Paper is still commonplace, in the form of bills, receipts, and various hand-written scribbles and notes. But if you mostly live a digital life, paper is easily misplaced and forgotten. That’s not good if a sheet or scrap of ex-tree housed an amazing idea, vital notes from a business meeting, or the sole proof of purchase for something pricey that you were planning to write off against expenses.
One way to deal with all this is scanning. And whereas once you would have required a chunky piece of hardware wired to a PC to scan paper documents, now you can use an app on your phone.
Scanner apps essentially use your smartphone’s camera to take an optimized picture of the paper document in front of it. This isn’t necessarily a replacement for a desktop scanner, nor will you get digital documents that are quite as clean. However, just as the best camera is the one you have on you at the time, so is the best scanner.
Install a Scanner App
There are quite a few scanner apps for mobile devices, and your phone may even have one built-in. For example, Google Drive has a document scanning option, as does Apple’s Notes for iPhone and iPad. However, you’re generally better off with a standalone scanner app; this isolates scanning from – and doesn’t mix scanning with – other tasks, and provides you with access to features and workflow geared towards fast, efficient digital-document creation.
Scanbot for Android and iOS is one of a range of third-party options, and one I’ve found to be fast and efficient during testing and general use. Place a document flat on a contrasting surface in reasonably good light. Scanbot will snap it, instantly and automatically adjusting cropping and perspective.
On those rare occasions it gets things wrong, you can make manual adjustments. There are also options for color-optimization, although I recommend you stick with vanilla scans, and then make edits later if needed. Otherwise, you may risk losing fine details, if the automated optimization algorithms don’t get things right. Another good tip is to head into the app’s settings and ensure Scan Quality & File Size is set to Best. After all, you can’t improve poor-quality scans after the event.
Go Paperless with Scanbot Scanner App
For free, you get all the features mentioned so far, and handy extras like being able to create multi-page documents that are subsequently saved as a single PDF.
Above this free tier, you can opt to pay one-off in-app charges to add extra features. Scanbot Lite (around $5) adds optical character recognition, which extracts text from your scans, and provides text-based search within your documents. This is hit-and-miss but nonetheless good to have available. In Scanbot Lite, you can also define a cloud storage provider of choice, and automatically send your scans to it. (This is a good idea – do not save scans only to your device, in case you lose it. Although you should, of course, be backing up mobile devices anyway…)
Alternatively, the Scanbot Pro tier (about $7) includes everything from Scanbot Lite along with PDF editing and signing, smart document naming based on user-defined templates, themes, and quick actions based on information found within the scans. For example, if Scanbot Pro spots a phone number or website address in a scan, you get single-tap buttons you can press to trigger a call or new email.
Given the low outlay and extra features, Scanbot Pro is a solid buy.
Form Good Habits
Once you have a scanner app installed, whether it’s Scanbot or otherwise, you need to quickly infuse it into your muscle memory. Whenever you get a receipt, snap it right away, so that you’ll always have a copy. When a bill or invoice arrives in the mail, scan it, so you don’t end up having to deal with a massive pile that will clutter up your workspace and distract you. Depending on your location (and on the advice of your accountant), you may even be able to immediately dispense with paper copies and just work with the digital ones.
In the future, perhaps scanner apps will be redundant. Eventually, every organization will issue invoices, receipts, and bills digitally; and individuals will favor working with sketching and note-taking tools that instantly and automatically save their musings to the cloud – even if said devices have the appearance of traditional notebooks. Well, probably. Until then, though, boost your paperwork productivity, organization, and efficiency by scanning and saving paper documents with your iOS or Android smartphone.
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