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CardScan turns cards into contacts

Save time and get organized by scanning business cards.


CardScan Personal is a compact business card scanner paired with powerful (though Windows-only) contact management software that makes short work of transforming a stack of business cards into useful information.

The 7.6-ounce scanner measures 4.8 inches wide, 3.3 inches deep, and 1.5 inch high, so it won't take up much room in your bag. (The device even comes with a carrying pouch that keeps the scanner and USB cable together.) According to the company, the CardScan can scan a monochrome card in 5 seconds and a polychrome card in a few more seconds. That's a decent speed, however, the real value comes with the accompanying software. The software not only helps import the information from the cards but is also useful as a standalone contact manager.

I got my hands on a CardScan Personal review unit and set up the system in no time. I installed the software, calibrated the scanner using the included blank card, and chose a location for the program data. I then started feeding the scanner with a series of cards I'd picked up at various parties, networking events, and conferences over the past year. Sadly, the scanner's small size means you have to feed the cards through one-by-one--which is a drag if you try to catch up on hundreds of cards at once like I did.

The CardScan software saves an image of the card with the contact file, so you always have a visual record (helpful for confirming data or just jogging your memory of a person). You can assign categories, labels, and notes to individual cards or to whole batches of cards that you scan at once. For example, as I scanned several dozen cards from last month's Twiistup party, I assigned tags to the whole batch with one click.

The software's optical character recognition, which interprets the information on the cards, was impressive, if not quite perfect. It read the most straightforward cards with no problem. It even cleanly interpreted one card that was crowded with text and had the contact's name at the bottom instead of near the top. The scanner also was not thrown off by some handwritten scribbles on the front of several cards.

The results were less surefire when it came to cards with color backgrounds, photos, or non-Roman characters. These types of cards will doubtlessly require manual correction. Fortunately, CardScan includes a "verified" check box on each record so you can tell instantly whether a record has been confirmed by a human as being accurate. Checking the information can be a little tedious, but it's still easier than typing all the contacts in yourself.

Once the contacts are in, you can automatically sync the information to your primary management software--including Outlook, Windows Mobile, and Palm Desktop--or you can export the records in a variety of formats for use by other applications. CardScan provides free online backup of your data, which also lets you look up your contacts via a secure Web site.

Priced at $169, the CardScan Personal isn't cheap. But if you have a stack of cards sitting on your desk--and especially if you're in an industry where contacts equal money--the easy-to-use CardScan Personal will be worth that cost.