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Scanner Visioneer Strobe 500

High Technology Product Reviews | Trends and News | Scanner Visioneer Strobe 500
There's nothing new about a portable device that you can plug into a dock to use as a desktop unit too. Lots of laptops have let you do that for years. Somehow, though, the idea of a scanner doing the same thing seems like an exciting new trick, and it's the one feature in the Visioneer Strobe 500 ($399.99 direct) that's most likely to grab your attention. It firmly plants the scanner in two separate categories—portable and personal desktop document scanner. Ultimately, though, it's best appreciated as a capable desktop scanner first and a portable only as a decidedly secondary role.

Maximum Optical Resolution
600 pixels
Mechanical Resolution
600 pixels
Maximum Scan Area
Scanning Options
The scanner comes mounted in its docking station, which includes a 20-page automatic document feeder (ADF) and an output tray. The combination of the two is about the same size as a typical personal desktop scanner, with an 11.7- by 4.7-inch (WD) footprint, not including the output tray.

The height is just 4.8 inches with the input tray folded down over the top of the unit or 9.3 inches with the tray up high enough to support letter-size paper. The front tray extends up to 10 inches from the front of the dock, but you can simply leave it closed, and let the paper drop directly on your desktop.

Without the scanner, the dock measures the same size. The scanner itself is smaller, however, at 2.8 by 11.7 by 3.3 inches (HWD) with its front feed tray closed. Opening the tray, which lets you manually feed one sheet at a time, adds another inch to the depth. Even by itself, the scanner is relatively large for a portable—and relatively heavy, at 2.2 pounds—but it justifies its size and weight by its speed and its ability to scan both sides of a page at once. Note too that you can buy additional docks ($99.99 direct) so you could, for example, move the scanner between home and office and have an ADF in both places.

To set up the Strobe 500 for a desktop, you have to take it out of the dock to remove some packing materials and then reattach it, which leads to one of my few complaints about the scanner. Detaching it seems to have been designed for someone with three hands. You have to simultaneously push a button on the side of the dock while holding both sides of the scanner and pivoting the back of the scanner up from the dock. It's not all that hard to do with two hands, but it feels a little awkward.

Remounting the scanner is less awkward, but more of a puzzle. You have to hook the front on two small tabs at the front of the dock, and then pivot the scanner down until it snaps into place. Unfortunately, the getting started instructions simply say to put the scanner back on the dock, which means you're left to figure out how. It took me several tries, plus a careful look at the front of the scanner and dock to find the tabs and matching slots. This issue, at least, could be solved easily with better instructions in the installation guide.

Aside from having to puzzle out how to dock and undock, setup is straightforward. Plug in the supplied USB cable and power cable, and install the scanner's software from disc. One unusual touch is that you have the choice of getting power either from a wall socket or from a USB connector. The scanner comes with cables for both. Simply plug one of the cables into the scanner's power connector, and then into either a USB connector on your computer or a wall socket, as appropriate.

I installed and tested the scanner on a Windows Vista system. According to Visioneer, the Strobe 500 also comes with drivers and a full set of software for Windows 7, XP, and 2000 as well as drivers and a partial set of software for Mac OS X 10.4 through 10.6. The software for Windows includes Nuance PaperPort 11 for document management, Nuance OmniPage Pro 15 for optical character recognition (OCR), and NewSoft Presto! BizCard 5 for business cards. The Mac software lacks a business card program and separate OCR program.

The Windows programs that come with the Strobe 500 are focused on document management, OCR, and business cards. In addition to programs for those three applications, the scanner also comes with Twain and WIA drivers, which will let you scan directly from most Windows programs with a scan command, and Visioneer's OneTouch for controlling scans and sending the scanned data to various programs.

Among the other settings built into OneTouch are the options to scan in simplex (one side) or duplex (both sides at once), recognize text or save the file as an image, and save the scan in a variety of formats, including BMP, TIFF, JPG, RTF, DOC, XLS, image PDF, and searchable PDF. You can also set the resolution and such basics as whether to scan in color or monochrome. The scanner's 600-pixel-per-inch (ppi) maximum optical resolution offers more than enough capability for document scanning.

Probably the most noteworthy option in OneTouch is the ability to scan using OneTouch's embedded version of Kofax Virtual ReScan (VRS). VRS is the leading digital enhancement program for converting essentially unreadable scans into usable information. Instead of highlighted text showing as a solid black area in a scan, for example, VRS can ignore the highlight color and make the text readable. The version included as a module in OneTouch is a valuable extra for a relatively inexpensive document scanner.

The default installation of OneTouch includes a large number of predefined shortcuts for scanning with various combinations of settings. There are four shortcuts, for example, that between them will let you scan letter-size pages at your choice of simplex or duplex and at normal quality or high quality in either case. You can easily delete any shortcuts you don't want as well as create new ones to match your needs.

I ran the Strobe 500 though our standard test suites for both desktop document scanners and portable scanners. It did extremely well in both cases, despite being a little slower in my tests than Visioneer claims. As a desktop scanner, using the ADF, Visioneer rates it at 15 pages per minute (ppm) and 30 images per minute (ipm) for duplex scanning, with one image on each side of the page. However the rating is for scanning at 200 ppi in color mode. I ran my tests at 300 ppi in black and white mode. I also ran the tests with the VRS feature on, which slows down the overall scan time.

In my tests, scanning our standard 25-page document to PaperPort using an image PDF file format, the scan speed came out to 11.1 ppm in simplex mode and 21.3 ipm in duplex mode. That's only about half the speed of the somewhat more expensive, but reasonably comparable, Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 ($495.00 direct, ), at 20.8 ppm and 41.7 ipm. But that's not the whole story.

For document scanning, you're much more likely to need to scan to a searchable PDF format than an image PDF, and it turns out that—unlike the vast majority of scanners—the Strobe 500 hardly slows down for the recognition step. The 21.3 ipm speed for 25 double-sided pages translates to a 2-minute 21-second time. Adding text recognition added only about 10 seconds, for a total 2:32. In comparison, the S1500 took 3:07 with recognition.

The scanner also scores well on OCR accuracy, scanning Times New Roman fonts at sizes as small as 8 points and Arial fonts at sizes as small as 6 points in my tests without a mistake. It even did well as a business-card scanner, running stacks of about 8 cards though the ADF without problems.

I also tested the scanner without the dock to see how it performed as a portable. Scanning a single page to a searchable PDF file took about 18 seconds connected to a power outlet, and about 22 seconds getting power over a USB connection. Both speeds are more than acceptable for a manual-feed scanner.

As should be obvious if you've read this far, the Strobe 500 is easy to recommend. Judged strictly as a desktop document scanner, the combination of hardware and software makes it a better value—and even a better package in absolute terms—than some more expensive choices. That alone makes it our new Editors' Choice for personal document scanner. And if you can occasionally take advantage of its portability, consider that even more of a plus.

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