The Best Portable Scanners for 2022 | TechBuzz

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The pandemic may have cut back on business travel, but the category of portable scanners has been growing by leaps and bounds to support taking all kinds of work on the road. Whether you need to convert paper documents to editable text or assemble an expense report with digitized receipts, you’ll find mobile scanners in several different flavors, with widely varying features and capabilities—and some are more portable than others. We’ve pulled together our favorites for a broad range of applications, including specialty scanners for collecting business cards at trade shows or digitizing book pages in libraries.

Most portable scanners don’t need to be plugged into an AC outlet to function. A few have batteries, and others get their juice via a USB tether to a desktop PC or laptop. Truly wireless scanners transmit data to your computer, phone, or tablet over Wi-Fi, and some support memory cards that allow you to scan without a device present at all.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a scanner. Frequent business travelers will need to balance wanting the smallest and lightest scanner with the need for particular features such as two-sided scanning, high resolution, and high scanning speed. If you’re scanning documents, you’ll need good optical character recognition (OCR) to turn printed pages into editable text; if you scan at high volume, you’ll want to consider the scanner’s daily duty cycle, which is the recommended number of pages it can scan per day. On the other hand, if you mostly scan invoices, sales receipts, applications, and other short documents, a more costly portable with a 20-page automatic document feeder (ADF) is overkill. 

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Before delving into our top picks for specific scanning-on-the-road scenarios, let’s first take a closer look at what features make specific types of portable scanners best suited for particular tasks.

Manual-Feed vs. Sheetfed Portables

Portable scanners come in two basic types: manual-feed and sheetfed. Manual-feed portables accept only one sheet, be it one- or two-sided, at a time. Sheetfed scanners come with ADFs for scanning multipage documents.

A manual-feed scanner and a sheetfed scanner side by side

Portable scanners come in two basic flavors: manual-feed (left) accepts only one sheet at a time and sheetfed (right) portables accept multipage scan jobs, usually up to 20 sheets.
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If you’ll do lots of scan jobs consisting of more than three pages, you should opt for a sheetfed model. Most of these, including the Editors’ Choice award-winning Epson WorkForce ES-300W, the Brother ADS-1250W, and the Epson WorkForce ES-300WR Accounting Edition, come with ADFs that hold up to 20 pages. A few have lower capacity.

A substantial majority of portable scanners, such as PCMag favorites the Epson DS-80W and Brother DSmobile DS-940DW, are manual-feed or single-sheetfed machines. Manual-feed scanners cost less than their sheetfed counterparts, sometimes a lot less. If you don’t need an ADF, there’s no reason to shell out for one.

Three Ways to Scan: Simplex vs. Duplex vs. Wand

Nearly as important as whether a portable scanner accepts one or multiple pages is whether it has two sensors, one for each side of a two-sided page. Two sensors allow the device to capture both sides simultaneously (duplex scanning), as opposed to scanning one side, flipping the page over manually, and feeding it back into the scanner to capture the other side (simplex, or manual-duplex). Most portable sheetfed scanners are duplex, though some of the lower-end portables scan only one side at a time.

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When scanning one- or two-page documents on a manual-feed scanner, capturing one side at a time isn’t so bad, but the more two-sided pages you scan, the more time-consuming and tedious simplex scanning becomes. An ADF will save you a bit of trouble for longer two-sided documents. When scanning a stack of two-sided pages on a sheetfed device, the scanner captures the entire stack from one side; then you flip the entire stack by hand and place it back in the ADF to scan the other side. 

If you want to scan a page from a book or something else that can’t be fed into a conventional scanner, you’ll want a wand scanner such as the IRIScan Book 5, which you hold in one hand and pass over the object you’re scanning.

Wand scanner scanning over magazine

With a wand scanner, you move the device over the source document, instead of the machine pulling the source over its sensors.

Portable Connectivity and Compatibility

Portable scanners transfer data to computers and other devices by either USB or Wi-Fi. Of the two, USB is much more restrictive. It works only with a Windows PC or Mac (sometimes only Windows) and won’t play well with your tablet or smartphone. Wi-Fi-ready scanners communicate wirelessly with Android and iOS apps as well as desktops and laptops.

SD card slot

The ultimate in portability is the ability to scan to an SD card or USB thumb drive, which eliminates the need for a laptop or mobile device.

A few portable scanners support autonomous scanning via SD cards or USB thumb drives. While you’re on the road, your scans are saved to the memory device, and you can transfer them to your computer, the cloud, or a network drive when you return to your home or office. This is ideal for situations where you have limited desk space and there’s no room for both your scanner and your computer.

Powering Up Your Portable Scanner

Most of today’s portable scanners can be powered over USB, connected to a computer. Those that have internal batteries (or can be upgraded to use them) will generally be able to charge from a USB connection. However, many scan and charge more quickly when using AC power. Epson’s ES-300W, for instance, takes only a couple of hours to charge from its power adapter, four hours over a USB 3.0 connection, and as long as 20 hours to charge over a USB 2.0 connection. If you’re primarily using the scanner away from wall outlets, make sure it supports USB 3.0, which will transmit data more quickly as well.

Some portable scanners have built-in batteries, and many others can run on batteries that are purchased separately. If you’ll be relying on a battery to power you through lots of scanning, check its scan rating. Some batteries are only good for about 100 scans per charge; others can handle up to 1,000.

How Quickly Should Your Portable Scanner Scan?

A portable scanner’s speed is heavily dependent on what you’re scanning, how it’s fed through the machine, and what kind of output you want. If the scanner is manual-duplex, you need to feed each page; ADFs take care of that for you and speed up the process. Post-scanning processing, such as converting an image of a document to editable and searchable text, will take more time than storing a quick, unprocessed scan of a business card or image.

Low-resolution scanning is relatively fast, but the increase in speed comes with a decrease in quality. Typically, 300 dots per inch (dpi) is adequate for most text pages; anything lower can cause OCR accuracy to degrade. Most portable scanners support resolutions of at least 300dpi, and some are capable of much higher.

Some of today’s portables are quite fast, even as quick as some larger desktop document models. The Epson ES-300W, for instance, scanned and saved our two-sided 20-page text document as a searchable PDF at 42.9 images per minute (or ipm, with each page side counting as one image), which is impressive. Most of the manual-feed portables we’ve tested, though, performed at about half the speed of sheetfed models, primarily because the ADFs tend to be more efficient at feeding pages to the scanner, one after the other in rapid succession, than I am.

Bundled Software and OCR Accuracy

Without software, a scanner is just a fancy doorstop. The software does the heavy lifting: accepting the raw image data from the scanner, recognizing and deciphering each individual picture of a character and converting it, paginating the blocks of now-editable text, and saving it to a format compatible with its intended application.

Financial data, for instance, might go to Excel or an accounting program such as QuickBooks. Text saved as searchable PDFs or documents may be edited in Microsoft Word, sent via email, saved to a cloud site, or printed. Contact information gleaned from business cards might be turned into leads in IRIS’s Cardiris or Presto! BizCard. Whatever you’re scanning, you need to make sure your scanner’s software will know what to do with it. For the most part, the top scanner makers’ products are competitive and come with apps that address most applications. But this is one area where you should be as sure as you can be before pulling the trigger.

Each portable scanner manufacturer includes its own bundle of scanner drivers, scanner interface apps, and other productivity and convenience software, such as OCR, document management, and data archiving programs. Most scanners support ISIS and/or TWAIN drivers that let you scan directly into applications such as Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft PowerPoint.

Most scanning and OCR apps are well developed and mature, combining popular features with highly accurate text recognition and conversion. OCR accuracy is important for saving time—if fixing OCR errors takes longer than retyping the document would, why bother with a scanner?—but I haven’t come across many recent scanners, portable or otherwise, that have difficulty producing error-free searchable text down to 8 points or so. That’s small enough to be more than suitable for most business applications. As long as you’re scanning a clean copy without stains, tears, wrinkles, or smudges, any business-oriented scanner should OCR it without difficulty.

Credit Card, ID Card, and Business Card Scanning and Archiving

If you’ve ever tried scanning 2-by-3-inch cards, you’ll know it’s hard to get these small and often thick objects to pass through your scanner without skewing (paper business cards) or getting stuck (thick plastic or laminated cards). Many makers of portable scanners have addressed this by creating a slot designed to help move cards through the paper path.

Brother ADS-1250W scanner scanning a plastic card

This Brother ADS-1250W comes ready to accommodate business cards and other small documents.

If you plan to scan small or thick cards, save yourself some hassle and make sure you get a scanner that’s designed to handle them. Our pick for this purpose is the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i, whose 10-sheet ADF can handle a stack of business cards.

What Do Scanner Volume Limits and Ratings Mean?

The device’s daily duty cycle is the manufacturer’s recommended daily limit, or the number of scans you can do each day without causing undue wear and tear on the machine. This is usually a relatively large number. For a scanner with a 1,000-page daily duty cycle, you would have to load its 20-page ADF more than 50 times in a day to exceed the volume limit. That’s a lot of scanning.

I’ve heard it suggested that you need to stay under the volume limit to keep from voiding the scanner’s warranty. However, I haven’t found that information in any warranty yet, and that’s not for lack of trying. Also, I’ve never heard of a warranty being voided for excessively exceeding the duty cycle. If you occasionally go above and beyond, I wouldn’t be too concerned about repercussions.

How Important Is a Portable Scanner’s Size and Weight?

If you’re throwing your portable scanner in your backpack or carry-on bag, you’ll want to pay attention to its size and girth. Once you’ve packed a four-pound laptop and its power supply and any other gear you need to take with you, such as a portable printer, adding a four-pound scanner can seriously weigh you down. To save your back, look for the lightest and smallest model with your feature requirements.

The average cord-powered manual-feed portable weighs about a pound and measures around 2 inches wide and high and 10 to 12 inches long. Epson’s DS-70, which the company claims is the smallest and lightest portable scanner available, measures 1.3 by 10.7 by 1.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 0.59 pound. The features that add the most heft and volume are batteries and ADFs, so if you don’t need those, spare yourself the effort of hauling them around.

If you really do need both a printer and a scanner, the least burdensome option might be the HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile All-in-One, which measures 3.6 by 15 by 7.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.5 pounds. If you’re setting up a full-featured office on the road, an AIO unit will save you from juggling separate devices with a higher combined weight and footprint.

So, Which Portable Scanner Should I Buy?

The range of portable scanners is really impressive, and the selections we’ve gathered here, including several that have earned our Editors’ Choice designation, should include something for anyone who needs to scan on the go. Take time to weigh the factors that matter most to you, and you’ll find a portable scanner that hits the sweet spot.

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I am admin of blog & I provide tech-related news. As a part of my hobby, I make content related to technology and gadgets reviews too. I love to be a content creator apart from it, I am a full-time employee in an MNC company and manage blogs systematically. You can mail me at [email protected]

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