Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

App of the Week: Scannable by Evernote

Screenshot of Evernote's Scannable on iOSAs much as futurologists have predicted the ‘paperless office’ over the years, we still have to put up with lots of documents on paper, even when an electronic copy would be much better. And not everyone has access to a scanner to scan paper documents.

But nowadays, most people have a smartphone with a half-decent camera, and so there are various apps out there that effectively emulate a scanner. One of the newest is Scannable, an iOS app by Evernote.

Scannable is quite straightforward to use. Place your document on a flat surface, and hold your phone’s camera over it. When it’s in focus and legible, Scannable will automatically snap it, and show a small preview at the bottom. If you have multiple pages to scan, then keep snapping. You can delete any images at this point, but when you’re done, tap the tick icon.

From here, the images you take can be sent to a variety of destinations. Naturally this includes your Evenote notebooks, since this is an Evernote product, but you can also send the images by email or message. There’s also an export option which connects to any apps that can accept an image – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Google+ and others. And images can be saved to your Camera Roll, or any location on iCloud Drive, OneDrive or Dropbox, and they can be printed to an iPrint-compatible printer.

You could, of course, simply snap images with the standard camera app that comes with any phone, but Scannable makes an effort to adjust the contrast of your documents so that they’re more readable. They’ll also be intelligently cropped automatically, although manual controls are available as well. Do it right, and the end result should be at least as good as from a decent flatbed scanner.

Screenshot of a business card being scanned into Evernote's ScannableThe other trick that Scannable has up its sleeve is recognising business cards. It’ll read the information contained within, and connect to LinkedIn to retrieve the relevant profile. It worked fantastically well with my own business cards, easily detecting my name and bringing up my LinkedIn profile. But when I scanned my mortgage advisor’s card, it only detected the name and didn’t let me save it as a contact, which is a shame.

One thing that Scannable doesn’t do is full optical character recognition (OCR), beyond the basic reading of business cards. If you save the images in Evernote, then the text in images will be searchable, but you won’t be able to export the text as an editable document into Microsoft Word, for example. A workaround involves exporting the image to Microsoft OneNote (a competing product to Evernote), and then converting it to text on the desktop version of the app. Not ideal but it works, just about.

Despite its limitations, Scannable is a great app. It’s well-designed, with a simple step-by-step interface. The integration with Evernote is sensible without being forced – there’s no need to have an Evernote account to use the app, although it can be useful if you want to make your scanned images searchable. And the images that are outputted are clear and easy to read on a computer screen.

Scannable is free, and is a universal app for iPhones and iPads. It’s not yet available on Android or other mobile platforms.

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