Do Handheld Scanners Really Work?

Scanning: Not Just For Photos and Faxes

The paperless office is a myth and there piles of important paper in most of our homes. Banks statements and bills are moving online but there are plenty of other things we all need to keep track of that start out on paper.

See an interesting recipe? Scan it and you’ll be able to find it when you’re trying to think of something to cook.

The class schedule at your gym, or the dates and times for school activities or the flyer for a local gardener you see on the noticeboard at the coffee shop or the list of special offers in a local paper or a recipe in a magazine or the newspaper review for that new restaurant or the contact card for the stall you find at a street fair; they’re all more useful to you on your computer or your phone than as a piece of paper buried on your desk or crumpled up at the bottom of your bag. Yes, you could find most of those with a web search, but only if you can remember the name…

Business cards; not much use in a pile on your desk…

If you have to fill out a form you can often email it instead of faxing or posting it, but you don’t want to retype the whole thing. Bills, invoices and receipts are easier to find if you scan them in; if you have to do an expense report or claim deductible items on your tax form, scanning your receipts so you don’t lose them might pay for the cost of a scanner. Scanning a whole book or comic takes a long time (and is legally dubious), but grabbing a couple of your favorite pages to carry with you for inspiration is easily done. You might want to scan in favorite old photos but scanning isn’t just for artists.

Flyers, contact cards – wine bottles? You can scan anything with information.

And you don’t need to drag paperwork up to your desk and run it through a big, clunky scanner to get them in digital form any more. There are some handy little scanners on the market that are small enough to be portable, and plenty of apps that turn your smartphone into a scanner. We’ve looked at some of the latest portable scanners and a range of smartphone scanning apps, including some that deal with everything from business cards to wine bottles.

Just as important as picking a good app is getting into the habit of using it. Grab a scan of anything that looks useful; it won’t take up much space and you’ll have it when you need it.

Mary Branscombe is an experienced freelance journalist, editor and author, who has been writing for more than three decades. Her work has appeared in The Financial Times, The Guardian, Tom's Guide, and many more. She has also written several novels — including the Cassidy At Large technomysteries — and two IT guides alongside her writing partner, Simon Bisson.