Let’s get to the rating part first, and then we’ll work backwards: resounding five out of five (though there is room for minor improvement). Why am I so eager to get that out of the way? To understand my mild obsession with the ix500, I suppose it would be best to start with a confession…
Hi, my name is Aaron, and I’m (something of) a pack rat when it comes to information. I used to have documents in a filing cabinet that that spanned nearly 30 years, and my hard drive is still cluttered with math homework I did back in sixth grade (who knows when that might be useful!?).
Though Fujitsu’s ScanSnap ix500 can’t help me with my homework hoarding, the ix500 and its accompanying software are specifically designed to ease the process of converting your paper life to digital. So, rather than worry that one day my filing cabinet will fall victim to a natural disaster, I’m now a.) happy that my data resides in a searchable format on my computer, and b.) secure in the knowledge that it’s also backed up to a cloud service (encrypted, of course).
No Fiddling Needed
Fujitsu’s biggest accomplishment in jumpstarting my digital revolution was getting rid of all the fiddly settings typically associated with scanning. Should I do 300 or 600 dpi? What’s duplex? Why are my scanned files 10 megs each?! Although I’ve owned several multifunction devices over the years, I’ve only ever been able to handle scanning a few tax documents (W2s, receipts, etc.) before giving up in frustration. And that was a painful process, as I had to make document-specific changes to innumerable settings.
With the ix500, Fujitsu has booted the delicate balancing act that was required to get an acceptable tradeoff between legible documents and acceptable file sizes. Together with the ScanSnap software, the scanner really streamlines the scan settings process, largely eliminating complex choices and automating the multipart workflow of traditional scanning. Fujitsu emphasizes “What” over “How”, e.g. Q: What do you want to do with the document? A: Scan it and create a searchable PDF so I can quickly locate information. The software automates these workflow steps and handles the details of how to get the file into your desired target format. Helpful features include:
- Task-based scan profiles. Just pick the exact type of document you want to create (searchable PDF, MS Word document, even an Excel spreadsheet). The scanner does its thing, then hands the file off to a helper app that automatically creates your document. You don’t have to adjust any settings, just pick a destination.
- Simple slider-based settings. If you do feel like getting under the hood, you can make changes to things like DPI, output locations, and OCR properties (whole document or just the first page). But Fujitsu has even made this simple, including helpful abstractions like a PDF compression slider that lets you choose between high quality and small file size, saving you from the tedium of testing different DPI and image compression settings.
- Lightning fast OCR. The software has evolved significantly, but it still has some legacy features like a warning that the use of OCR can take a long time and possibly tax your computer. On my MacBook Pro the app converted 75 double-sided pages of documents into searchable PDFs in the background in less than two minutes. It took longer to get all the staples out of the paper to prepare it for scanning!
- Intelligent detection. During my scanning, the ScanSnap ix500 was consistently able to identify when things went wrong, such as when two sheets of paper were stuck together or when a document hadn’t been unfolded. The scanner pauses, shows you a preview of the documents at issue, and gives you the option to continue as-is or reload just the offending documents.This saves time, as you don’t have to redo the entire scan.
Scan & Go
While Fujitsu’s desktop software asks where you want to go, their iOS app is really designed to get you moving. The ScanSnap Connect App lets you easily control the scanner from and store documents on your iDevice. Rather than being stuck without an important piece of paper because it’s at home / in a folder on your desk / anywhere but where you need it, you can simply pop it through the ix500 into the ScanSnap app on your iDevice and have all your info at your fingertips.
During my review I got a perfect test case; my mortgage provider mailed me a letter and table of info that required my input, but they’re only open 8-5 EST and I don’t get home until 6 pm (so I had to call from work). I simply scanned the documents straight to my iPhone, obviating the need for me to remember to pack them in my bag. The app offers control over several basic settings, including a choice of JPG or PDF, as well as basic graphics options like color mode, duplexing (single- or double-sided scans), and the ability to automatically skip blank pages. Once configured, tap the Scan button on your iPhone and you’ll receive your scanned files via WiFi.
If you want to share documents or you’ve gone completely cloud (cloudy?), the Connect app has you covered there as well. The built-in file manager lets you browse, preview, rotate, and rename your scanned files, while the iOS-standard “Open In” pane lets you route documents to other apps. You can send documents to a service-connected app like Dropbox, SugarSync, or Evernote, or open your scanned documents in local apps such as iBooks. The ability to quickly scan documents and pump them to your cloud storage makes the ScanSnap ix500 genuinely useful for anybody who needs to share data (households or small businesses), though the mobile app’s lack of searchable PDF creation is a minor drawback. Although the ScanSnap Connect app is free, I imagine users would be willing to pay for a version that includes OCR – I certainly would.
If it were made out of brushed aluminum, the ScanSnap ix500 could easily be an Apple-designed device (from the front, anyway). The scanner actually folds up on itself and turns off when folded; it’s a sort of metaphoric origami that underscores the scanner’s purpose of making your paper more productive. To turn it on, you simply flip open the top cover to form the document feeder, then pop open the output tray to catch what you’re scanning (both are magnetic, so they stay in place and turn the ix500 on/off like the iPad’s Smart Cover). On top there’s just a single button that glows blue when the scanner is active, and an LED status light indicating a WiFi connection.
Once open, the ix500 has the ability to handle up to 50 pages of mixed paper, including oddly shaped documents (small receipts interspersed with legal size paper), and its paper roller can grab and separate documents very reliably. Given the age of some of my records, there was plenty of brittle, crinkled, and oddly folded paper; during testing, I only had a handful of paper feed issues out of a total of nearly 4,000 scanned pages. The ScanSnap ix500 is equipped to handle a variety of paper weights using an ultrasonic paper sensor that watches the document feeding to detect issues such as folded or stuck-together pages. In my previous experience with tax document scanning, I often encountered problems with W2 forms, which are on thick paper and only half a page tall. They usually had to be scanned separately, and the resulting PDF files combined later; the ix500 handled my entire stack of documents without complaint.
Undoubtedly the standout hardware feature on the ix500 is its integrated graphics processor. The chip handles image enhancement and corrections like automatic document rotation based on text orientation, which frees your computer’s resources for tasks like OCR. The onboard processing power also dramatically improves iOS app functionality, as the scanner handles the heavy graphic lifting tasks before the document reaches your iDevice, saving you time and battery life.
Room to Grow
The ScanSnap ix500 and its scan software are both a breeze to use, and Fujitsu deserves commendation for simplifying the whole process to a level of genuine usefulness at a feasible price. Fujitsu has definitely used its experience in industrial scanners to create consumer level products, and the software still features some rough edges from this heritage that can be jarring. For example, in order to set up the scanner to work wirelessly with an iOS device, it’s required that you first run the entire ScanSnap installation on your Mac, which takes up 2GB of space. As more devices begin communicating via WiFi, intelligent devices that create their own networks to support initial setup are becoming common. If you plan to use the ix500 exclusively in a scan-to-iPad-then-to-Sugarsync scenario, why are you still tethered to the Mac? (Apple went through a similar challenge with iOS cord cutting). More importantly, since the ix500 has the hardware and software for wireless scanning, is there any chance we could cut the cord between the scanner and the Mac?
Fujitsu has successfully distilled expensive and cumbersome business scanning technology into a package that’s simple, affordable, and genuinely useful for consumers. Whether you have a lifetime’s worth of archives that need scanning or just want to dispense with paper from your life altogether and always have your important documents just a tap away, Fujitsu’s ix500 and accompanying ScanSnap mobile app finally provide an easy way to do that.
Minimum Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6.8+, free USB port, iDevice running iOS 4.3+
Price: $430-$500, depending on store