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PLANon DocuPen RC800

Date: April 18, 2007
Author(s): K. Samwell

There is a new DocuPen model added to PLANon’s ever-growing lineup. The RC800 is a full color document scanner that can store up to one hundred pages on its internal memory. If you have the need for a portable scanner, you won’t want to miss this one.



Introduction

PLANon’s next DocuPen has been highly anticipated by both the general public and myself in particular. First showcased at CES2007, the DocuPen RC800 is now a full colour document scanner that is portable, convenient, easy to use and at twice the storage, it is a much welcome improvement over its predecessor, the R700.

The DocuPen handheld scanner can store up to 100 pages into its expandable 8MB of memory and scans at 100, 200 and 400 dpi. It can scan a full 8 ½ x 11″ sized document in 4 seconds @ 100 dpi resolution and approximately 8 seconds @ 200 dpi resolution. Maxwell Smart, eat your heart out.

Elegant in its simplicity, yet powerful in its performance, the PLANon DocuPen brings the ease of portable scanning to the general public. Aside from the obvious sense of double agent espionage associated with such an inconspicuous piece of technology, the DocuPen will allow you to scan pretty much anything on a flat surface.

In this review, I will be running the DocuPen through its paces both at my desk and in the field to see just how it performs on different types of media, (newsprint, photos, etc) testing out all of its available features including different resolutions, colour modes and even battery length and storage capacity. I will however not be cracking the pen open to install an additional micro SD memory card. Tempting as it may be, I feel the product will be more than sufficient for my needs as is.

What you Get

Included in the DocuPen RC800 package is a DocuPen portal scanner, a proprietary USB cable, CD-ROM installation disk with Scansoft Paperport/PageViewer & Twain drivers, a Quickstart Sheet and a Leather Case.

This is where I would like to point out that this leather case may raise eyebrows at airport customs, or being whipped out at a conference hall or meeting, just be forewarned….

*While Vista is not specifically stated in the manual, a quick check of the website indicates there is a driver download for Vista http//planon.com/drivers.php
Also, The DocuPen RC800 is now Mac OS X compatible!
**Note while the media kit states a 32MB Ram requirement; the box indicates 128MB minimum is required.
***The more documents you scan, the more hard drive space you’ll need to store them!

What do all these flashing lights mean?

There are two rez’s (resolutions) to choose from, Standard Rez & High Rez. There are three Modes to choose from called Docu-Quality: MonoColour, Docu-Colour and Hi-Quality Colour. These are selected by cycling thru the led lit icons using the two buttons in the middle of the DocuPen.

There are 8 lit icons, the Speed LED to tell you if you’re moving the scanner too quickly, three Colour Mode LEDs, two Rez LEDs, and to Capacity LEDs, one for Memory and one for Battery life.
I found it a little confusing that the LED that shines onto your page is different depending on the Colour Mode you are currently, sometimes it is red, others it is white. I know that if it blinks, to slow down, and when the document is completely scanned, and you stop moving the DocuPen, all the LEDs will flash green while the file is being saved.

One combination I have been unable to decipher is the intermittent flashing of both green and red LEDs at the end of a scan, which then fails to save to file. Perhaps this set of images will explain it a little better.



On the Software Side

Also included, naturally is the PLANon DocuPen Scanner software. It is very basic, simply allowing you to access the files on the pen and carry out simple operations such as download and erase. I would have like to have seen a little more thought put into this tool, however it does the job, just not quite as elegantly as I had hoped.

Unless I’m missing something, you appear to have the option to copy any number of pages off the pen and they are exported as tif files, however if you want to delete a document off the pen itself, there appears to only be the ‘erase ALL’ option and is lacking in the ‘erase individual item’ function. You are offered the choice to download selected, download bank and erase bank. The key missing one there is erase selected.

This is also the tool you would use to recalibrate your pen should it suffer from any calibration issues, though I would not recommend this unless you’ve completely read the manual on calibration. This is where I would have liked to see power saving options, such as ‘remain on while connected via USB’ or ‘shutdown after 15/30/60/120 seconds of idle’.

Once you have accessed the files on the pen itself, you would then go on to use PaperPort & PageViewer to process and administer the documents.

The manipulation software included with the Docupen consist of ScanSoft’s PaperPort, “PaperPort provides the easiest way to turn paper into organized digital documents that everybody in an office can quickly find and use. PaperPort works with scanners, multifunction printers, and networked digital copiers to turn paper documents into digital documents. It
then helps you to manage them along with all other electronic documents in one convenient and easy-to-use filing system.

PaperPort’s large, clear thumbnails allow you to visually organize, retrieve and use your scanned documents. PaperPort’s editing tools ensure that scanned documents will look great while the annotation tools let you add notes and highlights to any scanned image.”

Without delving into the program too intensely, what I can see is rather impressive. It’s really just an organizational tool for all your documents, scanned and otherwise, with intuitive folders that guide you to put things where they belong. Scanned receipts, business cards, tax papers, etc all have a home and naturally you can create new places for customization and specialization.

The PageViewer portion is an image/document editor that’s simplistic but honestly doesn’t need to be more than it is. It allows you to literally draw on documents and images including adding text, lines, graphics etc, it’s like a mini paint program that can also open documents. There’s tools such as redeye removal and contrast alteration, there’s a really nice highlighter feature that literally looks like you took that old familiar yellow pen to the page itself, only this time – digitally. There are preformatted stamps you can place on documents such as ‘Sent’ and ‘Urgent’ etc, however I didn’t see ‘Top Secret’ on the list, but that’s ok you could probably use the tool itself to make whatever stamp you like.

Now granted, it’s no Photoshop nor is it meant to be, it’s more for tweaking documents than images, such as using it to draw a circle around a paragraph and annotating changes to be made. Perfect for grading homework, actually, as you would retain a copy of your own notes once the file is given back to the student.



Scanning…

Lets start with something straightforward, a vellum receipt. These are usually gas receipts or ATM receipts, and if you leave them in your vehicle, the ink magically disappears in a very short time period. Now I’m not the type of person to keep every single gas receipt, but if you travel for a living and have to account for every drop of petrol this could be a money saver should you arrive at the office with a handful of faded and blank gas receipts.

Now you can retain all that proof with the DocuPen, just scan each receipt as you get it, then upload them all at your leisure. Naturally as soon as I decided this would be a good practical test, I couldn’t find an old gas or ATM receipt, however I managed to rescue a Krispy Kreme receipt from my glove box.

The first scan, seemed to abort 2/3 of the way through, and I suspect I was moving the DocuPen too slowly. The second scan, I upped the Docu-Quality to the highest, which resulted in colourful banding of the page, the third scan, Docu-Quality, standard res, yielded the same results as the Docu-Quality lowest resolution.

It may take some toying with the settings to find the best combination of resolution and colour mode.

Similarly practical and intuitive, is to scan a newspaper article. Here is an article from The Onion. I apologize if any copyright issues are stomped on here, but all press is good press.

As you can see there is a great deal of difference between the lowest setting and the highest, everything in between is shades of these two greys, if you’ll pardon the pun. However, that being said, BOTH scans are readable, and take into account this is scanned from newsprint which is not a medium known for its clarity in the first place. In fact you could say the lower resolution image is actually more accurate since the higher one is pink and blue, where the paper itself is just white and blue.

Next test is something also true to the DocuPen’s original purpose, a page from a book. And not just any book, one of my favourites, it’s a regular size hardcover copy of Jack McDevitt’s Chindi¹.

As you can see below, I had to scan the page sideways so as to get as close into the spine as possible and even then, I couldn’t quite get close enough without actually breaking the spine of the book. This poses a problem, as this seemed to be a natural choice for the use of this scanner.

Once something is scanned sideways it is very easily rotated in any direction using the PageViewer software.

¹ McDevitt, Jack. 2002. Chindi. Ace Books. New York. ISBN 0-441-00938-7



Further Testing, Final Thoughts

Finally, I wanted to test this DocuPen out with something a little tough, and see if it can jump thru my flaming hoops. Final test, highest resolution, highest scan mode on a photograph. I realize this is not really its intended use, however, it is an exercise I personally would expect it to be able to complete.

The results were honestly, quite better than I had anticipated, as I have seen scanned photos and they are normally pretty grainy, but this one actually comes out quite well. You can clearly see that I have simply placed the image on a blank piece of paper and scanned it as such, and in doing so, my Docupen was a little crooked, but the PageViewer software has an easy solution to just that dilemma, you simply draw a line along an edge that is supposed to be vertical or horizontal and select the straighten image option. Voila! Of course the edges will then become a little ragged, and I wasn’t off by much, but this does allow you to be rather askew in your scan and correct it in the software.

Now that the DocuPen has proven itself quite nicely in my eyes, lets see what other tricks it can do. Here I have scanned a floor tile (on the left) and was surprised at how brown the scan turned out to be, while the actual tile is blue/green. I have also scanned a piece of fabric, which proved more difficult and resulted in several failed saves, however the one good scan wasn’t just good; it was excellent.

Wrap it up!

So what was my overall impression? Global espionage capabilities aside, I can see the use for a portable scanner, particularly in situations where you do not have permanent access to what you are scanning. However this does seem rather specialized, and those that find themselves needing to scan on a regular basis, while travelling, will be very willing to dole out the $300US for this scanner.

The student and the hobbyist will have a hard time justifying the price tag for infrequent use. Now bear in mind you can find deals online, however $280US was the lowest price I saw, and $400US was the highest, so do your shopping carefully. I was, however, unable to find this item in any of my local tech stores such as CompUSA, Best Buy, Fry’s or Circuit City. Perhaps its portability is a detrimental factor to displaying it in a store.

I completely understand the need to save energy on portable items, however this little device shuts down much too quickly. I scanned the photograph shown earlier, waited till the green lights stopped flashing (saving image mode) and the pen shut off as expected. Apparently it needs to shut down after every scan, and sometimes in the middle of a scan, and quite often several times during the transferring of documents to your computer, and again when trying to view those documents, and as soon as you unplug it from the USB port and pretty much every 15 seconds whether you want it to or not.

In my opinion if this device is connected to the USB port and subsequently being charged, it should not have to shut down at all, let alone quite so quickly. The ability to set the time before shutdown was not apparent anywhere in the device configuration.

While the fact this scans colour is very nice, most of the practical uses of this pen do not necessarily require colour, such as receipts, documents, books, business cards, blueprints, etc. That being said, it was definitely a bonus to be able to scan the photograph and retain the colour information. It is definitely an improvement over previous portal scanning products both by DocuPen and its competitors, so if you’re going to get a scanner pen, this is the best one you’re going to find, and the only one I found with expandable memory.

It has many more resolution and colour depth options than anything else comparable, it is very, very easy to use and the documents are simple to manipulate. It is, as far as I know, the only document scanner that is not held like a pen. Whereas most alternatives are held pen-like and only scan a few lines at a time, this DocuPen is unique in its ability to scan an entire page in seconds. It’s ten times the scanner at less than twice the price of the closest competition.

It does what it is advertised to do and it does it exceptionally well. While there is some room for improvement, it is definitely a technological leap in the field of scanners.

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