This pen is worth 1,000 words

GCN Lab review: DocuPen gives you portable scanning power, once you get a feel for it

LIGHT TOUCH: The 2-ounce, cigar-sized DocuPen RC800 scanner, above, can be carried anywhere.

Planon

Brandishing the Planon DocuPen RC800 portable scanner feels more like you're waving a magic wand than a pen scanner. Once you've mastered the DocuPen's tricky scanning pace, it opens a whole new world of mobile scanning, producing high-quality color images that you can modify, download, e-mail or print. Wave it over a picture and, presto, a high-resolution TIFF file is yours for the taking.

The DocuPen isn't the size of a regular pen you might pick up at a trade show. At about 8 inches long and .75 inches thick, it resembles a jumbo cigar more than a pen. It's a lightweight addition to a bag or briefcase, weighing only about 2 ounces.

Its size and portability make the DocuPen a compelling product. It wirelessly scans at a variety of resolutions: 96 dpi, which is suitable for Web pages, and 400 dpi, which is acceptable print quality. It offers four scanning modes: 24-bit color, 12-bit color, grayscale and monochrome.

The pen scanner comes with its own software to transfer harvested images to your computer via an included USB connection. DocuPen also includes PaperPort software, which lets you annotate and modify images.

DocuPen's small size, although a plus in most regards, got a bit irritating at times. Tiny icons on the end of the pen show different functions, but it took a while to figure out what they meant and interpret their blinking, flashing and fluttering lights. The included QuickStart helped some.

Just-right speed

The scanner has a fairly steep learning curve. You must move the DocuPen from top to bottom at just the right pace to get a usable image. If you move it too fast, a red X icon starts blinking. If you move too slowly, the image comes out in blocky chunks ' or shuts down if it thinks you've stopped. I've encountered few scanner/scannee relationships that took this much massaging.

For $300, the DocuPen comes with software, USB connection and a handy leather carrying case.

The DocuPen has 128M of RAM and 60M of hard-drive space, 8M of Flash memory and a slot where users can add extra memory cards. The rechargeable lithium- ion battery didn't blink through several hours of scanning.

I saved several images as TIFF files, which I could then modify using Adobe Photoshop or almost any other image software.

I scanned a photo of my great-grandfather, Timothy Lawler, that had been taken in the 1920s. The photo was black and white, so I used the monochrome option on the DocuPen. Although the file took up only 678K, it didn't capture the nuances of Grandpa Lawler's Irish twinkle or his bricklayer hands. I tried it again with the full-color setting at 400 dpi resolution, and this time the results were almost print quality. The image took up 27.5M on the DocuPen, but in this case, I wanted the higher quality.

The pesky flaws in DocuPen are more than outweighed by its ability to provide high-quality mobile scanning from just about anywhere. The Maxwell Smart appeal of it ' looks like a pen, works like a scanner ' earns high marks for innovation and usefulness. Spies, scholars, genealogists, archivists or anyone who works with documents would welcome the DocuPen RC800 into their bag of magic tricks.

Planon, (888) 507-3926, www.planon.com

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