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Review: Top 10 scanners

PC World
Epson's Perfection 1240U PHOTO Scanner includes 1200 x 2400 dpi hardware resolution and fully automatic, one-touch scanning capability  

(IDG) -- Sure, you can buy a new flatbed scanner for well under $100 these days. This month, for instance, the Visioneer OneTouch 5600USB has a bargain-basement street prices of $79, making it among the cheapest models we've seen to date.

Of course, to make PC World's top 10 scanners list, a scanner needs more than just a great price. In our test criteria, we also consider each scanner's performance, image quality, ease of use, features, and support when we tally up the final scores to determine who's in and who's out. And in our reviews, by pointing out the most salient pros and cons of each product, we attempt to cut through the often confusing technical specifications that manufacturers and dealers use to describe various scanner models.

Smart scanner shopping

If you're looking for an inexpensive scanner, be aware that the three biggest trade-offs you're most likely to encounter will involve a scanner's optical resolution, its bundled software, and the availability -- or lack -- of optional accessories.

For example, a year ago the majority of the scanners on our Top 10 chart had an optical resolution of 600 by 1200 dpi. However, you'll find only two models on this month's list with that resolution, while all the rest offer 1200 by 2400 dpi or more. As a rule, the higher the resolution, the more image data a scanner can capture, generally resulting in images with finer details.

Bundled software, another area in which some scanner manufacturers may try to cut corners, can significantly alter the price of a scanner as well. In addition to the scanner driver (which is required for operation), most scanners come bundled with image editing software and optical character recognition software. Some also include document management programs and other bonus applications. INFOCENTER
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In some cases, these bundled goodies are "light" versions of the retail software, or they are simply lesser-known, second-string applications that lack the robust features, thorough documentation, and solid technical support that the better-known packages offer. If you need to purchase additional software to get the scanning features you want, you could end up spending as much for a low-cost scanner as you would for a higher-priced model that has the software bundle you require.

And don't expect to transform a low-cost scanner into a one-stop scanning station, as you often can do with pricier, more robust models. Scanners that offer add-on (extra-cost) accessories such as transparency adapters and automatic document feeders also require more circuitry on the base model.

For example, an additional input connector (typically in the back of the unit) must be provided for plugging the accessory in to the scanner. Plus, the scanner driver must include more features in order for you to operate the accessories. Such extras usually increase the production cost of the scanner and, therefore, are commonly left out of low-end, entry-level models.

This month we also reviewed Mustek's BearPaw 1200F and Visioneer's OneTouch 5600USB. Though neither of these scanners earned a spot on our Top 10 chart, you can learn more about their features by clicking on "Beyond the top 10: Mustek BearPaw 1200F," and "Beyond the top 10: Visioneer OneTouch 5600 USB," links below.

Top small-/home-office (SOHO) scanners

  1. Epson Perfection 1240U Photo: With its bundled transparency adapter, the Perfection 1240U Photo capably targets small-office and home users who regularly scan 35mm film and other transmissive materials, as well as standard photo prints.

  2. Microtek ScanMaker 4700: The $199 Microtek ScanMaker 4700 is an appealing choice for SOHO and home users willing to pay a little extra for a dual-purpose (reflective media- and transparency-ready) scanner that offers zippy performance, great features, and robust software.

  3. Canon CanoScan N1220U: The slim CanoScan N1220U is a good choice for anyone who has little desk space or who wants a compact scanner that can travel. However, if you need a scanner that you can upgrade to handle transparencies or lots of documents, you'll have to look elsewhere.

  4. Hewlett-Packard ScanJet 5370Cse: The HP ScanJet 5370Cse is a fast scanner, with ample software that will please both novices and veteran users. Its high resolution and bundled transparency adapter make it a smart choice for scanning and enlarging 35mm slides.

  5. Agfa SnapScan e50: The Agfa SnapScan e50 is ideal for SOHO and home users who are more interested in obtaining attractive images than speedy scans and who want to work with both reflective and transparent items.

  6. Canon CanoScan D660U: The CanoScan D660U will appeal to value-conscious buyers who are willing to trade slow scanning speed and a lower optical resolution for the included transparency adapter and a big software bundle.

  7. Microtek ScanMaker V6USL: The $129 ScanMaker V6USL is a good match for SOHO users who want to scan large materials, such as artwork, spreadsheets, newspapers, and oversize books.

Top corporate scanners

  1. Microtek ScanMaker 8700: For serious graphics pros and high-end corporate customers who want a top-of-the-line model for both reflective and transparency scanning, the Microtek ScanMaker 8700 delivers a hard-to-beat combination of high-quality images, scorching speed, and resourceful features.

  2. Epson Perfection 1640SU Office: With its bundled ADF, the Perfection 1640SU Office aims to alleviate the workload of businesses and workgroups who primarily scan documents and perform OCR work.

  3. Microtek ScanMaker X12USL: With its versatile features and software, plus its proficient optional attachments, the ScanMaker X12USL is an excellent choice for business users looking for a one-stop scanning station.

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Beyond the top 10: Mustek BearPaw 1200F
Beyond the top 10: Visioneer OneTouch 5600 USB
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