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Excel's Insert Data from Picture in action.

Angela Lang/CNET

Put down the paper and pick up your phone. A Microsoft tool for Android phones and iPhones can convert words and numbers on a sheet of paper into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet in a couple of seconds. With Excel's Insert Data from Picture tool, you can snap a photo of data in rows and columns on a piece of paper, and the iOS and Android Excel app will automatically convert the image into editable table data.

Video: Turn a photo of data into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet

The spreadsheet conversion tool sends the image to Excel's online image-recognition engine to process and convert the words and numbers into a table. During the import, Excel gives you a chance to fix anything before it's converted.

Excel for Android and iPhone is part of Microsoft's collection of Office apps for mobile devices that includes Word and PowerPoint. The free versions of the mobile productivity apps gives you basic editing tools. With a Microsoft Office subscription, you can unlock more features, such as the ability to collaborate with colleagues.

An Excel spreadsheet, converted from a printed page.

Screenshot by Clifford Colby/CNET

To turn phone photos into Excel table data:

1. In the Excel app, tap the New button at the top of the app to create a new file. You can choose to create a blank workbook or use one of the templates that come with the app.

2. At the bottom of the app, tap the Data from Picture button (it's the 3x3 grid with a camera). If this is your first time using the tool, tap Allow to give Microsoft permission to convert the image to data using Microsoft's online service.

Correcting a printed fantasy football cheatsheet before turning into an Excel spreadsheet.

Screenshot by Clifford Colby/CNET

3. Position the red rectangle around the data you want to capture, and then tap the round Capture button. The app is a little finicky about what it does and doesn't identify as data, so it may take you a few tries to capture what you want.

4. If you are happy with the captured image, tap the red check button to convert the data. If you're not, tap the X and start again.

5. In a preview of the captured data, tap a red-highlighted cell and then tap Edit to enter missing information. Tap Done after each change. You can also tap unhighlighted cells to make corrections or changes.

6. Once you are happy with the data, tap Insert at the top to place the data in your workbook.

The data you capture and convert can be numbers and words and can include lists and recipe ingredients. And while the app was remarkably accurate converting data from a piece of paper, we also got it to collect data from a laptop screen. It did struggle with our hand-written data, however.

The Insert Data from Picture tool for Android and iOS can work with 21 languages, including French, German and Spanish, with more languages to come, Microsoft said.

Sending spreadsheet data to Microsoft for processing can bring up privacy concerns. "The privacy and security of Microsoft's customers' data are of the utmost importance to the company," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "Intelligence features within Office apps strictly respect the access rights given to a user, and will not expose information to anyone who has not been given access."

Originally published May 23. Update, June 3 at 7:34 a.m. PT: Added more detail.

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