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Scanr on the N95

For the last few days I've been playing with Scanr on the N95. I first wrote about Scanr in October of 2006, but with the low quality camera on my BlackBerry Pearl, and the Rogers high seas pirate pricing on data, it wasn't an option.  With the new 1G data plan from Rogers, and the N95's 5 megapixel camera, it seemed like a good time to try it again.

What Scanr does is very simple.  It uses the camera on your phone to capture an image, which it then sends to a web site scanning service.  Depending on the type of content, it does different things.  Business cards it will run through an OCR, and return you a vCard of the content, which you can then insert into your address book.  Whiteboards are returned to you as PDF files.  And documents can be faxed, OCR'd or PDF'd.   A good idea, with lots of promise!

And it works amazingly well in practice.  For example, I was introduced to Veronika Litinski of MarsDD in Toronto last week briefly while eating lunch in their food court.  Her card scanned beautifully.  The image above is the scan of her card taken by the N95, and below that is Scanr's interpretation. 

image

Tips to get the best results from Scanr for business cards:

  1. Use a phone with a 5 megapixel camera.  Although Scanr claims it will work with a lower pixel count, my previous experiences were not very impressive.
  2. Set the camera on macro to allow it to focus close up and reduce the strength of the flash.
  3. Focus as close as possible to the card, but do not cut any part of the card out.  The software gets confused if it can't see the whole card.
  4. Don't waste time on cards that heavy color components.  It doesn't work well there.
  5. Cards with a glossy finish also don't scan well, as the flash tends to obscure portions of the card.

Scanr also works well for whiteboard images.  Snap a photograph, send it to Scanr and what you get back is a highly compressed image optimized for readability with the knowledge that it was created using markers and whiteboard or paper.  It's a much better solution than today's expedient of snapping and mailing JPEG files.

I like it a lot.  The $2.99 / month price to allow you to upload unlimited scans is a steal too.

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Chris February 26, 2008, 2:33 pm

    Hi Alec, this is Chris from scanR.

    Thanks for reviewing scanR on your Nokia N95. As you noticed, the key to success is a quality camera. scanR works well on a lot of phones, but for best results, they need to have an auto-focus lens. A well-focused image is more important than the resolution, so even a 2 megapixel camera will work great if it has auto-focus.

  • Brad Templeton February 26, 2008, 10:23 pm

    I tried to photograph biz cards with the camera in my HTC Mogul. No luck at all. With its “flash” (really a white LED) on, anything really close to the camera is blown out. In general camera phones suck at this, but pocket cameras — if you also carry one — will be fine.

    Alas, I don’t carry a pocket camera outside my phone as I like a big camera when I’m actually shooting. Well, I don’t like how big it is, but I like the camera.

  • Dean Collins February 27, 2008, 9:15 am

    Hi Alec,

    Hope you are getting a 'cut' as I signed up based on your blog.

    Tried it with a single business card, worked pretty good – they mislabeled the company name (the 'logo' didn't OCR properly so they just took the email domain which would normally work but in this case didn't).

    For some strange reason they also don’t realize 'cell phone' is the same as 'mobile'.

    The VCF file download in the return webpage is a nice touch and makes adding details to outlook a nice touch.

    Depending on how good their accuracy levels stay it's a nice feature and well worth the $29 a year.

    Would I worry about mistakes and hang on to the card until it was returned in e-format, Yeh probably for important cards but until Americans wake up and understand QR codes (see http://www.cognation.net/contact) this is probably a good alternative.

    Cheers,
    Dean

    (btw I blurred out identifying information for obvious reasons – also is it just me or do you see scanR selling the contact information to another company as they scan it …. )

    Sample scan here http://deancollinsblog.blogspot.com/2008/02/scanr

  • Dean Collins February 27, 2008, 9:19 am

    BTW as a second post….. with some real use comments.

    Still happy I spent my $29.

    However they have some major issues for cards that are printed 'longways'

    pretty much every card I've sent that is printed across the card (eg running parrallel with the short side and meant to be read on the side) is coming back as a failure.

    You would think it's pretty simple code to 'flip' the image on it's side before processing.

    There are also a few other quirks/feedback that I'd love to give the scanR people as product improvement suggestions but there are no phone numbers on their website.

    Cheers,
    Dean Collins http://www.Cognation.net

  • Dean Collins February 27, 2008, 11:03 am

    Hey Alec,
    Hope you are getting a cut :)

    I sent a test scan when I read about it on your post – worked ok, a few issues (see below), but good enough to get me to sign up for the service.

    Lets see how they do when I send a deck of 300 cards I picked up from OMMA last week.

    Cheers,
    Dean

    http://deancollinsblog.blogspot.com/2008/02/scanr.html

    I read about scanR on Alec Saunders blog a few days ago, tried it with a single business card.

    Worked pretty good – they mislabeled the company name (the ‘logo’ didn’t OCR properly so they just took the email domain which would normally work but in this case didn’t).

    For some strange reason they also don’t realize ‘cell phone’ is the same as ‘mobile’.

    The VCF file download in the return webpage is a nice touch and makes adding details to outlook a nice touch.

    Depending on how good their accuracy levels stay it’s a nice feature and worth the $29 a year.

    Would I worry about mistakes and hang on to the card until it was returned in e format, Yeh probably for important cards but until Americans wake up and understand QR codes (see http://www.cognation.net/contact) this is probably a good alternative.

    Cheers,
    Dean

    btw I blurred out identifying information for obvious reasons – also is it just me or do you see scanR selling the contact information to another company as they scan it …. (see link for image sample)

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