Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #4: Scanner Apps

Electronic resources are rapidly displacing print, but print continues to be a valuable source of information. Every legal researcher at some point ends up in the stacks of a law library, paging through an unusual treatise or a superseded statute. Then its off to the photocopier or scanner with the treatise to capture the one or two pages of valuable information for later use. I have spent many hours hunched over photocopiers, fighting with the spines of tightly bound books and thinking that there must be an easier way.

Thanks to smartphones and tablets, there now is an easier way to scan pages from a book. With the right app, a smartphone or tablet becomes a portable document scanner. The apps work by photographing the pages of a book (or any other document) and converting the images into PDF files. 

There are a wide variety of scanner apps available. I decided to test and review some of them. Rather then choosing one app and testing all of its features, I found ten free iPad apps and tested one feature: scanning pages from a book. I used each app to scan three pages from a book of selected commercial statutes. I then evaluated each app on two criteria: the quality of the scan, and how long it took me to learn the app well enough to scan and email the three pages. Here are the results.

Best in Show

FasterScan HD

With FasterScan HD, I took just over three and half minutes to successfully scan three pages and email the PDF document to myself, not the fastest time (despite the name), but respectable. The app stayed out of its own way and let me scan; every button did what I expected every time. The resulting PDF is not perfect, but it is the closest any of the apps came (as you'll see below). The text is reasonably crisp, and most of the imperfections are a result of the book I used--from use and abuse during law schools, the pages have developed a permanent wave, which explains the wobbly lines of text in the PDF.

Honorable Mention

DocScan HD

DocScan HD was the easiest of the apps to use.  I scanned all three pages in two and half minutes, a full minute faster than FasterScan. Unfortunately, DocScan fell short on the quality. The PDF, while quite readable, has a blurriness to it that the FasterScan PDF does not . With more time and a steadier hand, I could probably improve upon DocScan's quality, but today's rankings are based solely on today's results.


JotNot is hard to distinguish from DocScan HD. I took a few seconds longer to scan the three pages in JotNot, but JotNot is far from difficult to use, and the resulting PDF is almost identical in quality to the PDF created by DocScan. JotNot ranks next to DocScan HD and just below FasterScan HD.



TinyScan produced a decent PDF, but the noticeable bleed through of text from the underlying page and the six minutes it took me to scan and email three pages from a book push TinyScan down into the merely acceptable range.  It is the best of the mediocre, but still mediocre.

CamScanner HD

Time to scan and email three pages: 3:05.
Resulting PDF: readable, though some squinting may be required.

Time to scan and email three pages: 6:04, which is pretty good considering each page had to be emailed separately.
    Resulting PDF: Readable, but don't expect too much of the app's image stabilization.


Time to scan and email three pages: 3:40
Resulting PDF: A little light on the black and heavy on the fuzz in some places, but readable (with a good imagination).


Time to scan and email three pages: 6:48
Resulting PDF: Crisp black text, but at the cost of giving life to every imperfection and ghost of text on the page.


Scan it All

I spent 10 minutes with this app unsuccessfully trying to email a PDF of the pages I scanned. Then I took a look at the PDF on the iPad, realized two of the three pages were blurry to the point of being unreadable, and abandoned Scan it All.

Click Scan (Anti-Shake Document Scanner Pro)

Click Scan not only created an unreadable document, it managed somehow to flip the image so that the text is backward. If you avoid only one iPad app this week, make it Click Scan.

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