If you're not sifting through ancient (or seemingly antique) tomes at the Library of Congress, let's say, the idea of having a book scanner in your backpack, briefcase or purse may not appeal to you.
Then again, if you are a student, researcher or author, and if the resources you need have not yet been digitized in a usable form, having a book scanner could be mighty attractive.
The $99 IRIScan Book 2 is touted by maker I.R.I.S. as being "a cutting-edge portable scanner that scans books, documents, magazines and photos anytime, anywhere without the use of a computer." It comes with scanning software for both Windows and Macintosh computers as well as a 2 gigabyte microSD card.
That much is true: Where older scanners might have required being tethered to a computer of some sort, the IRIScan Book 2, like other "wand" scanners of more recent years, doesn't need to be connected. Indeed, for an extra $30, I.R.I.S. will sell you a model of the IRIScan Book 2 that transmits images to a computer via a Bluetooth wireless connection.
Before going too far, let me note that no one — certainly not the manufacturer and not this reviewer — is advocating any misuse of a scanned text. Copyrights have to be respected, as should traditional norms for citing quoted sources in one's work. But when assembling research from stacks and stacks of books and magazines, carrying home the relevant pages in a (hopefully) machine-readable form is not without its advantages.
Setting up the IRIScan Book 2 is very easy: Install two AA batteries; add the supplied microSD memory card, and you're ready to roll. Set the parameters for the desired text (color or monochrome, low or high resolution), hit the "scan" button and start moving the wand across the page.
When finished, connect the IRIScan Book 2 via a USB cable, also supplied, to a desktop computer and import the scan files, which are saved as JPEG files, more commonly used for photographs. The supplied ReadIRIS software can read these, or, using a desktop picture-handling program such as Preview.app on the Macintosh, you can convert the JPEG to an Adobe portable document format, or PDF, file. Many PDF-editing programs, including Adobe's Acrobat Pro, can perform optical character recognition on PDF files.
I tested the IRIScan Book 2 with pages from a small paperback, in this case a page with black and red lettering on off-white paper, and a traditional hardback with black type on cream-colored paper. Neither scan was first-time perfect, but the ReadIRIS program and Acrobat Pro better recognized the paperback scan.
Using this successfully will take some practice, as I've discovered. It's better, it seems, with smaller, paperbound books, and a bit more challenging with hardcovers, as noted above. The goal is to get a scan that requires little or no modification once the text is on your screen, after all.
Another factor is that when you're scanning books and other bound volumes such as a year's run of a magazine, the pages rarely lie completely flat. Thus, scanning is more difficult and, again, will require practice. In my tests, I tried scanning from side to side; it may be more useful to scan top to bottom, although the result of my one attempt in that fashion was not, well, pretty.
This begs, however, another question: Why even buy something such as this when the iPhone and iPad, among other "smart" devices, have cameras that can, ostensibly, act as their own scanners? On the Apple Inc., IOS software platform, plenty of apps exist to do this. Truth be told, however, those applications may not work well with some bound volumes, either.
I'm not sure the IRIScan Book 2 offers an overly compelling answer, but perhaps more time and practice will change my mind. For those interested, product details can be found online at http://bit.ly/MLLsjc.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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