- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2000

A couple of years back, your columnist made the bold prediction that scanners the devices which turn photos into digital images and printed documents into electronic text would be as common on a computer user's desk as a keyboard or mouse.
We're not exactly there, yet, but the need for a scanner perhaps has never been greater. Canon Computers Systems, Inc., of Costa Mesa, Calif., last month introduced a new CanoScan model which may make the case for a scanner even more compelling. Priced at just $129 (list), the CanoScan N656U is a 600x1200 dots-per-inch scanner featuring 42-bit color scanning, which according to the manufacturer can recognize more than four trillion colors.
The CanoScan N656U is a "flatbed" scanner, which means it operates like a photocopier: lift the lid, put your document or photo on the glass, close the cover and scan away. Unlike older scanners, however, this one connects to a PC or Macintosh via the Universal Serial Bus from which the scanner also draws its power. That means one less "power pack" to connect to an outlet strip, and increased portability for the device.
In addition, it's just 1.3-inches thick, and a little taller than most magazines. When viewed in its sleek gunmetal case, this is one cool device. Rounding out the feature set is a "Z-Lid" expansion top, which lets users scan books or thicker magazines without having to keep the top up and letting in too much extraneous light.
Over the past couple of years, scanner technology has improved, along with the software that can be used to create scans. This comes just in time for the desktop publishing and Internet explosions; today, a Web site isn't worth too much (in many cases) without some artwork. And, for a birthday, I was able to take a photo, touch it up with some software due out next month, and create a greeting card that not only looked as if it came from a store, but the photo was transformed into a piece of watercolor artwork.
There's little doubt in my mind, then, that there are a multitude of uses for scanners today at home and in offices. The beauty of the CanoScan N656U, however, is that it makes scanning superbly easy.
Installation was a breeze: hook up the USB cable there's no separate power pack and power up the computer. After the usual Windows 98 routine to install the device drivers, the software included with the system installs easily. The programs are part of what the firm calls the "Canon Creative Image" software suite, which includes ArcSoft PhotoStudio 2000, Caere OmniPage, ArcSoft PhotoBase, Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0, ScanGear Toolbox, and a Canon Plug-in software module.
Scanning involves placing an item on the glass and pressing one button on the front of the scanner. On a PC, this brings up the Toolbox menu, which can direct the scanner output to any of several devices: a fax program, e-mail, a printer or programs to handle scanned photos or text.
Each of the on-screen directional buttons can be customized to direct scans to your preferred applications. You can also set the software to scan into a specific application optical character recognition (OCR) for example when that button on the scanner is pressed. This is helpful for people who plan to do mostly one task with their scanner, day in and day out.
Output quality, so far as I can determine, is excellent. I've scanned in items for use on Web pages, in e-mail and for other purposes. The scanning was very fast, very good quality and all the supplied software performed excellently. If one didn't have any photo editing or OCR software, the packages supplied with the CanoScan would, by themselves, probably be worth the price of the machine.
About the only thing the CanoScan N656U can't handle are transparencies, such as 35 mm slides. For that, you'd want a higher-end scanner which offers a lid capable of handling these.
While I've also enjoyed so-called "sheet fed" scanners in the past, such as the Visioneer Strobe and the scanner component of the Hewlett Packard LaserJet 3150, the CanoScan N656U is a great system for those who either don't want a sheet fed device, or a multi-function unit. Every time I glance at the CanoScan, I keep looking for the "rest" of it a previous flatbed unit I had was easily twice the height, with less-perfect software and only 32-bit color capability. This new Canon machine is a winner in every respect, certainly for my needs, and quite possibly for yours. More details can be found at www.ccsi.canon.com.
Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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