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Barcode Reader app compares prices on the fly

Want to know if that CD you're about to buy is cheaper online? Point your iPhone at the bar code and in seconds this app will look up competing prices.

Barcode Reader leverages your iPhone 3GS camera for quick and easy price comparisons. SHAPE Services

Bar code apps are all the rage these days, and with good reason: with one quick pass of your iPhone's camera, you can get all kinds of information about a product.

Joining the ranks of RedLaser, Pic2shop, and SnapTell, the aptly named Barcode Reader helps you compare prices, which is great for those times when you're out shopping and want to know if you can score a better deal online.

Using Barcode Reader couldn't be simpler: just tap "scan," then point your iPhone at the bar code for nearly any product. In mere seconds, it recognizes the code and fetches prices from any number of online vendors.

Of course, numerous other apps (including the aforementioned) do likewise, so why bother with Barcode Reader?

For one thing, it's free. (So are Pic2shop and SnapTell, but RedLaser costs $1.99.) What's more, I found it incredibly fast at recognizing bar codes (though the lack of some kind of progress meter or framing guide is a bit confusing at first).

It would be nice if the app could produce local results in addition to online prices (as SnapTell can), but I suppose beggars can't be choosers. SnapTell, for its part, makes scanning a bit more complex, and in my tests it didn't do a great job finding matches.

I should point out that Barcode Reader is optimized for iPhone 3GS; developer Shape Services says users of older iPhone models may need "additional gadgets" (like the Griffin Clarifi) to improve accuracy.

Anyone interested in the joys of bar-code scanning will want to test-drive the various apps for themselves. Barcode Reader may be just another entry in an increasingly crowded field, but it's a good one--and the price is right.

While you're at it, be sure to check out these related apps: