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Hands-On Home Office: Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 Reviewed

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Hands-On Home Office: Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 Reviewed

The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 is a compact, sheetfed scanner that ably handles a wide range of paper and documents.

If you work from a home office, you likely contend with a prodigious flow of paper. Bills, contracts, manuscripts, receipts—there is no end to the parade of pulp that fills file cabinets and arranges itself in unkempt piles. What’s worse, in an age when search engines like Google and Windows 7 Desktop Search let you find almost anything, paper remains frustratingly opaque.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 is a sheetfed, desktop scanner that can halt the pulp parade and turn all that loose paper into searchable information.

About the size of a breadbox when closed, the ScanSnap S1500 neatly unfolds into an efficient and effective paper processing engine for Windows and Macintosh computers. Coupled with the bundled ScanSnap Organizer software and optical character recognition (OCR) engine, the S1500 quickly converts all manner of scanned documents into fully searchable PDFs—the universal Adobe Acrobat file format that virtually any PC and even most mobile devices can recognize.

Small Scanner, Big Results

One of the main appeals of the ScanSnap S1500 is its clean, compact design. Clad in stately gray with black highlights, the scanner sports a small 11.5-inch by 6.3-inch footprint when closed. Unfold the top and front panels to expose the sheet feeder and output tray, and the scanner instantly powers up and in seconds is ready for scanning.

The unit features a dual-sided, 600 dots per inch (dpi) scanning engine with a rated speed of up to 20 pages per minute (ppm). The scanner images both sides of each sheet in a single pass, and automatically detects document size and color to adjust scanning behavior to suit. In Auto Mode, most color and grayscale documents are scanned at 200 dpi, while monochrome documents are scanned at 400 dpi. The 50-sheet feeder allows the ScanSnap to work through piles of documents unattended. The ScanSnap S1500 connects to your computer via an included USB 2.0 cable.

Scanning Savvy

In my hands-on tests, I fed the ScanSnap a diet of paper that included everything from inches-thick stacks of investment statements and yearly tax returns to glossy magazine clippings to badly-crumpled sales receipts (including those slippery, foot-long ones from Costco). Incredibly, the ScanSnap powered through them all.

I stood in frank amazement as I watched the ScanSnap consume years’ worth of paper. Birth certificates, photographs, legal documents, gauzy check stubs, birthday cards, children’s drawings, newspaper clippings. The little breadbox-sized scanner quickly scanned and converted them all into impressively clear and accessible PDF files.

Not that I didn’t run into trouble on occasion. Staples seem to confound the ScanSnap, forcing me to separate, for example, bills and receipts that would have scanned nicely together. Flimsy newsprint and magazine pages can sometime accordion inside the drive track, forcing a stall. Finally, when the ScanSnap is working through a pile of paper of radically different widths, the narrow material can get pulled off center, producing bad scans or stalls.

Here’s the thing: Unjamming the ScanSnap is really simple. You depress a small latch to pull open the interior face of the scanner and gain free access to the drive track and paper inside. The whole thing opens up so you never have to tug at paper kinked into a corner. Best of all, the software is smart enough to let you continue scanning your pile of documents after a jam.

Using the Organizer Software

Impressive as the ScanSnap S1500 scanner hardware is, the real value to home office users is the software that turns scans into actionable information. The scanner comes with Adobe Acrobat 9 Standard for rendering and editing scanned documents to PDF format and the ScanSnap Organizer application. Organizer automatically launches when you scan a document, prompting you to save the scanned paper into a default PDF file or other file type, including Word and Excel files, as well as image formats like TIF, BMP or JPG.

The Organizer software does have its quirks. For instance, during some scanning sessions I found that the software on occasion threw up a dialog box asking if I wanted a scanned document to be scanned as a PDF into the Organizer system. The way the software works, I should only have to answer that prompt once each session—when I scan the first document. The software should remember that it’s been tasked to handle all the inbound scans during a session. I also found the interface to feel a bit dated and chunky, despite the use of the Microsoft Office 2007-style ribbon at the top of the app window. Important things like setting program options is made difficult also, as the control is hidden under the program button at upper left, rather than exposed in the ribbon interface.

What the ScanSnap Organizer software lacks in refinement, it more than makes up for in utility. Scanned PDFs appear as easily recognizable thumbnail images in the main window pane, while a hierarchical list of available folders appears in the vertical pane to the left. It’s a simple matter to create, rename or delete folders, allowing users to build their own digital file cabinet and drag-and-drop PDF files where they like. Users can also assign keywords to scanned files, further improving organization.

OCR Workhorse

Perhaps most impressive, the ScanSnap Organizer software ably handled an ocean of input without losing or mangling a single scan. The optical character recognition (OCR) is outstanding, embedding the full text of every scanned document within the PDF file. The way the software works, it produces the PDF file, then goes back to execute an OCR pass on the saved files in the background. It can take minutes or even hours—depending on the number of scanned documents and the performance of your PC—for these background OCR sessions to complete. Once they do, you’ll be amazed at how the embedded text lets you pluck the most obscure or specific information from even the largest data sets.

When I entered the name of the credit union I used to frequent 20 years ago in the ScanSnap Organizer search box, the app quickly produced a box with a link to the page of the one PDF file I had scanned containing that name. It was a 13-year-old mortgage application that was among one of probably thousands of pages I had scanned, and the reference to the credit union was a single line in the body of that document. When I consider the countless hours I’ve spent diving through overstuffed file folders in search of a particular record or document, I’m awed by the ability of the software to give me such fine-grained access to my file contents.

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