Power User: Hardware that works: A truly portable scanner

John McCormick

The tiny DocuPen R700 scanner connects easily to a PC.

Sometimes I like to use this space to talk about a new product that's crossed my desk. So here's one for you.

Recently I wondered, wouldn't it be great to have a more portable scanner to copy portions of maps, book pages or other oddly shaped documents wherever you happen to be? And I'm not talking about those USB sheet-fed scanners such as the Visioneer Strobe XP 100.

Well, it turns out everything you need to scan documents can fit into an 8.5-inch-long package no thicker than your finger.

Complete with rechargeable battery, light source, optical pickup, USB port and enough nonvolatile memory to store about 100 standard documents, the $200 DocuPen R700 from Planon System Solutions Inc. of Mississauga, Ontario, is eminently portable. Just press the single control button to select the resolution you desire (100 or 200 dpi), then sweep the tiny scanner across the page. A scan takes only a few seconds to complete and a light flashes if you move too fast.

Yes, there have been other 'pen' scanners, but you use them much the way you'd use a regular pen'scanning individual lines of text using just their tips. DocuPen sweeps a whole page. And unlike traditional desktop scanners, you can also use the DocuPen to scan pieces of a map or drawing. Make several passes and you've got the pieces of a large map, blueprint or other large image. I was pleasantly surprised by how well this worked. Copy quality is excellent if you use just a bit of care. And when you're ready to download images, just plug in the USB cord and connect to your PC.

If you need text out of your scan, drag and drop the image onto a program you use regularly, such as Word or Excel, and the optical character reader tool runs automatically, usually finishing in a few seconds. The included OCR software is fast and accurate'within limits. It does a fine job on basic 10-point to 14-point fonts. You could also drag and drop the scan onto your favorite OCR program, if you have one. There's no need to open the program to try to locate the image file.
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The DocuPen comes with PaperPort software from ScanSoft Inc. of Peabody, Mass. You can use it to sharpen images or straighten out lopsided scans. The software even has an erase tool to clean up the image further, and it works with other scanners, so it can serve as a universal image viewer or processor by importing a wide variety of file formats.

Limited only by imagination

In using the DocuPen, I came to appreciate its versatility. You can paste small images, such as receipts or business cards, on a single page, and any image can be annotated or rubber-stamped with whatever text you wish (Confidential, for example, or perhaps a digitized signature).

Executives, investigators, instructors and road warriors of all stripes should check out the DocuPen. I can imagine dozens of situations where it would be invaluable, if only to save time waiting for a copier to free up when you're visiting an office or hotel.

About the only thing I found missing from the DocuPen was the ability to stitch together several scans into one very large image. Maximum document size is a standard 8 1/2 by 11. If you paste too many images on a single page, the software creates a new page for the next image.

This isn't a big complaint, especially since I already have software to handle the stitching-together part. Besides, how many of us have access to large-format printers?

Overall, if I worked for the GCN Lab, I'd give the DocuPen an A+. The hardware is simple to use, the software interface is highly intuitive and the image manipulation tools work well. It seems someone has gotten right the potential of the pen-size scanner.

John McCormick is a freelance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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