The future of document scanning: we are not there yet

Evernote’s new automatic document scanner is an interesting look at how we will be able to scan text materials with ease, using everyday devices and technology. Unfortunately, my tests point out this technology is still a bit too simple to be effectively used in an academic environment.

In the latest iPhone version of Evernote, a multi-platform software package to collect, store, and retrieve notes, a most interesting function was added. After including a camera function, and after including a document camera function, they now built an automatic document camera function.

The idea is that you only need to hover your phone over the paper and Evernote will calculate where the paper is, make a photo, and process it through their black-and-white scanner algorithm. You can even move the camera about or hold it at an angle; the software will adjust for it by itself. The results are pretty good actually.

Here is first a video demonstrating it:

What this video amply shows is that this new function has the hardest time adjusting its calculations for the curvature of a page of a book. I have used a book that actually falls open pretty flat and still it could not detect the page by itself. Only after straightening the page was it able to. Needless to say, this will be a bigger problem the stiffer the spine is and for many books this process will not be useful at all as many books are bound/glued so stiff they require two hands to remain open leaving no hands to control your phone.

It also frequently turned the pages of an Arabic book upside down. Perhaps based on the shapes on the paper, perhaps because I held the device at a certain angle? Frustrating nonetheless as it requires more post-production editing.

Here are examples from that photo shoot. As you can see, the result is pretty good.

Evernote Snapshot 20150416 1659292

Pages are rendered in a crisp black and white. But some are turned upside down.

Evernote Snapshot 20150416 165929

When using this function on loose sheets of paper much better results are obtained, as can be witnessed in the following. Still it processed one page wrongly, leaving off a portion of the lower part of the page. What I especially like is that the paper of these pages were almost brown, yet Evernote turned them into crystal clear white.

Evernote Snapshot 20150416 164150

Above: Good job Evernote! Below: Ouch, not entirely good.

Evernote Snapshot 20150416 164151

File size is something to be aware of. These pages come in at a rather hefty 700-1200kb. Their size fluctuates but it is pretty big overall. These are after all no manuscripts where the highest detail is of importance; I am sure these texts would be legible at the 350-600kb range as well.

Conclusion

In short, then, Evernote gives us a glimpse of the future, but it is indeed still the future and not the present. For certain cases like when perusing the shelfs of a library and only wanting to take note of a few pages of a certain book this function is marvelous. For bigger purposes (scanning an entire article or book) it is still too laborious.

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