Brother ImageCenter ADS 2500W

Scan directly to PCs, phones, e-mail or the cloud

Scanners have always been one of the more difficult peripherals to set up and maintain on a network. These days, most of them have been incorporated into multi-function devices, though it's often clear that the scanning part of those machines is more or less an afterthought.

So it was a joy to discover the Brother ImageCenter ADS-2500W, a scanner that adds some impressive features normally found on very-high end devices to a very tiny, reasonably-priced package. It's obvious that scanning tools were of primary concern here, but that doesn't get in the way of ease of use. Working with the ImageCenter, and even setting it up, is a breeze.

And this is a scanner that would seem to fit in at agencies moving toward mobile, collaborative cloud environments, because it can scan directly to a phone or cloud site, as well as to your network or PC.

Let's start with the scanner itself. This little top-feeding scanner may only be 11.5-inches long and 9-inches wide, but its quality is easily as good as most professional flatbed units we've reviewed. And it may only be 8 inches tall, but it can accept paper up to 34-inches in length, while also handling with ease small formats like business cards.

One of the coolest features is that the ImageCenter can be used wirelessly. When setting up the device, you can place it anywhere within the wireless coverage of your network. It just needs access to a power port.

Once powered, it can scan for wireless signals just like any other device. Simply pick the network that you want to use, or tell it the SSID in the event the name is cloaked, and then enter the password. From that point on, the ImageCenter will find an IP address or get assigned one dynamically based on your configuration. After that, it's a part of your network.

Next, you need to set up individual computers to be able to use it. Insert a CD into the drives of the computers you want to pair with the scanner. When you set up the software, you can configure it so that the computer you're using becomes the default device where documents go, or just one location where scanned files can go. Then when you scan something using the ImageCenter, it will show up in your default documents folder on that machine. You also can tie it to multiple computers.

You can also set up a four-digit PIN that needs to be entered at the scanner to prevent documents you don't want from piling up on your hard drive, or accidentally being sent to the wrong place. This ability to tie computers into the scanner makes it more of a personal or executive product, but it would work fine as a shared scanner too, even in a moderate-size office. It would just take a little more set-up time.

Back at the scanner itself, you will find that sending documents to paired computers is only one option. You can also scan to a cloud site that you own, an FTP site, a spot on your internal network, an Android-based phone or even scan into e-mail. The ImageCenter can also be used locally by sending scanned documents to any USB key drive, which can be inserted easily into the side of the unit.

There is a one-touch scan button on the unit as well, which can be configured to do any task. So if you almost always want to send documents to your phone or PC, you can set it up to do that when the button is pressed.

Perhaps the most impressive feature in terms of destination is the ability to scan directly to the cloud, a great idea that should help the scanner find a home in any government office. The ImageCenter comes ready to whisk your documents away to SkyDrive, Box, GoogleDrive, Evernote, Dropbox, Facebook, Picasa and Flickr. You can even pair these services with the scanner, just as with a PC, so that it can automatically send documents to the same spot in the cloud each time. And you can set up your own cloud-based destinations, a process that only takes a few minutes.

Most of the options are managed on a 3.7-inch LCD touchscreen, a surprising find on such a compact unit.

In terms of user experience, probably the coolest thing most people will find is using the Scan To PC function. You hit that icon on the screen, load your documents, and it scans through them quickly, up to 24-pages-per-minute, an impressive speed for such a tiny unit. Then they all get sent back to your desktop wirelessly, almost like magic.

The scanner itself is high quality, able to scan up to 600 dpi without slowing down. It also scans both sides of a document in a single pass. We tested it out with plastic ID cards, receipts, legal documents, business cards and notebook paper. You can even load lots of documents of varying sizes at the same time into the 50-page feeder, though this sometimes results in slightly crooked results which nonetheless can be fixed using software after the fact.

Everything we scanned came out as close to perfect as you can get. Even a schedule I scribbled down on Winnie-the-Pooh stationary came out so crisp that it was easily as good as the original. The only real negative we found was that because this is a top-feeding model, documents are limited to 8.5-inches wide, the width of a standard piece of office paper, though they can be up to 34 inches long.

The control center software that comes with the ImageCenter is powerful and easy to use. You can drive any of the scanner's functions from your desktop. The scanner also comes with a suite of third-party software including Nuance PDF Converter Professional 7, Nuance Paper Port 12 SE for Windows, Presto! Page Manager 9 for Mac, and Presto BizCard 6 for Windows and Mac. With that software, you can scan documents into the ImageCenter and turn them into editable files using text recognition, yet another powerful tool the scanner offers. Given the high quality of the scans, it was little surprise that the text recognition was 100 percent accurate in all of our extensive testing.

The ImageCenter ADS-2500W retails for $799, a price we initially thought was a bit high for a personal scanner. But once we saw not only the quality of the scans but also the versatility of the unit, able to send documents wirelessly to everything from a smart phone to a desktop to the cloud, we came to see the ImageCenter as good value.

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