Avi Greengart is the Research Director for Consumer Devices at Current Analysis (Mobile Phones, Connected Devices, and Digital Home). He also regularly writes for Slashgear, sporadically blogs at Home Theater View and Tweets far too often as @greengartAvi's expertise lies in understanding consumer electronics marketing, consumer behavior, and technology adoption patterns: where new technologies meet the mass market. 

 

 

Product Review: PLANon DocuPen RC800 Portable Scanner (part of the DocuPen Executive Pack)

by Avi Greengart and Moshe Kinderlehrer, September 10, 2007

"The world's first color, truly mobile, full-page portable scanner" reads the press release attached to the RC800 DocuPen Portable Scanner that PLANon sent over. As I use traditional flatbed scanners often for photos and receipts (because I have a nasty habit of losing the darn little pieces of paper so beloved by our accountant), I was intrigued by the scanner's promise and eager to try it out.

It is Not the Size of a Pen!

Although its billed as "about the size of a pen," that’s only true if your pen is positively huge. It’s much closer to the size of your average magic wand. It is still ridiculously small, light, and fits easily into any briefcase or small bag, but it certainly won’t fit in anyone's shirt pocket. The DocuPen comes with a cellphone-like belt clip to attach to the enclosed leatherette case…but I just can’t see anyone short of Batman or a police officer wearing this device on their waist. The scanner includes a battery, so it can be used without the trailing cord, and I was tempted to wave it around and cast spells.

After a smooth installation of the included TWAIN driver, DocuPen Profile Manager & PaperPort SE Version 9.0, we connected the scanner to a computer with the included USB cable and began scanning books, magazines, pictures, receipts, and business cards.

We learned a few things very quickly. First, it took some time to get used to scanning a full page and it took us about 4 tries to finally get the hang of the motion. Full page scans aren’t fast – about 5-10 seconds each depending on the resolution you set it for – but they are smooth. We also liked the red X button light that indicates if you are moving the rollers too quickly.

Scanning Smaller Items & Overall Speed

Full page items worked well but we had a very difficult time with smaller items such as business cards and receipts. For the smaller items, it was tough to hold them still while moving the scanning element/rollers over it; the rollers would cause the cards or small photos to move as well. Also frustrating, when scanning out of books it was hard to fit the scanner over the inside crease. It was a big disappointment to realize that this scanner is only useful for larger and flat objects such as documents or letters.

It’s also a slow process. Scanning is fairly quick, but once the scan itself is complete, you have to wait about 20-30 seconds for the image to be saved to the storage card. Therefore it takes about 30-45 seconds total per scan, a lot more than the 5 – 10 seconds the company advertises.

Resolution Switching, Charging & Battery Life:

The rest of the user experience was solid. It was easy to transfer the scanned files from the scanner and get them into the DocuPen software and import into Paperport and other programs. We particularly liked the ability to switch – with one button – between the scanner’s different modes (Photo, color, & B+W) and another button next to it to switch between resolutions. (High + Low). However, for some inexplicable reason, these two buttons were not marked on the device by any icons and it was easy to confuse the two.    

The scan quality overall was mixed. The RC800 can capture images at up to 400 dpi and 24 bit color – which is great for a portable scanner – is still a bit less than what people expect from a full color scan today. However, the technology is clearly developing.  

Battery: It was hard to tell how long the battery lasted as the scanner’s USB cable also acts as a charging cable. PLANon’s literature indicated that it can do 40 full-color scans on one charge and far more black + white scans. After using it extensively, we find those numbers believable.

Memory: The scanner’s built–in memory (8 MB, upgradeable to 1GB) was sufficient for each individual color scan and more than necessary for dozens of b/w scans. Our unit also had an additional 128MB external card and that seemed fine for most items as you will likely transfer your scans to your computer and wipe the scanner clean shortly after the scan and transfer. If you want to use the unit away from a PC, a larger memory card is a necessary but relatively inexpensive upgrade.

Executive Goodies

PLANon clearly thinks the DocuPen would make a good corporate gift, and offers it as part of an Executive Pack, which is what the company sent us. Two interesting accessories the scanner comes with as part of the Executive kit are a Universal Mobile Charger (UMC) and the Universal Memory Reader (UMR).  The UMC is a nifty little box that enables you to use the DocuPen without access to a socket. You just charge up the UMC and take it with you. Next time you have a dying battery but no time to stop and plug in anywhere, just plug the mobile device to the UMC and the device is charging. The UMC can be used for many other devices besides the scanner, making it worth carrying on trips even when the scanner won’t be used.

Pricing & Availability

The DocuPen RC800 by PLANOn is available on the PLANon website for $299 in various colors – seven, to be exact. The DocuPen Executive Pack with the Universal Mobile Charger and Universal Memory Reader (and attachments) costs an extra $100. The added goodies are easily worth the expense if this is an executive gift, but rather hard to justify on their own – there are several less expensive portable power options.

Conclusion

Although the DocuPen RC800 is generally well designed, relatively easy to use, and functional, it has a number of serious faults. While there is certainly a need for scanning documents on the go, it is hard to see anyone but diehard mobile professionals flocking to buy this product. If it did a better job of scanning receipts and automatically entered them into an expense management application, that would open up an entirely new set of uses. On the other hand, it looks like a magic wand. So if you are a digital early adopter who stills deals with full sheets of paper but prefers not to – lawyers and doctors come to mind – the DocuPen may be for you.