Portable Scanners Review

Why Buy a Portable Scanner?

Scanners let you create a digital copy of a physical document and store it on your computer. Portable scanners do the same thing, but they are small and lightweight, so you can take them on the road or easily store them out of sight when not in use. Most units, including the IRIScan Mouse, the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i and the Doxie One, are USB scanners. They use a USB connection for power and to transfer data to your computer. Some scanners use batteries or save data to a built-in memory card.

Most portable scanners use reflective scanning, which means they illuminate the document and take its picture. This type of scan does not work well for slides or transparencies, but it does a good job with most other document types.

Portable Scanners: What to Look For

You'll want to pick a scanner with the right features for your needs. It should have sufficient resolution to capture your documents accurately, the ability to scan different-sized and multiple documents and be able to store or transfer the resulting data to a hard disk or memory card. You'll also want to consider the scanner's output file formats and its portability.

Resolution indicates how much detail a portable scanner captures. It is measured in dots per inch (dpi). A low-resolution scanner, 300 dpi, is fine for simple text documents. If you're capturing photographs or complex color documents you'll want a high-resolution scanner, 600 dpi or higher. High-resolution scans take up more space on your storage device. Some scanner manufacturers advertise very high dpi values for their scanners. These can be misleading since many scanners use software to interpolate image data from lower-resolution images. You should always look at a scanner's optical resolution, which measures the physical resolution of the unit's image sensor.

Paper Handling
Most scanners can handle standard letter-sized documents. Some also scan long pages, which is handy for capturing itemized receipts or legal-sized pages. If you plan on scanning lots of documents, you may want a unit that has a multi-page paper feeder, though this feature will increase the scanner's size and weight. Some portable scanners include variable paper guides, which are handy if you're scanning a mix of document formats.

Data Interface & File Format
Once you've scanned your documents, you'll need to transfer them to your computer. Many portable scanners let you scan directly to your computer's hard drive via a USB connection, saving data as JPG or PDF files. Some do optical character recognition (OCR) and produce searchable text documents. Scanners often include software designed to help manage your scanned files, and some support standardized software interfaces, such as TWAIN and WIA, which allow third-party applications to access the scanner.

When choosing a portable scanner, first determine what you want to scan and where you'll be when you scan it. Road warriors will want to minimize weight and accessories required. Home users may prefer a larger unit with more flexible features.