Scientist, writer, audiophile and smartphone addict, Will Apse, loves explaining tech issues in a way that anyone can understand.
What they Offer
There are as many uses for handheld document scanners as there are people. Anyone who is studying in a public or college libraries can save themselves the trouble of queuing for a photocopier and, of course, you can use your scans to get editable text from the printed page into a word processor -- saving a massive amount of time.
Other uses include scanning text from old books and magazines, recipes, comic books, retro fashion, public and church records. The list is endless. This data can be an invaluable resource when compiled in digital form (beware of copyright laws, though, if you intend to publish!).
Any business that needs to copy records of any kind on the move, or in peoples' homes, will get great benefits.
What Kinds of Handheld Scanner are Available?
Some hand held scanners are purely for capturing text and deliver text files which can be edited. These look like pens and they 'read' a line at a time.
Other devices, like the 'VuPoint Magic Wand', below, will copy everything on the page, including images.
Full-page handheld scanners will never be as quick as their desktop brothers but with a little practice, they give good results. And, of course, there are a thousand and one places where you can never take a full-sized scanner.
What Kind do You Need?
Pen scanners are great for lifting sections of text from any document and beat using a desktop scanner at home for simple quotations.
Wand scanners will take whole pages including images. If you do not want everything on the page, they can be a slow way of saving snippets.
Smartphone and Tablet Integration
Scanners like the Vupoint Magic Wand and the WorldPenScan X will hook up to mobile devices via WiFi.
Pen scanners are a fast way to lift text from a page which can be stored in services like Dropbox for use across all your devices, or to share immediately on social media.
Whole-page scanners can be slow to use via WiFi.
All handheld scanners have a few quirks, of course, but with a little practice you can scan more or less anything accurately.
The trick is to ensure that the document or image to be scanned is as flat as possible, and then move in a steady way.
If you pause for any reason, hit your elbow against something (or sneeze!), you will get shaky images and text.
Having said that, most people can soon master the tricks and produce quality results every time.
Poor images can be the result of batteries draining down, so it is useful to keep spares with you.
VuPoint's Latest Magic Wand
VuPoint scanners have been around forever, it seems. The latest model is the fourth generation and retains many of the attractions of previous incarnations. It also boasts a much larger, than previous, LCD monitor making to easy to see what you are copying.
The data scanned is stored on a micro SD card which might be a disadvantage if reading an SD card is a problem on your computer. The Wolverine Pass 200, below, is USB compatible which is more suitable for some people.
The scanner will handle pages up to 10 inches tall- A4 or standard letter size.
This model uses AA batteries- cheap enough, but if you are going to be using the device a lot, rechargeable batteries are a good option.
This will be the first choice for many people who have a business use in mind.
The scanner is high resolution (1050 DPI) and the battery is rechargable and long lasting.
Since it dropped in price (you can find them for around eighty dollars), it is a very attractive alternative to the old favorites like the VuPoint Wand.
The micro SD card allows easy transfer of the images that you collect. Optical recognition software makes text editable in Windows PC's.
There is a wireless function but if you want the highest resolution you need to use the SD card.
The Wolverine is one of the newer devices on the market and it has quickly come to be one of the most popular.
It is amazingly lightweight and compact -- the kind of thing you can carry around without even noticing.
It has its own processing software so all you need do is transfer jpeg files to your PC via a USB cable, just like a camera. You can input scans to either a Mac or a PC, swiftly.
There is a pair of rollers to make scanning smooth and fast (important if you are scanning big books or many mags).
A simple switch allows you to switch from color to black and white.
It also comes at a good price and feels solid in the hand.
SVP Combo Scanner
SVP has given real thought to what people do with these devices and come up with a winner.
It can be used as a straight, handheld scanner or in the same way that you use a standard mobile scanner (like the Brother DS Mobile described below). Once the wand is docked, pages can be fed through automatically for copying.
There is a built in alarm to remind you to scan at a speed it can cope with - a useful feature to save on distortion.
A display indicates battery life and how much data storage remains.
Data can be transferred to a PC via an SD card or USB.
It is well priced, at around $100.
Pen scanners are often used for instant translations as well as capturing sections of text.
This is one of the older pen scanners but it has consistently delivered what people want over the years and still sells well.
It needs to be connected to a PC by its USB cable, which is a limitation. On the plus side it will never need a new battery!
Almost all languages are supported and it is quick in operation. Draw the pen across any line at the sort of speed you would highlight text and it will capture everything to your hard drive.
There are some kinds of text that will defeat it- very ornate or ancient fonts can come out garbled. Sometimes, underlined words can be a problem too. Despite these drawbacks, most normal books and documents are easy to scan.
IRISPen Express 6
This offers a similar level of performance to the Etaco and also needs to be connected to a PC by USB. The advantage is that it will scan small images and recognize lines for tables etc. It is exceptionally quick, too- better than 3 inches a second. The text will appear on your screen instantly.
PenPower WorldPenScan X
This pen hooks up through Bluetooth with Windows PC's, Macs, Android and iOS devices.
Some people have problems hooking up with certain devices, as is the case with all Bluetooth devices, but it is much easier than earlier iterations like the original PenPower WorldPenScan BT.
If you reckon you are reasonably tech savvy, you might like to risk it! They are various guides to aid you when pairing is not instantaneous.
It is very good indeed for lifting short sections of text and integrates especially well with Evernote. You can edit the data collected in Windows Office apps, iWork, email and even browsers.
Brother DSMobile Scanner (DS-600)
Ok, this is not a handheld scanner. It is worth mentioning though, as a reminder that there are other kinds of portable scanners.
This will not work directly with books, of course, but it will turn photocopies of books into editable text. It will also digitize letters and other documents a lot faster than any handheld.
Peter on February 27, 2018:
Thanks for great article. Looking for any updates now that a full year has passed, especially for pdf to text - MAC based - pen styled OCRs.
Carrie Xia on December 07, 2016:
Looks very convenient!! But I still think it's a little bit useless! Like me, I’m a writer and need a scanner can scan book faster and easier, like erasing fingerprint and flatten the book page line automatically, also I need a scanner that has good appearance. So my friend recommend me a CZUR smart scanner , which is the best scanner than anything I used before, personally thought. It has multiple functions, including all functions and criteria you mentioned, also looks nice, like a lamp. Most important, it could wifi stored on any smartphone, easy carry and read. I like it.
Vivian on May 17, 2016:
I use Docs Matter. It is a professional optical character recognition (OCR) document scanning application. I am also using it. Its main feature is to scan the document you have, and use the built-in OCR engine to retrieve text from document after scanning. You can modify and save recognition results after the OCR engine finished its work.
Missy from London on September 27, 2013:
I came across your hub as been looking for a document scanner like these for a while, was an interesting read but in the end I found its possible to use your phone (iphone) as a document scanner as theres quite a few decent apps for under $2 that do it :)
Will Apse (author) on November 11, 2010:
Thanks sligobay, they are neat little tools and great for writers!