Review: Top 10 scanners
(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.
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
Top corporate scanners
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