Friday, October 28, 2011
Posted by Jason Dunn in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 08:00 AM
Setting Up the NeatWorks Scanner
In the box you'll find the scanner itself, a software disc, a white USB cable, and a small AC power brick. The product setup was painless; I installed the software, connected the scanner to a rear USB port on my computer, and it was working in 30 seconds. I wish all products were this easy to set up! I have to give NeatCo a nod for their out of box experience; everything worked smoothly. There are two components to the product; the Neat ADF scanner and the NeatWorks software. The software has two interfaces; the full NeatWorks suite, which has powerful tools for organizing and tracking receipts and paperwork of all kinds (here's a good tour), and the Neat Quick Scan tool, which allows you to configure various aspects of the scanning process.
Using the Product
There are two basic types of reviews you'll see online for any product; one is where a reviewer spends an afternoon with the product, does some basic tests, snaps a few pictures or takes a few screenshots, and cranks out the review. These types of reviews are fine for some products (I've done my share), but they don't really capture the experience of "living with" the product. The other type of review is what you get when the reviewer has really lived with the product for weeks or months, and gets to experience using the product in many scenarios; let's call it a "full immersion" review. That's what this review is - I've integrated the Neat scanner into my life, using it to scan well over a thousand pages of documents. I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly with this product.
So how well did it perform? I'll put it to you this way: I don't want to send it back, because I've come to rely heavily on it, but there's room for serious improvement in the software.
Figure 2: The scanner in action.
Let's start with the good news: the scanner is ridiculously fast. If, like me, you're used to typical flatbed scanners where 30 second warm-ups are common and an average 8.5 x 11" scan might take a full minute, the Neat scanner is a stunner: it can rip through a stack of ten pages, scanning both sides, in under 20 seconds. Scanning in colour slows it down considerably - it's about twice as fast when scanning in grayscale - but colour scanning is still fairly zippy.
To scan a double-sided, two page bill (four pages in total) in black and white took just 10 seconds; it was 23 seconds until the final PDF was generated and opened. There's almost no speed penalty for double-sided scanning; I measured 18 seconds for single-sided scan on one set of documents, and 19 seconds for double-sided scan.
The page feeder is a thing of beauty; I've used scanners that auto-feed documents before, and sometimes they can be a real headache. In all the scans I did with this, not once did I see it jam or mis-feed. That's impressive.
The hardware is incredibly fast, but the PDF creating engine they use isn't because it's not designed to scale to utilize modern hardware. It's not multi-core capable, or even multi-thread capable: it only used an average of 12.39% of total CPU power on my Core i7 CPU (four cores, four threads). When a program hits 12.5% on my system, that means it's using 100% of one core, but nothing more. This is a bit of a letdown, because for anything over a few pages, it means the scanner is the fastest part no matter how burly your computer CPU is. On the plus side, you can continue to scan documents and the PDFs will get generated in order - so you don't need to wait for the first PDF to be generated before starting on your next scan. This is critical and I'm thankful NeatCo enabled this. When you scan a 50 page document, however, be prepared for a long wait until you see the PDF created.