Ever need to capture high-resolution data from documents while you're away from the office scanner? Try one of these two cool tools and you won't have to borrow a spy camera from the CIA.
The Hewlett-Packard Co. CapShare 920 and the Siemens Electrocom Pocket Reader can capture information from almost any document. Okay, so it takes a few swipes across the paper, but you no longer need a bulky scanner.
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 requires a separate OCR tool to finish the grab. But the CapShare also can capture illustrations or photographs.
Both devices have unique features to grab data on the run. And both weigh less than a pound.
HP calls the 12 1/2-ounce CapShare 920 an e-copier, but that doesn't convey its flexibility. Sized like a postcard and a bit more than an inch thick, the CapShare fits easily in the palm of the hand. Press the button in back and run the 4 3/4-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 out the captured data and stitch the page together.
A 1 3/4-inch-square LCD screen gives 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 and a phone book came through crystal clear.
Want just a section of a page? The CapShare 920 has cropping tools so its 4 megabytes 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.
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 from meetings.
The CapShare 920 reduces oversize pages--up to 1,900 square inches--to a quarter of their original size, saving memory and making it easier to print them out later. This feature is excellent for meetings.
Transferring documents is slow, however. The CapShare uses a serial port, which operates at 0.12 megabytes per second. A letter-size page takes up to 30 seconds. HP should consider offering a USB connection, which would transfer 100 times faster, or a SCSI or perhaps even a FireWire interface to shorten the wait for large amounts of data.
The CapShare also has an IrDA infrared port for 4-megabyte-per-second transfers to notebook computers or compatible printers. It works with Microsoft Windows CE handheld devices, too.
Scans can be in single-page or multipage Adobe Acrobat PDF format or as TIFFs. They can be saved directly into the included ScanSoft Pagis Pro 2.0 software from ScanSoft Inc. of Peabody, Mass., for immediate optical character recognition.
The CapShare 920 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.
The tiny pen-shaped Siemens Pocket Reader works only for clear text sized eight points to 16 points and interprets it for download into a PC.
The 4-ounce device is only slightly bigger than a highlighter, at 7 inches long and 2 inches across. It fits inside a shirt pocket.
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. The unit holds up to 40,000 characters, which equals about 20 pages of text. To scan in text, you hold the device as you would a pen and run it over what is to be captured. It captures one line at a time.
A red laser illuminates while the device is working, and a little roller moves it smoothly over the page. The 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.
Once you get back to the office PC or a latop computer, simply plug the device into 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 points. The tops and bottoms of larger letters exceed the scanning area.
When text was smaller than 8 points, it was difficult to get a precise line because partial lines appeared above and below.
People who receive large quantities of printed materials but want to keep only tiny fragments will enjoy the Pocket Reader, especially if the documents are collected on travel. Those who seldom travel ought to stick with a flatbed scanner on the desk.
Both the CapShare and Pocket Reader have on-the-go value for any mobile professional. Both work as advertised, but the CapShare's flexibility makes it the better choice.
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Siemens Electrocom LP
Grade: B --
+ Lightweight and compact
+ Long battery life
-- Won't scan text larger than 16-point or smaller than 8-point
-- OCR accuracy only fair
Real-life requirements: Windows 95 or above, Pentium or better, 32 megabytes of RAM, 20 megabytes of available storage and available serial port; Mac OS 7.5 or higher.
Palo Alto, Calif.
+ Stitches and straightens scans
+ Can capture large and flip-chart documents
-- Battery charger blocks second socket
-- Serial transfer slow
Real-life requirements: Windows 95 or above, Pentium MMX or better, 32 megabytes of RAM, 35 megabytes of available storage and available serial port; Windows CE 2.0 device or printer with IrDA port.