July 2014 Issue  Volume 15  Number 7

Product Evaluations and Guides

ScanSnap SV600 Overhead Scanner from Fujitsu: Turning the Page on Text Recognition

For years, I have used various flatbed scanners to perform optical character recognition (OCR) on memos, letters, and other documents, and to scan documents and photos for faxing or attaching to e-mails. I also use a flatbed scanner to recognize the texts of entire books, so I can read them on my computer or portable device. The process is tedious at best, requiring that you open the scanner lid, reposition the book, and close the lid for each new page or double-page spread you'd like to scan. Scanning a book in this manner can also damage the spine, since you often have to flatten the book with some force in order to expose the inside edges of the text to the scanner. Often, the only way to get a truly useable scan is to destroy the book by cutting off its cover and spine—not a viable option if the book is a rental textbook or a library book.

Fujitsu took a new approach with its latest model, the ScanSnap SV600 Overhead Scanner. The ScanSnap employs a moving scanner head with light bar and scanning lens to scan downward, across pages and books that lay open on a table or desk.

What's in the Box

  • The ScanSnap SV600
  • Black scanning mat
  • Power cable
  • USB cable
  • PC software (Mac software can be obtained via a download from the Fujitsu web site.)
  • Two plastic end caps
  • Print documentation

Physical Description

The ScanSnap SV600 resembles a large desk lamp, with a base, a neck, and a head that hangs over the text to be scanned. The base is approximately 8.5 inches wide and 3 inches deep, and it sits at a tilt, about 1 ¾ inches high at the rear and ¾ inches high at the front. On the rear edge, toward the right, are two ports: the power cable port, at the extreme right, and a USB port to its left. There are two buttons on the front: a long Scan button, and, just above it and not nearly so long, a Stop button.

The neck holds the scan head about 11 inches from the desk top and is not adjustable. The scanner head has two components: the housing and the scanning unit with lens and a light bar. At its widest, the housing is 8 inches wide, and it is positioned above and just in front of the base. The scanning unit, including the lights and lenses, snuggles beneath the shell and pivots up and forward. Picture that desk lamp shining straight down at the edge of the paper closest to the base. Start tilting the head so the light shines toward the center of the page, moving slowly until you have covered the entire sheet from top to bottom.

The scanner is well balanced. It would take a direct hit to knock it over. However, the ScanSnap also includes a bit of extra protection—two plastic end caps with adhesive edges that will secure the scanner to a surface.

There is no physical locking mechanism to hold the ScanSnap secure during transport. The unit I tested did have tape holding the scanner unit immobile inside the shell, which I needed to remove before using the scanner.

The black scanning mat unrolls to approximately 21 inches wide by 17 inches deep, with a 9-inch wide by 2-inch deep indentation that allows you to position the mat centered against the scanner. The mat has various markings to help users center the materials to be scanned, but I found this easy enough to do without visual cues, as there is also a notch at the center of the base to help with positioning.

The ScanSnap Software

The ScanSnap SV600 Windows drivers and software come on a disk in the box, along with a copy of ABBY FineReader for ScanSnap. Mac users will need to download the software from the product website. Unfortunately, to download the Abby Fine Reader software, you will need your scanner's product and serial numbers, which are located in small type on the rear of the scanner base.

The ScanSnap does not use standard TWAIN drivers, so you will need to use the Fujitsu drivers and software to create scanned images. Using the accompanying Abby Fine Reader is the easiest way to turn scans into text, though there is a way to port your scans to OpenBook, K1000 or other OCR packages (see below).

The Mac software installation was completely accessible, but Windows installation presented issues. The opening splash screen was completely inaccessible; Window-Eyes couldn't read it at all. I did find a workaround: from my computer drive list I used the context menu "Open" option to explore the DVD drive. I was then able to navigate to the setup files and install each of the three scanning components: ScanSnap Manager, ABBY FineReader for ScanSnap, and CardMinder, a utility for organizing business cards.

A better solution is to download the PC software from the site, which will give you the latest versions of the software (I needed to download and install the new versions anyway because of a bug that was fixed after the installation disks were produced). To download the Windows version of FineReader for ScanSnap, you will also need the product and serial numbers located on the scanner's base.

The Scanning Process

The easiest way to begin a scan is to place your document or book on the mat. Use the scanner base edges and notch to help center the document on the mat with the top edge against the scanner. Press the Scan button. The ScanSnap driver will load and the ScanSnap Manager will start up with the announcement "SV600 is ready to scan." Press the Scan button again at this point to initiate the first scan.

To initiate a scan using a Windows PC, navigate to the ScanSnap Manager icon in the Notifications Area, then press either your screen reader's right click hot key or the Windows Applications Key. If you're using a Mac, begin by navigating to the manager's dock icon. Then press the Shift + CTRL + Option + M open shortcut menu hot key to invoke the manager.

At this point both the PC and Mac versions provide a software "scan" button you can press to begin a new scan. Unfortunately, you must begin each new session from the Notifications Area or the Dock; there isn't a hotkey or menu option within the software itself to start a new scan. I found this rather inconvenient when beginning a second scan of a different book or piece of mail. Usually, I much preferred to simply tap the ScanSnap's physical "Scan" button and avoid the sotware altogether.

The ScanSnap completes a scan in less than five seconds. The manager then announces "Continue scanning." You can press Spacebar on this control, or simply give the hardware Scan button another press. When you have finished scanning all of your pages press the Stop button to end the scanning, or press the Tab key once in the manager to reach the "Finish scanning" button.

The manager Settings menu includes an option to increase or decrease the length of time between a press of the hardware Scan button and the commencement of scanning. This option may be useful to some, since to press the Scan button you need to reach over the mat and the document you're scanning.

Another reason to set the time interval is if you wish to have the ScanSnap auto-scan repeatedly. The Settings menu offers two options: Time Interval and Page Turning Detection modes. With either of these options enabled, merely hold the Scan button down for at least two seconds before your first scan. To end your repeat-scan session, press either the Scan or Stop button.

I found both methods extremely useful in scanning multiple sheets of paper. I could lay the stack on the mat, and then as each page completed scanning, I could lift the top sheet and wait for the next sheet to be scanned. This was considerably easier than using a flatbed scanner, where I must lift the page, or stack of pages, off the glass, then replace the scanned page and orient it on the scanner glass.

Page turning detection made scanning a book considerably easier than using a flatbed scanner. I could quickly scan two pages at a time, and I didn't have to break the book's spine or press down on a scanner cover to perform a proper scan. There is plenty of vertical space between the book and the scanner bar to use your hands to turn pages and hold a large book open with your fingers. During my testing the auto-scan never started before I had the page turned and ready.

Image Enhancement

The ScanSnap Manager software performs certain image manipulations to make the scans easier to turn into digital books and to improve OCR. First, since the book is not pressed against scanner glass, most people will tend to hold the pages down and out to the sides with their fingers. The ScanSnap software does its best to remove finger images from the scan before saving it. Second, and of more interest to screen access users, the software tries to "flatten" the pages, compensating for the down curved inner edges that can lead to less-than-stellar text recognition.

When you complete a single or multiple page scan, the ScanSnap Manager offers you two choices: "Crop and save flat document images as is" and "Correct and save double-page spread document images (book/magazine)." There is also a "Check/Correct" button, where you have the opportunity to crop the image, or to move the divider marker, if the page was not centered. These controls are completely graphical, however, so of little use to those with limited or no sight.

You will nevertheless wish to use the "Check/Correct" option, since it is after this screen, when you activate the "Apply" button, when the finger removal and page flattening is performed automatically. Select "Save and Exit" at this point and the scan is saved in a PDF file for further action. For this review I performed OCR on the same scanned pages with both processed and unprocessed images. For double-page spreads recognition was always improved noticeably after the image processing.

By default the ScanSnap manager saves the scan as an image-only PDF, but the Settings menu includes options to "Save in JPG" and "Save in searchable PDF." The latter option creates files that contain both pictures of the scanned pages and the text, which is recognized using ABBY FineReader for ScanSnap. The settings menu also includes options to have your work saved in a different PDF file for each page, or a single PDF file containing all of your scanned pages.

After saving the image in a PDF file, the manager opens the ScanSnap Quick Menu, which offers a number of choices, including the ability to scan to print, e-mail, Dropbox, Google Docs, or a specific folder, and ABBY scan to Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. Unfortunately, when using Window-Eyes on the PC, the buttons did not voice the appropriate labels and I had to use the mouse cursor to find the option I wanted. Happily, the Quick Menu defaults to the last choice you made, so after using the ABBY Scan to Word option, the next time I merely had to press Spacebar to re-invoke the option. You can also use the right click menu to remove some of the options from your favorites, and to have the Quick Menu only display those you are likely to use.

The Mac software needed a bit more tweaking. The buttons on this Quick Menu lacked accessible labels, so you have to label them using the VoiceOver Control + Option + / (Slash) command. I spent some time pressing unlabeled buttons to try figure out which option each called up so I could label the buttons properly, but then I discovered that in the Mac Settings menu of the manager there is a table listing all of the applications in the Quick Menu in the order they appear, and with the option to change their order.

You can also add other applications to the Quick Menu. For this review I added Kurzweil 1000 to the applications list in the Windows version settings menu. I set the manager to use this application, and I turned off the Quick Menu. Now, when I finished scanning a page or several pages, I could select "Crop and save flat document images as is" or "Correct and save double-page spread document," then click the "Apply" button, and, after I clicked "Save and Exit," K1000 automatically started and my recognized text appeared in the K1000 window.

The Mac default Quick Menu options are the same as the PC version, including ABBY FineReader for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. These file formats will open in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, and since these apps have recently become free, I hope a future software update will include these file types as defaults.

Unfortunately, there is currently a major accessibility issue with the ScanSnap for Mac Settings menu. I was able to navigate the first tab of setting options. Other options only appear after you select the "Details" button, and I could find no way to access the remaining tabs using VoiceOver find, cursor, or mouse commands. I needed sighted help to mouse to one of the additional tabs, after which I was able to navigate them with no difficulty. Happily, these are settings you do not need to change often. I reported this bug to the company. Hopefully it will be fixed in the next version update.

Scan and OCR Quality

For this review I performed a comparison scan of a paperback entitled Mastering Leptin, by Byron J. Richards, using the ScanSnap and my Canon CanoScan 4507B002 USB scanner. The book is approximately 6 inches wide by 9 inches tall by 1.5 inches thick, and I started scanning the book about midway through the text

Spread open, the book barely fit on my USB scanner. I lowered the lid, but did not crack the spine, press down on the lid, or weigh it down with other books.

Performing a scan of the same two-page spread using the ScanSnap, I simply positioned the book on the scanning mat and allowed the pages to spread naturally. I did not hold them down during scanning.

I used K1000 running the FineReader OCR engine to recognize both scans

The first paragraph of results using the CanoScan:

The problems of inflammation and cardiovascular risk are sip,iilfl^ elevated in insulin-resistant and leptin-resistant individuals. ""I !i# j lems of inflammation extend to many aspects of disease i isk, a Iih4 \ is being announced loud and clear t the American publie.'"

Slowing the aging process is related to having a good 111y 1111iill* of natural balance and an ability to bounce back and manage Mil

The results of the same text as scanned and image corrected with the ScanSnap SV600:

The problems of inflammation and cardiovascular risk are significantly elevated in insulin-resistant and leptin-resistant individuals.304 The problems of inflammation extend to many aspects of disease risk, a fact that is being announced loud and clear to the American public.305

Slowing the aging process is related to having a good rhythmic base of natural balance and an ability to bounce back and manage stress.

Neither recognition is perfect, but as you can see, the CanoScan created an image with dips at the end of each line, causing K1000 to misrecognize more text and to place line breaks where they do not exist. Recognition could doubtless have been improved if I had pressed down on the cover, or broken the spine, or scanned the pages one at a time, which would have taken twice as long.

For comparison's sake, here is the same page scanned with the ScanSnap and recognized with FineReader for ScanSnap:

The problems of inflammation and cardiovascular risk are significantly elevated in insulin-resistant and leptin-resistant individuals.304 The problems of inflammation extend to many aspects of disease risk, a fact that is being announced loud and clear to the American public.305

Slowing the aging process is related to having a good rhythmic base of natural balance and an ability to bounce back and manage stress.

The ScanSnap will accommodate books with a maximum size of 8.5 inches by 11 inches, which translates into a book that opens up to 17 inches in total width. Consequently, I was able to scan an open magazine two pages at a time. Because of the focal settings of the scanner, the unit is only able to scan books less than 30mm (1.18 inches") thick. Thicker books can be successfully scanned, but you will need to physically elevate the scanner itself by placing the base atop a book or some other object.

One problem I encountered when scanning a book with the ScanSnap was at the very beginning of books. I had to hold the pages open, as an unread book tends to want to stay unread. I tried holding the page open in midair to keep the scan as flat as possible, but I soon learned the easy way to do this—place another book under the left side and hold the page down against it.

The ScanSnap Manager includes auto page orientation, but there are quirks, especially when recognizing a two-page spread. The text is recognized, but the resulting PDF places the images upside down, and the OCR results are reversed—page 2, then page 1. Hopefully, this is another bug that will be fixed in a future software release.

The Bottom Line

Retailing at $799, the ScanSnap SV600 is a bit pricey for most. I did find it discounted to $616.99 at Amazon. The price also compares favorably to the Pearl from Freedom Scientific ($795—but if you need to buy the OpenBook OCR software, the price to use the Pearl jumps to $1,790).

If most of your scanning needs are single page documents, memos, letters, and mail, the ScanSnap may not be for you. OpenBook and K1000 are much quicker getting you from the scan to the reading page—there is no intermediate step. With the ScanSnap, it's also not possible to scan a few pages and start reading while you continue scanning more pages.

The FineReader for ScanSnap is also locked to the ScanSnap Manager, which means you can't use this software to scan e-mail attachments or JPGs you already have on your computer.

If, however, you do a lot of whole book scanning—especially if the books are borrowed from friends or checked out from the library—the ScanSnap SV600 may prove extremely useful and well worth the price. Mac users will probably need a bit of sighted assistance to set up the scanner and software, at least for the current software release, version V6.2L10.

Product Information

The Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600
Price: $799

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