Scanning Documents with Your iPhone: 5 Apps Compared

It’s Productivity Week here at iPhone.AppStorm, and all week we’re going to have app reviews and how-tos, all based on getting things done. Plus, we’ll even pull some classic reviews out of the archives. Stay tuned all week!

There’s no doubt that going paperless increases productivity: paperless communication is instant, hassle-free, cheap and less wasteful. Much of the world, however, still relies on paper documents to relay important information. How can you, the forward-thinking iPhone user, integrate all this paper into your digital records? Many developers have created apps to help digitize paper documents into PDF files by scanning them with your iPhone’s built-in camera, without requiring you to take a perfect picture from a straight angle.

In this round-up, we’re putting five popular iPhone scanning applications to the test, comparing their features and how they all handle processing the same image. Find out which apps come out on top after the jump!

Starting Point

I’ve taken a picture of our test document using my iPhone 3G’s camera, in decent lighting, but from an angle. It should be a pretty easy document to process, since it’s black and white, matte and easy to read.

I found this bizarre sheet of home safety tips in the mail

I found this bizarre sheet of home safety tips in the mail

I could certainly clean this up to be readable using Photoshop, but it would take me a couple minutes, and that wouldn’t be very productive, now would it?

Genius Scan

All of these apps basically work the same way: you either take a photo or grab one from your library, then you outline the corners of the document so that it can be “flattened.” Then the app processes the image, adjusting brightness, contrast and color.

Adjusting the corners of your document is tricky in Genius Scan (though the auto-detect is decently effective). It’s hard to see what’s directly beneath your finger! You can choose from black and white or colour processing, or use neither.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the quality of the image using Genius Scan, the contrast was much too high and the text looked blocky.

Sharing: Email and Twitter on the free version, Dropbox, Evernote and Google Docs with Plus version
Price: Free ($2.99 for “Plus” version)
Developer: The Grizzly Labs
Download: App Store

Genius Scan is the only one with integrated Twitter support

Genius Scan is the only one with integrated Twitter support

JotNot Scanner Pro

JotNot Scanner Pro’s most notable feature is Wi-Fi sharing via bonjour. Point your browser to the address specified when you click the Wi-Fi icon, and you can view all your documents online. JotNot also features an “Open In” option (when you click the icon that looks like the Adobe Acrobat icon) which allows you to view your PDF in iBooks.

While JotNot has some handy features, I found it’s image quality to be quite poor. Text was compressed horizontally and had a blurry yellow glow.

Sharing: Email, Wi-Fi (via Bonjour), Evernote, Dropbox, Google Docs, Box.net, WebDAV
Price: $0.99
Developer: MobiTech 3000
Download: App Store

I'm not sure how the "Fax Document" option works, but I know it's not free

I'm not sure how the "Fax Document" option works, but I know it's not free

Scanner Pro

Scanner Pro definitely has the most attractive and easy-to-use interface. It has a very handy magnifying feature when you’re defining the corners of your documents, where a little magnifying glass appears away from your finger so you can actually see what you’re doing. It has little crosshairs in the middle to help you line things up.

Scanner Pro also has more processing options than some of the other apps, with a grayscale option in addition to black and white or color, as well as photo or document settings. Once you’ve processed a document, you can adjust brightness and contrast with a slider, allowing for much more precision than the other apps offer. It also makes it easier to create multi-page documents, letting you take pictures of all the pages first before processing them.

The output quality was pretty good with Scanner Pro. The default settings made the document too washed out, but I was able to get some good results by adjusting the contrast.

Sharing: Evernote, email, Google Docs, Dropbox, WebDAV
Price: $6.99
Developer: Readdle
Download: App Store

Scanner Pro has a much cleaner interface than its competitors

Scanner Pro has a much cleaner interface than its competitors

DocScan

DocScan is the newest entry in the category, and it boasts many of the same features as the more expensive apps for a more affordable price. DocScan also features Air Print printing on supported devices, and creates zipped JPEG files for emailing.

The basic functions of DocScan are available for free, but only allows you to save 5 documents of 2 pages each. The upgrade to DocScan Pro is only available as an in-app purchase, which I’m never a fan of.

DocScan produced some of the better quality scans of the bunch; it straightened the text as well as Scanner Pro, but without the loss of clarity on some letters. DocScan also had the best auto-detection of the corners of a document. After using the “brighten up” function, DocScan produced some pretty high quality scans (relatively speaking).

Sharing: email, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs, iTunes
Price: $1.99
Developer: IFUNPLAY
Download: App Store

I never like seeing an "upgrade" button

I never like seeing an "upgrade" button

TurboScan

Despite the dated interface, TurboScan is my pick for the top scanning app. TurboScan processed documents way faster than the other apps and produced the best quality scans.

TurboScan has a feature called SureScan, which prompts you to take three pictures of the same document for a sharper image. I found this process pretty time consuming, but it does produce a slightly sharper, straighter scan.

One of my favourite features in TurboScan is the “Send to Myself” option, something I think should be included in all document or picture sharing apps. Unfortunately, TurboScan does not have as many sharing options as the other apps.

Sharing: email, Dropbox, Evernote
Price: $1.99
Developer: TurboScanApp
Download: App Store

It's not pretty, but it does the job

It's not pretty, but it does the job

Conclusion

All five of these apps do a decent enough job of getting your paper documents onto your phone, but TurboScan and DocScan Pro stand out as the most effective scanning apps. To give you a quick comparison of the quality output for all five apps, I’ve put them all side-by-side:

Which do you think is best?

Which do you think is best?

Though none of the scans stand out as far superior, if you take a closer look you’ll probably notice that some of the scans are pretty distorted or have too much contrast.

I only have an iPhone 3G, so the quality of my scans is pretty limited, and I wasn’t able to try out all of the available apps. Have you tried scanning documents with your phone? Have you found an efficient workflow? I’d love to hear your thoughts!