Visioneer tunes up the software for its itty-bitty desktop scanner -


Visioneer Inc.'s keyboard-scanner combo has made an about-face.


When the GCN Lab last reviewed the scanner [GCN, Aug. 12, 1996, Page 41], the PaperPort
ix's hardware performed well, but the bundled software needed work. Now the reverse is
true.


The new Visioneer PaperPort Strobe scanner has several outstanding advantages over its
predecessors. It can scan documents in 24-bit color at up to 300 dots per inch by 600 dpi,
as well as black-and-white documents at up to 2,400 dpi.


And it's notably more compact. The tiny Strobe measures 11-by-2-by-21Ž2 inches and
weighs 1.4 pounds. I tested it under Microsoft Windows 95 on a 200-MHz Gateway 2000 Inc.
Pentium with 32M RAM and one parallel port.


Visioneer's new scanning technology, called MicroChrome, records an image on an array
of small charge-coupled devices, rather like a multifaceted insect eye. MicroChrome
eliminates the bulky optics that earlier scanners used to focus the image onto a CCD.


Even though it's color-capable, the Strobe takes up a third less room than its
black-and-white forebears.


Because there's no degradation from bouncing images off mirrors, MicroChrome has the
potential for better scanning quality.


The Strobe works about 50 percent faster than earlier PaperPorts, on average turning
out letter-sized pages in less than four seconds. It can operate simultaneously with a
printer via a parallel pass-through port.


Visioneer has greatly improved its bundled software. There's an updated version of
Corex Technologies' CardScan scanning and tracking software as well as a integrated
version of PictureWorks Technology's PhotoEnhancer image editing software. You also get a
program for capturing travel receipts and another for creating multimedia e-mail
attachments.


But the core program is a new version of the Xerox TextBridge package for optical
character recognition.


The previous TextBridge version disappointed me. Although it's better this time around,
I still favor Caere Corp.'s OmniPage Pro. MicroChrome's higher resolution, however, can
improve OCR accuracy regardless of the OCR package.


Another area of improvement is in scan settings. The last PaperPort stuck you with
default settings for text and image scanning and other preset options. Now you can set up
custom scan settings and change the scanning options in four categories.


This makes software and scanner use much easier. You no longer have to reset custom
settings for each new job.


Some things have stayed the same or improved only slightly. It's still easy to organize
scanned documents in the PaperPort's named folders, and the device still supports
interfaces with about 150 applications that accept image or text files or programs such as
fax software.


You can install the PaperPort as an optional print device and simply select it as your
printer to export files from many applications. The ability makes the scanner an
invaluable tool for building World Wide Web pages.


One thing that Visioneer scanners have always done well is handle different document
sizes.


The Strobe is no exception. It accepts everything from business cards to 30-inch-long
newspaper clippings.


On a down note, you must mount photographs on a reusable stiff card stock to scan them.
Unmounted photographs skew around on the feed mechanism.


Visioneer finally builds a scanner with color capability, then takes away the ease of
use that made their earlier scanners so great.


Mounting a photo on the reusable card takes only a few seconds, but it must be done for
each photo. It's not a big chore if you scan pictures occasionally, but it's a serious
drawback for batch photo scanning.


I wouldn't mind seeing the scanner's footprint grow if Visioneer eliminated this
problem.


The Strobe did well at scanning black-and-white materials, but color scans weren't as
successful. Although photos came through better than color documents, the photos looked
muted and low-contrast. Color documents were sometimes illegible.


The image editing tools are excellent, but Visioneer claims its image quality can equal
or exceed that of flatbed scanners. That isn't so. The Strobe does scan quickly, and you
can fix many of the image faults with software. But the initial images are at best equal
to those from only some flatbed scanners.


I noticed fine striations in scanned color text that could only be caused by the
scanner. Vertical banding was evident on some grayscale and color scans, though the
overall grayscale and black-and-white scanning was acceptable.


The PaperPort Strobe and its MicroChrome technology show promise. For now, the Strobe
still works fine as a personal document scanner.


The software improvements, faster scanning and wealth of application links make it a
useful peripheral, particularly for anyone who converts print documents and photos for Web
publication.


But until Visioneer fixes the image irregularities and media handling, the Strobe isn't
equal to its potential.


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