Personal Finance

Fast, Excellent Document Scanner: Fujitsu ScanSnap 1500M

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my experience of leaving a box of important paper files in the rain. The papers got soaked and I spent several days spreading them out on the floor to dry. This experience made me resolve to digitize my paper documents so this wouldn't happen again. I started researching my options. I found three potential solutions that appealed to me:

1. Shoeboxed.com is a mail-in service that scans your receipts, product warranties, business cards, and other paper documents. They describe it as a kind of Netflix for receipts, because you toss your papers into a pre-addressed, postage-paid envelope and they scan and categorize them for you.

2. Neat Receipts makes a couple of scanners especially designed to digitize and organize your paperwork, such as medical bills, business cards, financial statements, and the like.

3. Fujitsu's ScanSnap scanners are high-speed (8-20 pages per minute, depending on the model), multi-sheet scanners that digitize both sides of a sheet of paper in a single pass.

I contacted the three companies and they all kindly agreed to let me try out their products and services for the purposes of a review. In this post, I'll write about my experience with the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M (I'll review the others in subsequent posts).

The first thing I noticed about the ScanSnap S1500M (The "M" denotes it's for the Macintosh; there's an S1500 for Windows machines, but the only difference between the two is the software). When I unboxed it I was surprise by how small it is — about 11.5 inches wide and 5 inches deep, with the feeder and output flaps folded in. Its modest footprint means that it doesn't hog a lot of precious desktop real estate.

After installing the driver software, I configured it to send scanned documents as PDF files to my Evernote account. (If you don't know about Evernote, it's an outstanding online service that accepts images, sound files, notes, scans of documents, and just about anything else you want to throw in it. It saves these files on your computer and on Evernote's servers so you don't have to worry about losing your data. It also runs a character recognition routine on your documents so you can search for them later. It does a lot more, too, but I'll save that for another post.)

I set a stack of 17 two-sided documents into the sheet feeder, pressed the blue illuminated "Scan" button and the ScanSnap 1500M whipped through them in 50 seconds. I was honestly surprised that my computer (a MacBook Pro with a 2.2 Ghz processor) was capable of accepting data at such a fast pace. I was used to scanning documents on my HP C4280 scanner-printer-copier, which is mind-numbingly slow and has a buggy driver that crashes my computer, forcing a reboot about 25% of the time I use it.

A few seconds after all the pages were scanned, the Evernote application made a pinging tone, indicating that the document had been scanned and saved. I checked to make sure that both sides of each page had been scanned correctly — yes they had, and the software discarded the sides that were blank). Later, I tested Evernote's character recognition and found it to be flawless. That means my documents can be found by entering keywords into Evernote's search field.

Since I got it, I've been processing about 100 pages of documents per day. The software straightens out the images and orients them right-side up. The only time it jammed was when I tried to stack too many of the water-damaged documents through it. The scanner comes with an ultrasonic sensor that detects feeder faults and displays a warning on the computer desktop with instructions on how to deal with the problem without losing data.

This scanner, combined with Evernote, is a winner. The downside, if you can call it that, is the high price tag: it's $419 on Amazon. But when I think about the hours and hours of time wasted waiting for my HP flatbed scanner to creak across a document, the price seems very low. This scanner performed better than I expected and I'm mad at myself for not getting it years ago. I really feel that I could have a nearly paperless office now. After I run the contents of my filing cabinets through it, I'm going to start scanning the closet-full of photographs we have, and sending the files to iPhoto.

Mark Frauenfelder – Editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine and the founder of the popular Boing Boing weblog, Mark was an editor at Wired from 1993-1998 and is the founding editor of Wired Online.
  • http://nocko.net Shawn Nock

    The S1500 is cheap, quick and has great linux support. It never jams, even with our crumpled old records.

  • http://peerassembly.com Denis Hennessy

    The Fujitsu S510M is also very good and costs about half the price.

  • http://greginthedesert.net Greg Smith

    Can the S1500 scan stacks of photos as easily as paper, including automatic straightening cropping?

  • http://www.ColoradoSocialSecurityLaw.com Tomasz Stasiuk

    I’ve used my 1500M to scan several hundred photos. The quality is acceptable but not pristine.
    Another very nice feature is that nearly all the scansnaps models come bundled with a Adobe Acrobat

  • George

    Mark, I too have the scanner, but have been doing batches based on what they were, eg Visa March 2008. Is evernote good enough to allow me to scan multiple types of documents as one batch and then find the relevant documents and fields if I upload them? Do you have any relevant settings you’d like to share for the snapscan software?

  • From: Sandy

    Hi Sam, before you purchase another scanner you might want to check this out.

  • Carl

    I found this article whilst looking for other information on fujitsu scanners however I have to agree with the author here. Although the S1500 has always been an excellent scanner, it was always dogged with mac compatibility issues however fujitsu released a massic service pack a few months ago and have since fixed these bugs. The new scanners also come packed with this service pack meaning they will always work with mac products.

    Cheers

    Carl
    The Scanner Shop

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