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How Scanning Apps Can Organize Your Life

Scanning documents with your cell phone can be a huge time saver. Today, we review the major features to look for in a scanning app.

By
Stever Robbins,
September 26, 2017
Episode #470

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In ancient times, some cultures believed that having your picture taken would capture your soul. But they didn’t have smartphones. They never even considered that we would create entire devices like the iPhone X, whose every new feature is devoted solely to taking and retouching selfies, so we can broadcast our images far and wide. Can you say “the endless pursuit of narcissism?” … I knew you could! (Now, please share this episode on social media.) 

But our phone cameras can also be used to back up receipts and business cards, or scan in copies of manuals we need for reference. There are a jillion “scanning apps” on the app store, all with slightly different features. 

Since scanning receipts and business cards can become a major part of your workflow, let’s review the different features you might want in a scanning app. Then we'll review the five—yes, five—that I use most often.

Basic scanning, crop, and deskew

What makes a scanning app different from just taking a picture is that a scanning app lets you trim out parts of the picture you don’t need. That’s called cropping. 

If you took the picture at an angle, a document image can come out distorted. Scanning apps let you deskew the image, which undistorts it back to its original appearance.

Then you can apply filters to the image. You can convert it to black and white, or simplify the colors so the images take up much less space. 

Once you’ve scanned, you can save the scans as photos, collect them into PDF files, send them as email, or just put them on the mantelpiece to admire when you’re home alone bored.

Beyond these basics, however, scanning apps have many different features. 

The Many Features of Scanning Apps

  • Auto-capture
  • Annotation
  • Signatures
  • Store original for refiltering
  • Handle warped images
  • Super-sharp images (Turboscan 3x)
  • PIN protection
  • Password protect PDF files
  • Filing system

Let's explore each of these features in full. 

Auto-capture

One of my favorite features is auto-capture. As soon as you are holding the camera steady over a scan, the phone snaps the picture. This is way easier than trying to hold the camera motionless over a page while snapping the picture manually. I’m uncoordinated enough that half the time when manually scanning, I nudge the camera and blur the image.

Annotation

Once you’ve snapped the picture, it’s great to be able to add annotations, like shapes, text, and freehand drawing. Unlike selfies, where you need to add mouse ears and a curly mustache, when you scan a document you may want to highlight text, circle parts of the document, or draw arrows to emphasize things that are important. When scanning a contract, you just might want to put an arrow pointing out the clause that says you are entitled to your counterparty’s first-born child. It’s always good to be able to look at a contract and know you remembered that clause.

Signatures

While most apps that support annotation let you draw freehand, some apps specifically let you store images of your signature and stamp them on documents. If you plan to scan documents and sign them, you want a scanning app that supports signatures.

Store original for refiltering

Some image apps save a copy of the original image, even after you’ve cropped and filtered it. At first, this seemed wasteful to me. Then I sometimes want to go back and tweak the cropping, or alter a filter because I don’t notice a problem until after saving a scan. 

Handle warped images

All good scan apps support deskewing images you take with perspective. But one, Docr, can deskew with curves. So if you are scanning pages from a book and the pages have curves due to the book binding, Docr figures that out and corrects the image. This would make it my favorite app, except that it doesn’t support auto-capture and several of the other features mentioned in this article.

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