A fan of Fujitsu ScanSnap products for many years, I have recently returned to the fold after a couple of years of using alternatives. It’s great to be back!  I won’t wander again!

What’s the big deal?  A document scanner is a document scanner is a document scanner.  Right?  Nothing could be farther from the truth!

I guess it all depends upon the volume of documents to be scanned and, if there is much to do, the speed and efficiency of the scans that would be pleasing to the consumer.  Fujitsu is clearly the gold standard in the desktop document scanning industry for both Windows and Mac users.  Their flagship consumer products are S1500 for Windows (best-priced at Amazon.com) and S1500M for Mac users (best priced at Amazon.com).

As a Mac-preferred computer user, my comments are reflective of experience with the S1500M, though operation of the Windows version is identical in every way.

Where have I been scanning the past couple of years? I’ve been using available tech in other resident products and those here at Gadget Central for evaluation and review.  Principally, I’ve been scanning through networked all-in-ones from Brother, such as our workhorse MFC-8890DW and, more recently, an MFC-J825DW.

Both units feature built-in network scanning capabilities, including built-in duplex (both sides) scanning. The convenience is that all users can share one machine over the network for all functions.  The inconveniences are these same capabilities.  Contrast using ONE Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner next to the user against having to go to where the equipment is to set the paper in the ADF and then retrieve it.  If there is a misfeed or jam, that is a further inconvenience.  If there is much to be scanned, there’s a lot of up and down time and standing at the AIO.  Scanning is also considerably slower using the AIO than with the dedicated Fujitsu. The gotcha is that each Fujitsu has a cost similar to many higher-end AIO units.  That is the difference between a generalist and a specialist!

Were it only that the scanner is within reach, this would not be enough to justify the expense.  However, Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners’ outstanding performance is what has hit me squarely between the eyes.

ScanSnap S1500M scans both sides of up to 50 pages at a time at an accurate rate of up to 20 pages per minute, in color, scanning both sides in a single pass, correcting crooked (“skewed”) pages as it scans so the images are straight and true, even if one or more pages are fed slightly off kilter. By scanning up to 20 pages on both sided per minute, this translates into 40 scanned pages per minute.  This is powerful stuff! It is also awe-inspiring to observe.

Among the scanning issues of our Brother devices and, dare I say, ALL other all-in-one products competitive to the Brother models is the imprecision of these multifunction units.  Yes, they can do it all, including scanning well, most of the time, but only the Fujitsu does it with uncompromising precision and accuracy, and at blazing speeds, handling both sides in one pass.

By imprecision I mean less than perfect ADF operation wherein more than one sheet is pulled, resulting in inaccurate scans or jams.  Fujitsu technology detects when it draws two sheets, even when there is no jam, and alerts the user so the scan may be aborted.  Sensors measure top and bottom of each sheet to look for such things as a note stuck on a scanned page and recognize it as such, not calling it a problem as might other scanning products.

Though AIO scanners may attempt to de-skew, that is, properly line up pages pulled in crookedly by an ADF (Automatic Document Feeder) and scanned, but only this Fujitsu (and its brethren) are expert at delivering straightened scans from crookedly drawn-in pages.  Also, none of the other units is capable of both-sides scanning in one pass.  All others use some means of turning over each page and re-feeding it through the scanning area, then ejecting it to the output tray.

In order for such a device to live comfortably within reach of the user who is in front of a keyboard, the device must occupy a small footprint, and be able to be fed without standing up or otherwise shifting from that in-front-of-keyboard position. It is comfortable to unfold the ScanSnap for use whenever its services are needed, as it is easy to fold it up when not in use.

Don’t get me wrong – AIO units have their place in many environments, but where scanning speed, precision and convenience are needed, there is no contest.

Watch the ScanSnap S1500M (for Macs) demo.  Watch the ScanSnap S1500 (for Windows) demo.  Additional information links are included with both.

Both products come with full versions of Adobe Acrobat, a bargain that makes the value of ScanSnap even greater.  And both also come with more.

The S1500M includes ABBYY Fine Reader for ScanSnap (upgradeable to version 4.0 for Mac OS X Lion), which is OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software that read the scanned document and changes it into formatted text scanned to a Word doc, to an Excel spreadsheet or to a searchable PDF.  See, I told you this is powerful!

Also included is Cardiris 3.6 for ScanSnap, software that reads business cards at the same speedy clip and extracts text.

As is shown in the demo links above, any combination of documents and business card may be loaded into the ADF, front side down, indiscriminately, top or bottom of page first, as ScanSnap rights all pages.  Scans are placed in a predetermined folder.  All images are individual OR can be set as one continuous document.  And ScanSnap can be set for duplex scanning, recognizing which are blank pages when both sides are not used on originals.

Think auto everything – auto color detection, auto orientation, auto quality determination, auto straightening, auto document detection (using ultrasonic sensors) assure that all pages are scanned and data is saved. In creating searchable PDFs, documents may be searched directly OR using a highlighter on black and white documents before scanning, keywords can be automatically added to PDFs!

Scans can be directly sent to cloud services including Evernote, Salesforce, SugarSync and Google Docs!  The S1500M can even scan to mobile, sending scans directly to iPhone and iPad.

Business cards, for example, may be opened with the Cardiris software and are magically read with name, company name, address, phone, email, and other fields automatically populated.  It is not always perfect.  There is no substitute for a real pair of eyes, but accuracy is quite high such that using the scanner and software will dramatically decrease users’ time transferring business card info into address books or other useful databases.  The scanned cards can be sent directly into Address Book or Entourage, or Outlook in Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac.

Speaking of organization, all these scanned papers can now be used efficiently.  Scanned documents may be placed where needed, in established folders by project, event, for billing or end-of-year taxes, or any other purpose locally or, as shown above, to the cloud.

And what of the scanned papers . . . why, toss them, of course.  Be sure to back up your hard drive!!

What about odd papers, photos and delicate documents?  To be clear, no consumer or upscale scanner in this class really can do everything.  It is just not possible.  Where the AIO devices and their platens shine is in scanning single items so they do not need to go through the ADF.  No can do on this sheet-fed only ScanSnap or on any others without the glass platen.  On those, the object remains flat and stationary while the scanner itself moves from top to bottom across the object.  And those with platens may be able to accommodate larger objects, some up to 11 x 17.  So, there are advantages to the other machines.

Fujitsu provides a keeper of sorts.  It is a plastic sleeve into which single delicate documents and photos may be placed. Then, the sleeve with its contents goes through the scanner, protecting the contents while scanning.  Why is protection needed?  Any ADF-type mechanism uses rollers to draw and advance documents, photos, whatever past the scanning mechanism that sees the object. So, the protection sleeve provides a barrier needed between the rollers and the actual object. The result is the same, the output is the same as if directly run, unprotected, through the scanner.

Earlier, I indicated that this scanner automatically detects the quality needed to accurately see what is scanned.  If a photo, it optimized quality. If a business card, ditto, and so on.  As well, settings may be manually created, overriding automatic selection.  This device and its software are totally customizable to the need at hand, but in most instances, auto is the way to go.

So robust is the product that the company fully expects them to live on for many years to come.  This is exemplified by  the supplies that Fujitsu makes available.  Consumables is what the company calls them.  Replacements are available for rollers and other parts, and the unit keeps track of the work that each has gone through toward eventual need for these parts.  Don’t worry, though. It will likely be years before any maintenance is needed!

Fujitsu ScanSnap is clearly the best at what it does, though it is still a generalist, doing more things better than do other devices of a general nature.  Why mention this?  I know of other scanners that do other things better, but not as much expertly; for example, for those primarily interested in financial records keeping, such as scanning receipts for a busy traveler.  In all cases, functionality of any kind that is lacking is solely a property of software limitations or omissions.

For those desiring the ability to scan receipts into software that recognizes date and time, payee, such as restaurants and taxis, and all the pertinent info for expense reports, for example, Fujitsu ScanSnap is not the best solution. NeatDesk and NeatDesk for Mac from The Neat Company offer specialized solutions that make quick work of receipts.  See their products and learn more at the company link above. In my experience, their business card scanning software is not as accurate or capable as is Fujitsu’s supplied software for this purpose.  Yet, Neat products can output files compatible with Fujitsu scanners. Again, it all depends upon the mission.

The best advice is to get the product that best meets YOUR needs.  I do not need the kind of financial scanning that is best handled by Neat products and their software.  At Gadget Central, Fujitsu ScanSnap is the best solution for our needs.  Yes, I can hope that Fujitsu will offer a more robust software package, but they already offer the added value of a full version of Adobe Acrobat with both their Windows and Mac scanners mentioned here.

For mobile warriors, Fujitsu also offers mobile solutions in their S1300 and S1100 portable scanners.  The S1300, as can be seen at its link above, may be for mobile use and retains the ability to scan multiple documents through its ADF, as well as to be powered via dual USB in laptops, for example as well as using its supplied AC adapter.  The S1100 is mobile only, sleek and ultimately portable.  Both are slowpokes as compared with the ScanSnap S1500 and S1500M models, but they meet a need and are for a purpose many users may need.  There is nothing quite like the S1300, but there are plenty of units similar to the S1100.  Though ideal for mobile needs, none are, in my view, robust performers suitable for more than occasional scanning at home or at the office.

All things considered, I am sticking with my recommendation for the ScanSnap S1500M and S1500 as the cream of the crop.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reacquainting myself with ScanSnap and look forward to a long, happy and fruitful relationship.  I suggest that you consider all the advantages of inviting ScanSnap to make life easier.

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