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If you're someone who's interested in digitizing and archiving all your paper receipts and financial and legal documents--or just about anything you have on paper--there are a handful of consumer sheet-fed scanners to choose from, including Fujitsu's ScanSnap S1500.
Very fast; includes OCR software and business-card reader software for Windows users; simple to use.
Doesn't scan photos well; doesn't scan oversized documents; OCR software isn't available for Mac.
The Bottom Line
Fujitsu's ScanSnap S1500 is a fast, compact, and easy-to-use scanner for digitally archiving all your paper documents.
What makes the S1500 so appealing is that it's not only compact (about the size of a loaf of bread), but also very fast. This 600x600 dpi color scanner is designed to do one main thing and do it well. It scans documents--both color and black-and white--and instantly turns them into searchable PDF files (if you opt to make them searchable).
According to Fujitsu, the S1500 can scan at a rate of 20 pages per minute. In our tests, that proved to be accurate as we scanned a 350-page manuscript in about 16 minutes. It's also able to scan both single-sided and doubled-sided documents.
As with most of these consumer document scanners, setting up the scanner is very simple. You install the ScanSnap software on your Windows or Mac computer, connect the S1500 via a USB cable, and you're ready to start scanning. Slip some documents into the top-loading tray and then press the button on the front of the unit (it's the only button) and the desktop software automatically launches. You can choose to scan to ScanSnap Manger or another compatible document organizer.
If you're loading a several pages, you have to be a little careful to put all the pages in straight and not add too many pages at one time (you're supposed to load only up to 50 pages at once). With that 350-page manuscript and an almost 1,000-page legal deposition, we had pretty good luck loading about 40 pages to start out, then adding pages as the stack got lower. We had a few paper jams, but the ScanSnap software does a good job letting you continue where you left off (before the jam) without messing up the whole scan. You pop open the scanner, pull any jammed pages out, close the scanner, and hit the button to begin scanning again. The software tells you which page wasn't scanned properly and you can start from there.
Once you scan your document or receipt, it appears as a PDF file in the application. You then rename the file and decide whether to put it in a folder with other documents or receipts. We can't say the software's superslick, but it is easy to use, and it's easy to drag and drop PDF files wherever you want them to go.
The Windows version of the ScanSnap manager comes with some extras, the most important of which is optical character recognition software that lets you turn scanned PDF documents into Word or Excel files. For example, we took an old manuscript that we didn't have stored on disc, digitized it into a PDF, then fed that PDF into the included ABBYY OCR program (it's not the latest 10.0 version of ABBYY's FineReader, but it is version 9.0). Windows users also get business-card reader software that lets you feed business cards into the scanner and turn them into digital contacts (it works well except when a card has odd lettering or characters on it).
Overall, we were pretty pleased with the results of the ABBYY software, though we did encounter one glitch where it turned all "I"s into "1"s. You can do a find and replace if the software makes any errors like his, but things get a little tricky when you're faced with a situation where you have both "I"s and "1"s throughout a document.
While we found the S1500 a pleasure to use and easy to store (the paper trays fold inward into the unit to conserve space when not in use), we should point out that it does have some limitations. For starters, it can't accept oversized documents aside from longer legal-size pages. Since the scanner is designed for 8.5x11 inch paper (as well as the aforementioned legal-size paper), anything wider than 8.5 inches isn't scannable. Also, while it can scan photos, it doesn't scan them as well as a true photo scanner (we ended up with some visible scan lines with an 8x10 photo we scanned in) and it turns them into PDFs not JPEG images. On the other hand, we were impressed how most everything else looked, including receipts that were reproduced in vivid detail.
Also, as noted, Mac users don't get the important OCR extras; the scanner simply turns documents into PDF files and the desktop software helps you organize those files. (Initially, the S1500 was not compatible with Snow Leopard version of Mac OS X, but Fujitsu has recently provided new drivers.)
For those looking for something even smaller and more portable, Fujitsu also makes the S300M, which costs about $250. However, the S300M is geared toward receipts and short documents.
For about $400 online, the S1500 isn't cheap, but it's reasonably priced for what it does and how well it performs. The fact is, if you're looking to get out from under all the paper that's overwhelming you--or just taking up space--the Fujitsu S1500 is a small but powerful organizational weapon that you'll soon find indispensable.