Mobile // Mobile Devices
News
6/7/2012
06:43 PM

CamScanner Straightens, Saves SmartPhone Pics As PDFs

CamScanner is a clever and useful smartphone app that lets you save and distribute photos as PDFs. Unfortunately it doesn't do optical character recognition. CamCard is a badly-flawed app for scanning and OCRing business cards.



Our smartphones are music players, cameras, and GPS devices. IntSig Information Co., which specializes in pattern recognition and information processing software, wants your phone to be a scanner, too. CamScanner turns your smartphone into a fairly sophisticated stand-in for a scanner, able to upload, print, and fax the photographs you take. CamCard, a separate app, "scans" business cards and does some optical character recognition to load cards into your contacts on your phone.

I tried these apps on a Droid RAZR running Android 2.3.6. They also are available for the iPhone. The short review is: get the first one, and avoid the second one.

There are other scan-to-PDF products available, but IntSig's has some unique image management features as well as a breadth of upload and cloud storage options. CamScanner takes a high-resolution picture of whatever you are interested in, and then "scans" the image. Prior to scanning, you can rotate the image in 90-degree increments, and you can drag several handles to crop the image. There are controls for brightness and contrast as well as for quality of the image.

The scan algorithm is very forgiving of shaky hands, or of the image being a little off center or off square. It's smart enough to turn and center the item to be scanned as part of the scanning process. The app seems to detect edges and rectangular items when it analyzes the picture that it's scanning. It assumes that the user will want to crop at the detected edges, and it places the handles for cropping along those edges.

Click on images for larger version

One very nice feature shows up when you try to crop the photo: a small close-up of the image under the cropping handle shows up in the corner of the screen, so you can have some precision in where you want the cropping done. When you're ready, touch the checkmark on the screen, and the scan begins. If you don't like what you see, you can adjust the brightness, contrast, and quality with simple slider controls. Touch the checkmark again, and you are done. I tried taking pictures at several angles to make sure the app could find the document, center it, and scan it, and it worked for me every time.

You can also tell CamScanner to apply its scan algorithms to a photograph in your phone's photo gallery.

Multiple page documents can be scanned in using CamScanner. The app includes the ability to reorder and rescan pages if need be. The interface is straightforward and easy to use.

CamScanner allows you to assign a title to what you've scanned, and to write a page of notes to attach to the scan, which is helpful. I can see scanning receipts and making notes about them, all in one place, as a handy capability.

Another capability is "tagging" a scan. From the name of this feature, I hoped that I would be able to assign an arbitrary bit of text to the scan, but it only let me select from five preset tags: Business Card, Whiteboard, PPT, Note, and ID Card. That makes the feature much less useful.

All of your scans are displayed in a scrolling gallery that shows a preview page of each scan you have taken, with any name and tag you've assigned along with the scan timestamp. The gallery can be displayed as a four-row-by-three-column grid, or as a list of six items.

Click on images for larger version

Nicely integrated into the app is the ability to preview your scan as a PDF, and to transfer it off the phone in any of a number of ways. Want to transfer your PDF via Bluetooth or email? It's built in. Also built in is nice clean integration with Google Cloud Print, Box.net, Dropbox, and Google Docs. Uploads, emails, and printing all worked flawlessly for me. One thing that is lost in the upload are any notes that you might have attached to the scan; in fact, I could find no way to print or otherwise capture the notes that I typed in.

CamScanner has the ability to fax items you've scanned, but it's somewhat expensive. You need to purchase the ability to fax a page from IntSig. At $.99 a page, or $8.99 for 10 pages, I decided the price wasn't worth trying the feature. I suppose in an emergency this might be worth it, but emailing an attached PDF somewhere is likely more than sufficient.

There is no OCR built into this application, but I was successful importing the uploaded PDFs into Google Docs and using its OCR, so the absence bothered me only a little bit.

One of IntSig's competitors, DocScanner, is beginning to offer a related application that scans business cards, recognizes the various fields on the cards, and imports them into the phone's Contacts. IntSig's offer in this space is called CamCard, and as much as I liked CamScanner, the CamCard product disappoints. I scanned 20 business cards and only managed to get two recognized with no errors. It's not fair to expect the app to recognize a company name inside a logo, but it is fair to avoid an app that generated at least three errors on more than half the cards I scanned. Perhaps these problems are the reason that CamScanner does not yet include OCR.

Name: CamScanner from IntSig Information Co.
iTunes Page    Google Play Page

CamScanner is not without flaws, but it is a clever and useful app that lets you perform many practical scanning applications with just a smart phone.
Price: $4.99
Pros:
  • Good quality scans
  • Impressive image management
  • Clean integration with email, multiple cloud storage options, and Google Cloud Print.
Cons:
  • No OCR
  • Notes are not uploaded or printed
  • "Tagging" is weak could be expanded
  • Faxing from the app is expensive

Name: CamCard

CamCard uses a smartphone camera to scan and OCR business cards. It doesn't work well. Stay away.
iTunes Page    Google Play Page
Price: $11.99

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