Pocket-size scanners put data in hand

Pocket-size scanners put data in hand

Two scanning tools provide you with only what you want from documents

By Michael Cheek and
John Breeden II
GCN Staff

The Siemens Electrocom Pocket Reader, left, and the Hewlett-Packard CapShare 920, both at less than a pound, let travelers grab whole documents or fragments.

Let's face it. Most of us do not carry around tiny CIA cameras that can capture documents at high resolution. But sometimes we need to capture pages or portions of documents while away from the office.

Two cool scanning tools, while not as small as a spy camera, can perform that task.

The Hewlett-Packard CapShare 920 and the Siemens Electrocom Pocket Reader can quickly capture information from almost any document. OK, so it takes a few swipes across the paper, but you no longer need a bulky scanner to pick up a line or a whole document.

The Siemens Pocket Reader takes in text line by line and interprets it immediately by optical character recognition.

The HP CapShare 920 works differently. After a U-shaped glide across the page, it grabs the entire page.

A separate OCR tool is needed to finish the grab.

The CapShare's diverse abilities in capturing illustrations or photographs earn it a well-deserved Reviewer's Choice.

Both of these devices have unique features to grab data on the run. And both weigh less than a pound.

Quite a fit

Although it's a little bulky, the 12.5-ounce CapShare 920 evoked oohs and aahs in the GCN Lab. HP calls it an e-copier, but that doesn't convey its flexibility.

About the size of a postcard and a bit more than an inch thick, the CapShare fits easily in the palm. You press the button in back and run the 4.75-inch scanning base over a page.

It takes two swipes'one toward you followed by one swipe away without lifting'to capture a standard letter-size page. The scan takes three to four seconds.

Two optical eyes keep track of where you are on a page by the orientation of paper fibers. No matter how straight or crooked the glide path, the CapShare takes no more than 10 seconds to straighten the captured data and stitch the page together into a single page.

A 1.75-inch-square LCD screen gives immediate feedback, even zooming in to show the captured page. Scans can be deleted on the fly or rotated for proper orientation. Even small print from newspaper financial pages or a phone book came through crystal-clear in our tests.

Want just a section of a page? The CapShare has cropping tools so its 4M of RAM won't be taken up by unwanted information. According to HP, that much memory can store 40 to 50 letter-size pages. Our tests commonly got more than 50, usually around 55. If we cropped the captures, we could get even more.

The CapShare isn't limited to letter-size pages. It can take in up to 119 square inches in a single normal-mode scan. There are two other modes, one for graphical documents and another for grabbing large flip charts at meetings.

Share the moment

The CapShare reduces oversized pages'up to 1,900 square inches'to a quarter of their original size, saving memory and making later printouts easier. This feature is excellent for meetings, where someone usually gets stuck with copying down everything by hand. The CapShare does all the work for you and compacts it into printable pages.

Multipage documents can be clipped together, making it easier to transfer the scans to a PC.

Transferring documents is slow, however. The CapShare uses a serial port, which operates at 0.12 Mbps. A letter-size page takes up to 30 seconds.

HP should consider offering a Universal Serial Bus version, which would transfer 100 times faster. A SCSI or perhaps even a FireWire interface would further shorten the wait for large amounts of data.

The CapShare has an IrDA infrared port for 4-Mbps transfers to notebook computers or compatible printers. It also works with Microsoft Windows CE and some other handheld devices.

Scans can be in single-page or multipage Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format or in TIFF. For immediate OCR, pages can be saved directly into the included Pagis Pro 2.0 software from ScanSoft Inc.

The CapShare requires two AA batteries and comes with four nickel-metal hydride cells and a charger. One set of charged batteries lasted for about 100 pages.

Overall, we found the CapShare amazingly useful and worth carrying despite the slight bulk. And HP includes a handy drawstring bag to tuck the CapShare into.

Sometimes, though, you don't need an entire document. A few lines of text will do.

That's when the tiny, pen-shaped Siemens Pocket Reader comes in handy. It captures targeted text from documents.

The Pocket Reader works only for clear text sized at 8 points to 16 points, immediately interpreting it for downloading to a PC. At 7 inches long by 2 inches across, the 4-ounce device is only slightly bigger than a highlighter. It works a little like a highlighter, too, with a tiny wheel that lets it glide across the page.

The Pocket Reader lives up to its name, fitting inside a shirt pocket. It would be perfect for, say, trade show attendees and heavily burdened travelers.

Those who attend shows can pick up hundreds of pages of documents and press releases from company representatives. Multiply this by 10 booth visits a day, and they end up lugging what feels like an entire forest of dead trees inside bulging giveaway bags.

To avoid the need for a handcart, some people sift through it all at the end of the day, but they still end up with a lot to carry. One booklet might have two paragraphs of needed information.

The Pocket Reader could capture those paragraphs and let users recycle the paper immediately.

Even after hundreds of scans over a six-hour period, the Pocket Reader's battery meter said it still had more than two-thirds of its original charge.

Holding on

The Pocket Reader holds up to 40,000 characters, equal to about 20 pages of text. To scan text in, you hold the device as you would a pen and run it over the material to be captured. It captures one line at a time.

A red laser illuminates while the device is working, and the small roller moves the reader smoothly over the page. A small LCD screen running the length of the device lets you inspect the scanned text for errors. Function keys scroll through the captured text.

The memory is nonvolatile, so if the batteries die or you want to change them, captured information is not lost.

Plug it in

Once you get back to the office PC or a portable computer, simply plug the device in to an open serial port and download the text, pasting it into a word processor, e-mail template or any other text-accepting application.

The Pocket Reader scans at 400 dots per inch, which gives good accuracy. Although it did well at reading sans serif fonts such as Helvetica and Arial, serif fonts came through somewhat less accurately.

The unit's small size limits the scan window to showing text smaller than 16 point. The tops and bottoms of larger letters exceed the scanning area.

When text was smaller than 8 point, it was difficult to get a precise line because partial lines appeared above and below. A 'line lost' error often popped up with tightly packed text.

People who receive large quantities of printed materials but want to keep only small fragments will enjoy the Pocket Reader, especially if the documents are collected while traveling. Those who seldom travel ought to stick with a flatbed scanner on their desks, or maybe the CapShare 920 could be an option.

The CapShare and the Pocket Reader have on-the-go value for any mobile professional. Both work as advertised, but the CapShare's flexibility makes it the better overall choice for getting everything you came for.

Two hand scanners capture a little data or a lot

CapShare 920
Portable handheld scanner

Hewlett-Packard Co.
Palo Alto, Calif.
tel. 703-204-2100
Pocket Reader
Portable text scanner

Siemens Electrocom LP
Arlington, Texas
tel. 203-838-0589
Pros+Stitches and straightens scans
+Can capture large and flip-chart
+Lightweight and compact
+Long battery life
Cons'Battery charger blocks second socket
'Serial transfer slow
'Won't scan text larger
'''than 16 points or smaller
'''than 8 points
'OCR accuracy only fair
Windows 9x or NT, Pentium MMX or
better, 32M of RAM, 35M of available
storage and available serial port;
Windows CE 2.0 device or printer
with IrDA port
Windows 9x or NT, Pentium or
better, 32M of RAM, 20M of
available storage and available
serial port; Mac OS 7.5 or


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