hard-core number and word crunching, but it can work nicely short conferences and meetings that will last only hours or days. Need to scan something? The camera in most tablets offers a high-quality scan copy, conversion to PDF format, and a way to send the documents back to the accounting firm for integration into the client’s files.
  • The economics don’t work well. Small, simple scanners do not have the features needed for multipage scanning at a low price point. To get those features, the cost of the scanner increases to a point close to that of a workgroup scanner.
  • It’s another device to learn. Mobile scanners don’t work quite the same way as other models, even from the same company. And it is another device to carry. Do so for long enough, and even three quarters of a pound can seem like unnecessary weight.

After looking at both mobile and enterprise solutions, we considered three workgroup/portable scanners. With plenty of snows days to make use of, we were able to run each of the scanners for nearly 60 days, evaluating speed, clarity, features and ease of use.

What we found after months of testing is that mobile scanners are generally not suited for accountants in the field. If the scanning requirements are small enough to fit a mobile scanner, it is far easier to use a smartphone or tablet. There are even small stands to mount a smartphone on for the purpose of scanning documents.

For scanning in the field, accountants really need the power, speed and reliability of a more robust portable scanner or even a workgroup scanner. With an appropriate carrying case, this somewhat larger class of scanners can be stored in the trunk or back seat until needed, then carried to the client’s office. Today’s versions even offer Wi-Fi and cloud storage capabilities.

But these two are not the only options. There is also an intriguing solution that involves accountants putting scanners in a major client’s office. The client is then able to scan relevant documents and send them to the accountant over a secure connection.

Here are the units we found to be best of class in each of these three categories:

Portable Scanner: The Fujitsu ScanSnap s1300i
Price:$295 to $257

Fujitsu ScanSnap s1300i
The ScanSnap S1300i is a color scanner with duplex capabilities, available on both the Mac and PC platforms. Recently overhauled, this top of the ScanSnap portable line combines strong performance and advanced features in a device with a relatively small footprint and a weight of just over three pounds. Its automatic document feeder can hold up to 10 pages at a time, and it scans at 6 pages per minute simplex or 12 pages per minute duplex. It also features an autocorrect capability to straighten paper skews while documents are feeding.

The scanner is easy to use, and features an array of software for both the PC and Mac. ScanSnap Organizer 4.1 allows PC users a convenient way to store, manage, and view PDF and JPEG files as well as perform post-scan editing, keyword entry, and searchable PDF conversion. “Scan to Functions” allows Mac users a flexible way to manage their PDF, Searchable PDF, and JPEG files. Operators can save content to a folder, a network folder, iPhoto, and even directly to their iDisk account.

CardMinder 4.1 provides PC users a fast way to capture both sides of a business card, extract the information automatically, and export it to Outlook, Act!, Sales Force and other contact management software. Cardiris provides Mac users a convenient way to scan their business cards and export the contact information directly to Address Book or Entourage.

Files can also be scanned to cloud services Evernote, Google Docs, Salesforce CRM, SugarSync and SharePoint Online for Windows.

What makes this our choice for best in class is its small footprint in a scanner with automatic document feeding, skew correction, automatic conversion to PDF and automatic selection of paper size. We could also easily picked the ScanSnap IX500, though this is closer to a workgroup machine than a portable. Find information on both at http://scanners.fcpa.fujitsu.com/scansnap11/index.html.http://scanners.fcpa.fujitsu.com/scansnap11/index.html.

Workgroup Scanner: The Ambir ImageScan Pro 825i ADF Scanner
Price: $460 to $475.

Ambir ImageScan Pro 825i ADF Scanner
The ImageScan 825i is a compact workgroup scanner for Windows 7 and above that features a throughput of 25 pages per minute, color scanning, automatic document feed for up to 50 pages, skew correction, duplex capabilities and a resolution of 600 dpi.

The ImageScan 825 captures documents up from business cards to legal size, and up to nine pre-sets for fast selection of scanning options such as scan to PDF or OCR to a document. It offers TWAIN-compatible drivers.

Software bundled with the scanner includes AmbirScan ADF, ABBYY FineReader9.0 Sprint, andNewSoft Presto! PageManager 7.1.

Ambir Technology offers faster and more full-featured workgroup scanners, but a number of features lead us to this this as best in class. It has a light weight at 3.66 pounds and a small footprint at 10-in. x 5-in. x 6-in. – placing it between the portable and workgroup models. And it nicely balances a full feature set with simple and fast operations. While the company does have mobile solutions worth looking at, its power is in the portables, and to that end Ambir offers the ImageScan 825 with its own carrying case for travel.

It should also be noted that Ambir, a smaller company with strong technology, has its finger clearly on the pulse of the industry and a clear vision of how it will serve accountants. More information can be found at http://www.ambir.com/Ambir-Products/High-speed-Workgroup-ADF-Scanners/ImageScan-Pro-825i.

An Alternative– NeatDesk Scanner
Price: $399 to $499

NeatDesk Scanner
NeatDesk is a scanner initially designed to track receipts and other business documents, as well as for organization of those documents for applications on both PCs and Mac Computers. NeatDesk weighs in at 10.6 pounds, with a footprint of only 10.6-in. x 1.6-in. x 1.3-in.

The scanner is able to create tax or expense reports with receipt data, or export the data to Excel, Quicken or TurboTax. Contacts are imported directly into Outlook or another address book. Its proprietary software saves images in JPEG, PDF, and other popular formats; data can be sent to packages such as Excel, Outlook, Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax; and the system reads both U.S. and Canadian receipts and business cards.

It scans in color, gray-scale or black and white, with a maximum resolution of 600 dpi. And it can handle paper sizes from 1-in. x1-in. to 8.5-in. x 30-in. It scans at 24 pages per minute, in simplex or duplex, and its automatic document feeder can handle up to 50 letter-size pages at a time.

NeatDesk qualifies as best in class for a number of reasons. It offers an impressively sleek design; touch-screen operation; and three different sizes of input slots to help prevent skew errors. It does require a steeper learning curve than some other scanners, but its feature set is so full that it the curve is justified to make full use of its capabilities. It also comes with its own cloud storage service, but does permit users to add their own services as storage destinations.

Neat has a different and intriguing vision for how it will serve the accounting industry. Rather than sell directly to accounting professionals, the company looks to accountants to become partner/resellers. Accountants would buy the scanners for their major clients, so that the client in able to scan in receipts and other documents for book-keeping, or tax documents as needed. Find more information at http://www.neat.com/products/neatdesk/.

These three scanners all were named best in class for different reasons, but offer different enough features to make all three worth evaluation and ownership by accounting firms. From book-keeping to audit to tax, scanners are an indispensable tool. Another day, we will consider accounting-specific software programs for accounting functions.

Dave McClure

David P. McClure is a technologist and business consultant whose career has included eight years with the NASA Space Shuttle Program and assignments in marketing, environmental services, software publishing and broadband.  He founded the US Internet Industry Association, the nation's primary trade association for Internet and broadband companies.  In 2004 he was awarded a Cornerstone Award for leadership in the broadband industry.  In the same year, he was named to the Board of Directors of the Universal Service Administrative Corporation, the non-profit corporation that oversees the nation's $8 billion universal service telecommunications fund.  His areas of expertise include software management, strategic and market planning, global technology policy and technology audits.  He is the author of more than 100 white papers on business management, technology, customer service and strategic planning.

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