Most people look at scanners as a commodity that sometimes comes for free in the form of a printer/scanner combo (like my Canon MP150), but those who do serious scanning can boost their productivity simply by using a faster scanner and better document management software. Where the limit is between casual and heavier scanning can vary a lot. In my case, I scan a lot of receipts and thousands of business cards every year, so I consider those to be heavy scanning task. For several weeks, I did put the sheet-fed Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 to the test to see if its wicked fast 20 pages per minute (ppm) scanning would really improve my admin tasks. I’ll share the results in this post.
First, let’s look how Fujitsu pitches the scanner to potential customers. From their website, I can find this (partial) bulleted list:
- One button searchable PDF creation
- Intelligent paper feed detection
- Blazing 20ppm color scanning
- 50-page Automatic Document Feeder (ADF)
Most brand scanners produce images that are very decent (for an “archiving” use), so speed is often the first thing that users will seek from a scanner. Fortunately, the ScanSnap is very fast. During my test I was able to consistently scan twenty (letter) pages at speeds of 20 pages per minute (in 54 seconds to be exact). 20ppm is when scanning in single-sided mode, double-sided scan runs at no extra cost and would yield 40ppm. Interestingly enough, scanning in 300dpi in color or at 150dpi in grayscale did not change the scanning speed. Scanning in 600dpi in color (single-sided) was three times as slow however, with a time of 3mn and 15seconds for the same 20 pages.
20 pages scan, measured performance
- 600dpi, color, single sided: 3mn15s
- 300dpi, color, single sided: 54s
- 150dpi, color, single sided: 53s
- 150dpi, gray, single sided: 53s
Auto document feeder (very good)
The presence of a sheet feeder (or automatic document feeder – ADF) only adds to the overall process’ speed. inserting paper on a flatbed scanner can take nearly as much time as scanning itself. That said, a flatbed scanner can scan things like papers with staples on them. A flatbed scanner that has an ADF is also great, but won’t scan business cards. The auto document feeder (ADF) is said to be able to receive 50 pages, but note that it’s true only for 50 pages of clean, perfectly flat, paper. stacks of used documents tends to occupy more space because it’s not flat anymore. Ironically, a clean stack of paper tends to jam the ADF more. I’ve used other consumer-level ADF scanners before and this one performs well.
If you want to quickly scan documents, this is the scanner to get. For simple digitization of paper content, I’ve never seen a consumer-level scanner go this fast in full 300dpi color and double-sided. As I said above, the document feeder has inherent limitations of thickness, but during the weeks that I have used the ScanSnap, it worked for the overwhelming majority of documents. That said, I still needed to use the flatbed scanner from time to time, for stuff that would not fit in the ScanSnap S1500.
Scan business cards
To scan/archive business cards, there is a software called CardMinder that will handle the business cards scanning, recognition and archiving. It will also communicate with external applications like Outlook, Atc… Just like for regular documents, scanning business cards is really fast (0.7 cards/sec). It is in fact 2.5X faster than something like CardScan Executive (0.27 cards/sec in color and about 0.54 cards/sec in color). Like most business cards scanners, in difficult areas (company name, address, websites) the text recognition is prone to errors, and depending on the card designs, you might have to fix stuff often. Fortunately, names and emails are usually well recognized and that’s the most important thing (to me!). I also noticed that scanning the same card several times might yield different recognition errors – that happens with CardScan as well.
CardMinder’s card management functionality is very basic. It’s not possible to assign a company name to a bunch of card, and there’s no notion of category at all even though it is a fundamental piece of data to organize cards. In my opinion, CardMinder was built with the idea that the data would be synchronized immediately to another app like Outlook (the sync is very efficient) and that the categorization would actually happen there. It might be so, but Outlook does not preserve the original card scan, and I think that any business card management software, should stand on its own. The CardScan software is clearly better, although it also runs much slower than CardMinder (is it written in Visual Basic?).
The industry needs a scanner-independent business management software that can store the original card image along with the post-OCR data (if you know a good one, drop a comment below – if only outlook could conserve the scanned card…).
Character recognition (OCR)
Searchable documents: When documents are scanned into ScanSnap Organizer, they are save in PDF format by default. The software gives you the option to turn them into a searchable document. That means that it will convert the image’s content into text and embed it with the PDF file so you can do a search within the document when reading it with Acrobat Reader for example. It works reasonably well, although you should expect that in some instances, it won’t be able to translate some words.
Translated text from DivX brochure:
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Color quality (good)
For an office scanner, I found the color accuracy to be very good, although I have to admit that I don’t have the proper setup to scientifically prove it to you (display calibration…). I’m just comparing this with scanners that I have been using for the past year or so: the Canon MP150 and an Epson Perfection V350. Both of which are significantly slower (but also much cheaper).
Conclusion (great scanner, software could be better)
The ScanSnap S1500 is very fast, and if you want to archive documents as plain images or as searchable PDF files, it will prove to be an excellent solution. However, if you are trying to use optical character recognition (OCR) to turn images into text-based documents such as Word and Excel, you are in for a lot of manual corrections, even if the conversion of the formatting is sometime impressive. The same thing goes for business card management: while names and email addresses are usually recognized prope
rly, CardMinder lacks the skills to be the main card management solution. This is too bad because the ScanSnap S1500 is the best business card scanner that I have tried so far. For office document digitization, the presence of an auto-document feeder makes this scanner absolutely great when compared to flatbed scanners. It also has the advantage of scanning receipts, which again, is usually not an option for flatbed scanners, even with a document feeder.
That said, I don’t think that I could do without an actual flatbed scanner, because I sometime scan things with staples or documents that are too thick to go through the ScanSnap S1500.
I hope that this review answered most of the question that you have about this scanner. If you want to discuss something that was not covered, please leave a comment.