DocuPen: A Scanner The Size Of A Toothbrush

Jan 30, 2005 (06:01 PM EST)

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Picture this... You're sitting at lunch when your discussion unexpectedly turns to a new business venture, so you and your colleague start to scrawl notes on the napkin and your writing expands to the table top. You don't want to loose the inspiration, but you also don't relish carrying the table out of the restaurant. Rather than transcribing the notes, you roll your DocuPen across the napkin, then across the table top and leave a nice tip on your way out the door. Back at your office you plug the DocuPen into your PC and print a perfect copy of your inspired notes.

The DocuPen is an exercise in minimalism. The device is designed to scan 8.5" wide pages in black and white without any computer assistance. On top of that, it's ultimately portable. The unit I tested, the DocuPen R-700, connects to the PC via USB for download and for battery recharge. It can store about 100 monochrome pages before you have to dump its 2Mb flash memory to disk. That sounds like a lot of scanning when you don't have a document feed, but it beats trying to find a copy machine or worse, handwriting notes.

I was able to make clean scans using the DocuPen after only a few practice tries. The R-700 is an updated version of the scanner that has been improved by adding a second set of rollers and a rechargeable battery. The dual rollers help keep the scanner moving in a straight line, and the LED on top of the scanner let you know if you're moving the pen too fast for accurate scanning.

I scanned a variety of documents including standard office correspondence with black ink, magazine pages, a color photo, and several pages from a book. Since the DocuPen was designed for scanning individual pages of text, it performed best when put to that task. Color photos are converted to high contrast images, much as you might expect when attempting to send a color photo via fax. Magazine pages came through admirably as long as the text was printed in a dark color, and line diagrams looked great. I had trouble scanning pages from books when it wasn't possible to flatten the book's spine. With a normal flat-bed scanner, it's possible to scan a reasonable portion of the text that doesn't touch the scanner bed, but it was difficult to keep the DocuPen tracking straight across the curvature of an open book.

ScanSoft's PaperPort 8.0 document management software is included with the DocuPen. The software does a nice job of storing the pen's scanned images, but the interface seems incomplete. I would like to see a single-button execution such that after connecting the DocuPen to the PC, pushing the DocuPen's only button automatically launched PaperPort and downloaded its contents. As it is currently configured, it's necessary to select the DocuPen from the list of image sources, then click the download button. The operation isn't difficult, but it could be made easier.

The DocuPen R-700 sells for $200.00 and may be just exactly what you need if you're always looking for a copy machine when you're out of the office. It only weighs 2 oz. and is just over 8" long, so it will fit easily into a briefcase.