Despite being a few decades into the Computer Age, we still haven’t eliminated paper. In an average week, you may end the day with three to seven business cards in your pocket and a half-dozen receipts.
Is your tendency to throw that paper in a corner, figuring to merge it somehow into your computer later — and never quite getting around to it?
After seeing TV commercials for the NeatConnect scanner about 4,000 times, I decided to see if the picture the Neat Company paints of painless digitizing is accurate. To my surprise, with a couple of caveats worth talking about, the NeatConnect delivers.
The scanner was easy to set up. It was a simple process of installing the Neat software that comes with it, connecting the scanner to my computer via USB or wireless, and then hitting the power button.
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Then, to get connected to the integrated cloud storage, I signed up for a NeatCloud subscription. (Three months are included with the purchase of the scanner. After that, subscriptions start at $5.99 a month when paid monthly and $4.99 a month when paid annually.) Finally, I signed in to the cloud through the onboard touch screen on the scanner itself.
But installation is usually the easy part. After setup, I found NeatConnect to be equally intuitive to use. The home screen allows users to swipe left or right to select a destination for the scan. Possible destinations include the user’s computer, the NeatCloud, the internal “outbox,” which holds scans for later dispersal, or a variety of other user-customizable destinations, including an FTP client, Outlook, or services such as Dropbox or SkyDrive.
There is even the option to set up a connection with a user’s existing email client, such as Gmail or Yahoo, and to send scans as email attachments directly from the scanner.
This last capability — sending scans to other people directly from the scanner — is one I was particularly interested in testing. It’s a handy feature starting to become standard with many scanners.
There was one major problem with this feature on the NeatConnect, however. The on-screen keyboard on the scanner is so small that it is incredibly frustrating to use. Until a model with a larger on screen keyboard is introduced, users will do better to just scan the document to their computer and send the email from there.
Fortunately, the on-screen keyboard isn’t used to execute most of the scanner’s functions. And once the “scan” button is hit, regardless of the scan’s destination, the scanner does seem to “think while it scans.”
For example, when a scan is sent either to the NeatCloud or to the Neat software on a user’s computer, the scanning software employs OCR (optical character recognition) to pull pertinent information from the document being scanned. If, for example, one is scanning a receipt from the grocery store, the scanner will automatically recognize information such as the vendor (Safeway, QFC, etc.), the total amount charged, the date of the transaction, and even the amount of sales tax. It will then plug these values into the corresponding fields for that document’s entry in the software.
For the most part, I found the NeatConnect to be very adept at recognizing and correctly categorizing pertinent information, especially when scanning documents with more standard formatting, such as receipts and business cards. There were a couple of instances in which I found I had to manually correct totals on documents not formatted in a standard way.
But for folks looking to use the scanner as a way to generate expense reports and easily update contact lists — or to simply use the scan function to make copies — the NeatConnect streamlines the process quite nicely. What’s more, once data is correctly entered, the software can be configured to automatically sync with programs such as Outlook so users can have up-to-date records in multiple locations.
It is also worth noting that this scanner handles various weights of paper and heavily crinkled paper very well. Just to test the limits of the scanner, I crumpled a document into a tight ball, then uncrumpled it and ran it through the scanner several times.
Not only did the scanner handle the wrinkled paper well, it automatically adjusted the contrast so as to nearly remove the wrinkles for the final scan image. (This only works on the black-and-white setting.)
The scanner did experience a paper jam one out of the five times I ran the crumpled paper through, but the scanner has a button on the side that pops off the entire faceplate of the scanner making it very easy to remedy the occasional paper jam.
But what makes NeatConnect really stand out is its smooth integration, both with its own software and with other popular programs. Supported third-party programs include Microsoft Outlook and Excel, as well as QuickBooks.
There are other scanners that support third-party programs and some that integrate well with their own software. The Fujitsu’s ScanSnap ix500, while it rivals NeatConnect in many areas, lacks the integration with QuickBooks. Another popular cloud scanner, the Brother ADS-1500W, integrates with QuickBooks, but its software is so clunky that it makes organizing newly scanned data a tedious task. NeatConnect plays equally well by itself and with others.
Aside from the barely functional on-screen keyboard and the occasional misinterpretation of scanned data by the software, the only other gripe I have with the NeatConnect scanner is its price: $499.95. (Neat has models with fewer features that sell at lower price points.) While the price tag might not be a deterrent to businesses, an individual looking for a convenient home-office scanner may understandably balk.
But given its impressive paper handling, intuitive software and integration, NeatConnect does deserve to be priced a bit higher than most other cloud scanners.