ScanSnap Goes Mobile with the S1100

You may not realize it, but you want a document scanner. Even if you already own a flatbed scanner (such as most commonly found as a component of all-on-one inkjet printers), you’ll still be delighted by the addition of these nifty workhorses.

I bring up this topic today (having waxed rhapsodic about these scanners on several prior occasions, such as here and here) because I recently had the opportunity to try out Fujitsu’s latest mobile scanner — the ScanSnap S1100 ($199).

Fujitsu refers to the S1100 as “mobile” rather than merely “portable.” I can understand why. Fujitsu already makes a portable scanner, the ScanSnap S1300. Both models are portable in the sense that they are relatively small and lightweight — and run off power from the USB port of your computer, rather than requiring a separate AC power brick. However, only the S1100 is optimally designed to be carried with you — and used — wherever you take and use your laptop computer.

While the older S1300 is in the lightweight division (weighing just over three pounds with a depth and height of 4 x 3 inches), the S1100 drops down to the flyweight division. It weighs only 12 ounces with a depth and height of 1.87 x 1.33 inches — less than the dimensions of a small 3-hole paper punch. Lift it up and it feels almost weightless. If you have one of Apple’s latest lightweight MacBook Air models, the scanner is a great match.

Document vs. Flatbed Scanners

Think of the ScanSnap S1100 as a super digital-photocopier. The S1100 (or any document scanner) is great for anything you want to save but don’t need to save the paper: birthday cards, theater programs, tax forms, whatever. It’s also great for making backup copies of documents where you want to save the original. The S1100 will scan paper of almost any size. It will even scan plastic credit cards. I use a document scanner to scan “safety-deposit box” items (such as birth certificates and passports), recipes torn from magazines, forms that I have filled out by hand and want to save before mailing off, sheet music, and various receipts. Still on my to-do list is to go through my file cabinet and scan its contents — so I can trash most of the original paper.

For these types of tasks, the ScanSnap S1100 offers advantages over traditional flatbed scanners. The first one has already been covered: It’s mobile. No flatbed scanner can match its size, pretty much by definition. Second, it’s fast. Feed in a page, press one button and you’ll have a completed scan with a matter of seconds. In contrast, the flatbed scanner included as part of my Canon printer typically requires more than a minute just to warm up. Each page then takes several times longer to scan than with the S1100. By default, the S1100 saves a multi-page document as one multi-page PDF file (searchable, if I want). For tasks such as going through my file cabinet, this is much more convenient and speedier than having a flatbed scanner generate a series of single JPG images.

For scanning documents, the software included with the ScanSnap S1100 is superior to what you get with a typical flatbed scanner — or even other document scanner competitors. From the ScanSnap Manager utility, you can choose to convert any scan scan to an editable Word or Excel file, via the included ABBYY FineReader software. While it’s not perfect (no OCR software can make that claim), FineReader is the best I have ever used. I typically wind up with an accurately converted Word file (preserving even the page layout) in a matter of seconds. You can similarly extract data from business cards to an editable database — via the included Cardiris application. Cardiris works well enough, but expect to need frequent cleaning up of the converted text. Via other easy-to-use ScanSnap Manager options, you can choose to send a scan to your printer, to your email client as an attachment, to iPhoto (as a JPG) or to the cloud (Evernote, GoogleDocs, Dropbox, or MobileMe iDisk).

ScanSnap Manager

Flatbed scanners do have their advantages over document scanners. Document scanners are not the best choice for top-quality photo scans (the S1100 maxes out at 600 dpi for color). If you need to scan something from a book (which obviously can’t be fed through a sheet feeder), you’ll want a flatbed. But for just about everything else, a document scanner is the better choice.

ScanSnap S1100 vs. Other Document Scanners

While mobility is a key selling point of the ScanSnap S1100, there is a price to pay for this advantage. The ScanSnap S1100 is missing a couple of key features found in larger document scanners. The S1100 cannot do simultaneous two-sided scanning and the feeder cannot hold accommodate more than one sheet at a time. Still, for the on-the-go scanning that is the S1100’s forté, these features are not critical. In an attempt to compensate for these omissions, the S1100 offers one-button continuous scanning. That is, after you press the button to begin a scan, the scanner will continue to accept and scan multiple sheets without the need to press any additional buttons or start a new scan.

The ScanSnap S1100 does have a few document scanner competitors in its weight class. The Neat Portable Scanner immediately comes to mind. The Neat scanner features the NeatWorks software which has the apparent advantage of storing all your scans and OCR conversions in a single unified database. Still, I find I prefer ScanSnap’s more separatist approach — especially as the resulting output (especially OCR conversions) are usually superior. It’s a close call overall; you may feel differently. NeatWorks is also available as a standalone application to work with third-party scanners, although it may not be compatible with the S1100.

The ScanSnap S1100 runs version 3.2 of the ScanSnap Manager software. I have a non-portable ScanSnap S510M sitting on my desk. It runs version 2.x version of the Manager software. While adequate, the software package is not as versatile as the S1100’s version. The older software uses Readiris instead of FineReader for OCR and does not include any of the cloud options. If you have one of these older ScanSnap models, can you upgrade to the new 3.2 version? Yes. And no. Yes, the new software appears to works fine with the older scanner. I tested this out both on my MacBook Air and Mac Pro. All the software features performed exactly as expected. Unfortunately, Fujitsu does not offer the new software as an upgrade. For now, the only way to (legally) get it would be to buy an S1100.

Bottom Line

The ScanSnap S1100 is a superb lightweight document scanner for the the person-on-the-go. Carry it in your backpack or briefcase — and easily use it anywhere you work with your laptop Mac. Even if you plan to leave the scanner on your desk, the S1100 is a good choice for those who don’t have heavy-duty scanning needs and don’t want to spend the extra bucks for a desktop model. While the S1100 is not a total substitute for a flatbed scanner, most Mac users will get more use and benefit from this versatile document scanner than from any scanner included as part of an inkjet printer.