PaperPort brings you the PaperLess office - the dream is alive
by John Henshall

Positioned conveniently between keyboard and monitor.
Point a document, letter, news cutting, business card, report, at the slot in a slim unit, peeping above the back of your computer keyboard, and it immediately appears on your computer monitor in digital form.

Elegant software allows you to capture from almost any flexible original from 2 to 8.5 inches (5 to 21.5cm) wide and 3 inches to 30 inches (7.5 to 76cm) long. Then you can annotate, print, fax, eMail, copy, save and retrieve.

The scanner has no power switch but switches itself on and opens the software when you insert a document into the slot. Positioned conveniently between keyboard and monitor, documents are pulled through automatically, making a 180 degree turn inside the unit before emerging back towards you. A sheet of A4 is scanned in about eight seconds. A simple twist of the scanner housing cover allows stiffer items, such as business cards and photographic prints, to pass through from front to back of the unit.

Fantasy? No, it's already here: the Visioneer PaperPort Vx. Definitely not a gimmick, definitely not a toy, it's a 'must have' reality. PaperPort is a unique computer peripheral of exquisite sophistication, designed to be unobtrusive and immensely useful.

The hardware is a scanner with an optical resolution of 200ppi, a size of 12.5 inches (31cm) long, a curvaceous 3.5 inches (9cm) high and 3 inches (7.5cm) deep - much smaller than any flatbed scanner - and a weight of 2lb 8oz (1.13kg). It is powered by a brick-like power supply, which converts the AC mains to 0.75 Amps at 24 volts DC. The brick will probably lie on the floor under your desk and feet. Fortunately it has a flush IEC plug, into which a standard IEC mains lead is plugged, instead of a moulded-on 13Amp British plug. Good for travel, when you can simply plug a Swiss, Italian, American (or wherever) IEC mains lead into the brick.

The software is a delight, with carefully thought-out facilities. Insert a document into the scanner and an image of the page appears on the monitor as scanning takes place. Then the scanned document appears on the PaperPort Desktop as a untitled thumbnail, magically cropped to the edges of the document and straightened. Multi-page documents appear as 'Untitled 1', 'Untitled 2', and so on, and can be 'Stacked' together to form a single multi-page document. Stacking even works with items of dissimilar size, such as petty cash receipts.

Double click on the thumbnail and the document is viewed at full size in 'Page View'. Now the software becomes really useful, allowing the addition of 'sticky' notes, highlighter, arrows, text and freehand marking-up in eye catching colour, even on a monochrome document.

With fax software, PaperPort turns your computer into an electronic fax machine. Use it with a computer printer and you have a photocopier. You can even let PaperPort do your typing. Running the scanned documents through the bundled Caere OmniPage Lite OCR software turns them from scanned images into real digital text. This works well with few errors, even with reports received by conventional optical fax, and has saved hours of laborious re-keying.

Documents from other applications can be 'printed' to the Paperport desktop, then combined with PaperPort documents. This is useful for incoming electronic faxes. The left column of the PaperPort desktop has links to other applications, which are identified during the software installation process. To print a document, simply drag it to the Printer icon. To send the document as an electronic fax, drag it to the fax icon. Or OCR it direct to your favourite word processor.

The PaperPort Vx is an 8-bit device, which means that it can analyse documents in up to 256 grey levels. Although 1-bit (two levels: black and white only) is sufficient for most office documents, those which contain continuous or half tone images need the 8-bit setting. This also enables thin photographic prints to be scanned, which can then by imported directly into Photoshop via the direct link. So the unit can also be used as a basic monochrome photographic scanner.

There's more useful software bundled with the PaperPort. Well, not quite 'bundled', because the UK distributors make you send in the registration card first, to ensure that, at all times, any user will receive the latest available version of bundled software. Oh, yes. When you finally get it, the extra software is Corex CardScan SE, which converts a disorganised pile of business cards into an organised electronic database, and PictureWorks Copier, which gives your computer/printer other photocopier facilities such as resizing and tiling multiple images on a single page.

PaperPort documents may be saved in a variety of file formats. In PaperPort 3.0 or 2.0 format the files are very small - in the teens of kilobytes for a page of A4 - and annotations can still be edited. Saved in formats such as PICT, TIF, JPEG, GIF and PCX, the annotations become a permanent part of the image.

PaperPort will not scan from bound books and magazines or mounted documents. Another minor irritation is that it takes up either the modem or printer port, so tough luck if you are using both these already. My printer is on the network, so I don't experience the problem, but Visioneer need to provide a proper solution for those who do.

I bought my PaperPort - this was not a review unit - from MacLine (+44 181 401 1111) for £279. It has performed well, apart from the Friday evening at 6pm when I was preparing scans for Chip Shop and it developed four fine black lines down every scan. Dirt on the CCD? The manual advised me to purchase a good-quality paper-cleaner page that is used for cleaning copy machines and fax machines. I phoned the UK distributors, Computers Unlimited (+44 181 200 8282), for help. To the background sound of the vacuum cleaner, I was told that support would not be available until Monday morning. Seems they don't realise that popular products like this need evening and weekend support. But, wait a moment, in California, the home of Visioneer, it was only 10am. After six minutes of transatlantic music-on-hold I decided to cut my contribution to British Telecom's profits and rang the administration number. Almost everyone, it seemed, was at the MacWorld show in San Francisco. But ten minutes later I had a call back with just the advice I needed. There was indeed a little dirt on the CCD elements, soon removed with an isopropyl alcohol swab. The Visioneer PaperPort Vx is a superb example of well-integrated hardware and software. For many applications it will be serious competition for the flatbed scanner market. It is available both for Macintosh and PC. The list price has recently been reduced to £299, with street prices somewhat lower than this. In short, it is a bargain and every computer user should buy one.

PaperPort gives you almost everything you need to turn the dream of a paperless office into reality. If it had a built-in shredder and waste bin it might even achieve the impossible and clear my desk of paperwork.

This review first appeared in "John Henshall's Chip Shop" in "The Photographer" February 1996.
This document is Copyright © 1996 John Henshall. All rights reserved.
This material may only be downloaded for personal non-commercial use. Please safeguard the future of online publishing by respecting this copyright and the rights of all other authors of material on the Internet.