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Umax Astra 4400 review:

Umax Astra 4400

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The Good Easy software interface; inexpensive.

The Bad Flimsy lid; noisy; skimpy support; not Mac compatible.

The Bottom Line This scanner sticks to the middle of the road on price, performance, and extras. It's not a bad scanner, but it's not the best value either.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

6.5 Overall
Editors' note: We have updated the ratings of this product to reflect changes in this category. (5/3/04)

Of the three scanners in this roundup, we found Umax's Astra 4400 the easiest to use, thanks to its simple and practical software interface. Umax prices the Astra 4400 at $99--somewhat less than Epson's Perfection 1250--and provides a software bundle equivalent to the Epson's. However, the Astra 4400's performance lags behind that of the Epson in some cases, and its image quality falls between the Epson and the Acer S2W 5300U. The Astra 4400 isn't a bad choice for a scanner, but if you can afford the extra cash ($30), you'll fare better with the Epson Perfection 1250. Of the three scanners in this roundup, we found Umax's Astra 4400 the easiest to use, thanks to its simple and practical software interface. Umax prices the Astra 4400 at $99--somewhat less than Epson's Perfection 1250--and provides a software bundle equivalent to the Epson's. However, the Astra 4400's performance lags behind that of the Epson in some cases, and its image quality falls between the Epson and the Acer S2W 5300U. The Astra 4400 isn't a bad choice for a scanner, but if you can afford the extra cash ($30), you'll fare better with the Epson Perfection 1250.

Hands on the Astra
Using the Astra 4400 involves a mix of annoyances and conveniences. Umax includes a USB cable but no printed manual with the scanner--only an instructional poster. Nevertheless, the setup was pretty easy. The Astra 4400 is compatible with Windows 98, Me, and 2000 but not the Mac OS. The software CD's online manuals have excellent illustrations and cover hands-on info in good detail. The Umax's four quick-scan buttons are clearly labeled: Scan, Copy, E-mail/Fax, and Custom. Unfortunately, the lid feels somewhat flimsy despite its rippled surface (which has all the charm of corrugated tin sheeting). The top isn't designed to come off in ordinary usage, nor does it telescope to accommodate thick items. One other disconcerting fact: The 4400 makes a loud, squeaky noise as the lens moves along under the glass.

The Astra 4400's driver interface, called VistaScan, has two modes. In Beginner mode, you open the driver (either by poking a button on the control panel or by launching the software), choose a destination such as Microsoft Word or your e-mail client, then choose the image type. VistaScan automatically configures the resolution, color settings, and so on, then makes the scan. If the destination is a word processor, VistaScan automatically runs the image through the ABBYY FineReader Sprint 4.0 OCR package.

In Advanced mode, you can fine-tune the color depth and dpi (dots per inch), run the descreen and sharpen routines, and tweak the capture's color balance; brightness and contrast; and shadow, midtone, and white points.

In addition to the FineReader OCR package, which you can use on documents that were not captured on the Astra 4400, Umax includes its own Copy Utility and MGI's PhotoSuite III SE, a decent photo-editing package.

Showtime
The Umax Astra 4400 made an average showing in CNET Labs' tests. It scanned color slower than either of the other models; it took 45 seconds to capture CNET's test file, or half again as long as the Epson Perfection 1250. However, on grayscale scans, The Astra 4400 squeaked in just ahead of the Epson. CNET's image-quality jury passed a judgment of middling on the Astra 4400. It produced somewhat dull colors, with dark reds and pale blues. It did better on grayscales, capturing all the shades carefully, though with some loss of detail. But of the three scanners, it introduced the least amount of noise, artifacts, or other mystery crud into its scans.

Short tech support
Umax's support borders on the miserly: The one-year warranty comes with only 90 days of telephone support, which is available short hours--weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT--and you pay for the call. The company's Web site provides e-mail access to technicians, limited to one year, as well as driver and documentation downloads.

For a budget flatbed, the Astra is versatile and easy to set up and use, but so is the Epson. It costs less than the Epson, and it comes with a slightly better software bundle. But considering the fundamentals--capture quality and support--we still have to steer most neophytes to the Epson Perfection 1250.

Scanner speeds
Time, in seconds, to scan in image (shorter bars equal better performance)
Grayscale scan   
Color scan
Acer S2W 5300U
40.0 
42.0 
Epson Perfection 1250
32.0 
29.8 
Umax Astra 4400
31.4 
45.5 
 
Scan quality
•Poor   ••Fair   •••Good   ••••Excellent
 Scanner Color Grayscale
 Acer S2W 5300U •• ••
 Epson Perfection 1250 •••• •••
 Umax Astra 4400 ••• ••
 
The Umax Astra 4400 zipped through the grayscale scan but got only a rating of fair on quality. The Umax took more time on the color scan, resulting in good image quality.

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