Andrew Hague is becoming a scanning junkie. A consultant who works out of his Manhattan apartment helping companies figure out how best to utilize voice mail, Hague recently discovered an ideal way to reduce the mounds of paper invading his desk. He scans myriad documents into a PC with a compact product called the Visioneer PaperPort Vx, then tosses away most of the originals. Hague uses PaperPort on bank statements, business cards, and graphs he can incorporate into presentations. He also has scanned instruction manual pages and even a beach house lease. ``I really envision going to a paperless office,'' he says.

With personal scanners such as PaperPort, the possibility of a clutter-free home office, in which people store and easily retrieve documents via computer, is at hand. Besides, scanners allow folks with fax-modems (but not a dedicated fax machine) to transmit documents that didn't originate on the PC. A scanner can also turn a printer into a no-frills copier. Scanners are becoming smaller, simpler, and at $400 or less, more affordable. PC makers also are finding unobtrusive spots in a computer system to place scanners. A version of PaperPort is built into a new computer keyboard from Compaq Computer.

BUSINESS WEEK and the National Software Testing Laboratories, both owned by The McGraw-Hill Companies, put five inexpensive scanners under the microscope. With each--the PaperPort Vx and its near-twin, the HP Scanjet 4s, the Delrina WinFax Scanner, the UMAX PageOffice, and the Logitech PageScan Color--you feed in a sheet of paper. As the document passes through, its image materializes on your PC screen.

Still, there are key differences among the models we tested. Some machines can scan more speedily than others or have better software for managing images once they reside inside your computer. And some are considerably faster and more accurate at tackling optical character recognition (OCR), a process by which electronic files are converted into text that can be edited.

Logitech's PageScan Color unit was the only machine we tested with color-scanning capabilities, a key advantage. Another plus: Users can detach the Logitech scanner head and roll it across a bound book or magazine, thus scanning pages that sheetfed machines could not handle. PageScan comes with a stripped-down version of DocuMagix' fine PaperMaster software, which lets you file scanned documents in personalized ``folders'' and ``drawers.'' On the negative side, the Xerox TextBridge OCR program that came bundled with the scanner performed poorly and had problems recognizing commas, periods, dashes, and lowercase m's.

The TextBridge software included with the Delrina WinFax Scanner didn't fare much better. The year 1996, for instance, was converted to 1990. And the Delrina scanner, made by Fujitsu, was a laggard in terms of speed, especially when scanning photos. That said, if your main criterion is faxing capability, the WinFax Scanner is a worthy contender. It comes with version 4.0 of Delrina's robust WinFax Pro program.

DRAG 'N' DROP. PageOffice from UMAX made the fewest OCR mistakes and is bundled with impressive software for editing images and managing documents. You can click and drag documents directly to icons for E-mail, faxing, printing, editing, or OCR to launch those functions. But PageOffice is the only scanner to require an SCSI interface card, which means plugging it inside the PC.

We got respectable results with the slick Visioneer PaperPort Vx and the nearly identical HP Scanjet 4s. At a foot long, both scanners use the same software and fit easily between the keyboard and monitor. Thumbnail images of scanned documents appear on-screen; you can drag and drop the documents into folders organized by topic (articles, taxes, receipts, etc.) or other PC applications. A nitpicky point: It was difficult to insert a document into PaperPort with one hand because the scanner would grab the page crookedly.

For all the good scanners can do in clearing up space around your home office, there can be a problem with capturing too much paper on your computer. Scanned documents can rapidly eat away at your hard drive. (Color photos at high resolu-tion can claim several megabytes.) When that happens, you'll be fighting clutter all over again.



Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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