Saturday, March 9, 2013

Bottom Line: Portable, affordable scanners like the Doxie Go make it easier for our generation of students to go paperless.

COI Statement: I (Nate) was given the opportunity to review an ultra-portable scanner, the Doxie Go. In return, I promised Doxie that I would post reviews to both my personal and the SMRT blog, and return the scanner unit to them. In terms of conflict of interest, I’ve been privileged to use the scanner for several months now, but I will be returning it to Doxie soon. Otherwise, I’m not getting any kind of reimbursement or incentive that might influence my review. I requested the review unit from Doxie because I think going paperless is a great goal for students of our generation, and I wanted to see how a portable scanner fits into my workflow.

Several other SMRTies got to play with the unit for a little under two hours during one of our meetings, so any input they have to offer should be even more objective than my own.

Update to COI Jan 30, 2013: Doxie generously decided to let me keep the Go. Much of this review was written before they notified me, so hopefully this hasn’t biased my opinion too much, but I think it would be intellectually dishonest for me not notify the readers.

Hi everyone,

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but much of our lives is going digital. From photos and movies to maps to books and exams, there’s all kinds of information that is now as commonly encountered as a file on your computer as the CDs, DVDs, books, road atlases, and bubble sheets they replace. Noticed that I say “as commonly” -- by no means am I insinuating that the transition to digital media is anywhere near complete, and there will always be a certain appeal to turning pages.

However, “going paperless” -- a buzz-phrase referring to the process of digitizing as much as possible of the paper-based documents in one’s life -- is becoming more and more popular, and it’s something that many of us SMRTies support. While there are certainly security risks to having important stuff™ stored electronically, many of these are not terribly different than the risks of physical documents, and there are several unique advantages. In either case, your data is at risk of theft (someone breaking into your home vs hacking into your computer) or loss (a fire or forgetting where you put something vs hard drive failure or forgetting where you saved something). However, I find “copy paste” easier than Xerox for making duplicates, and I’ve had my car broken into more often than I’ve had an account hacked. That’s not to say you can afford to be lackadaisical about digital security; on the contrary, I strongly recommend a password manager to help avoid re-using passwords (I like LastPass, possibly a post on this soon) and I highly recommend enabling “two-factor authentication” (2FA) for services that support it, like your Google, Dropbox, LastPass, and Facebook accounts. Another big advantage to digitizing your important stuff™ is universal access. Believe it or not, I’ve whipped out my phone to show my healthcare providers old lab results more than a few times, and it’s saved me from a round of venipuncture a time or two. As another example, my mom took the time to scan in all our favorite family photos over the years, and being able to enjoy and share these has been wonerful, in addition to virtually eliminating the risk of losing these memories in a catastrophe.

After you’ve decided whether or not “paperless” is right for you, the next question may be how to get there. In brief, there are dozens upon dozens of online services that help you store, back up, and access your digital life. I’m sure our readers know that we’re enormous fans of Dropbox, which is an excellent way to store your documents that includes mobile access and versioned backups (in case you need to recover a file tha was accidentall deleted), in addition to encryption and support for two-factor authentication. Storing your digital documents in a Dropbox folder would be one of my most highly recommended ways to go about things, assuming you use a strong password, again, I recommend 2FA. A few popular alternatives include Google Drive (aka Google Docs), which now has Dropbox-style desktop and mobile apps, and Evernote, an über-popular “everything box” where you can clip and store almost any kind of information. Microsoft has its own solution called SkyDrive, certain types of files can get stored in Apple’s iCloud, and there’s Ubuntu One for our Linux users (we know you’re out there... somewhere). As you can see, there are a huge number of choices... each has advantages and disadvantages. If you have any questions or would like more personalized reommendations, we’d love to go into more details -- just ask! In any case, I’ll recommend one last time that you consider 2FA support when choosing a service.

Once you’ve decided on a service, it’s just a question of getting your paper-based documents digitized. If you have a ton of stuff to get started, I recommend you try to use one of the large industrial scanners on campus (I’ve used one in the BMSB basement several times). These scanners have an auto-feed tray and support double-sided scanning, so you can literally just hand it a stack of paper, and in a few minutes it will email you a .pdf of the entire stack. Very convenient.

However, once you’ve gotten over the inital hump, you should consider getting a scanner for home use. I have an old flatbed scanner (attached to a broken printer) that I’ve used for years. It works okay, but I decided to investiage other options. Some of the things medical students should consider when looking at scanners:

  • Cost -- How much do you envision using it? Would it be worth owning your own, or should you just borrow?
  • Size -- Do you have room for it in your office space?
  • Flatbed vs autofeed -- Flatbed scanners have the advantage of being able to more easily take irregularly shaped documents, like a photo that’s been cut out, whereas the ones that feed your paper through can generally be smaller and may be able to scan long receipts that wouldn’t fit on a standard sized flatbed scanner.
  • Single vs Double sided scanning -- Do you have to flip the paper over and do the other side?
  • Scan speed -- The slower it is, the less likely you are to use it.
  • Image quality -- Almost anything you buy will be fine for documents, but if you’re considering digitizing old photos, this may become an issue.
  • Portability -- To be perfectly honest, this wasn’t something I’d even thought about before deciding to write this piece, but being able to take your scanner to somebody else’s house to get a job done is really nice.

In researching options for a new scanner, I ran across the Doxie Go, as it’s been a popular choice with some of the online authors and developers that I follow. I contacted Doxie, and they were kind enough to lend me a review unit to try out. (Update Jan 30, 2013: after publishing my review on my personal site and writing most of this one, Doxie contacted me and is letting me keep my review unit. Thank you so much Doxie! I’ll try to remain as objective as possible, but keep this in mind as you read my comments.)

My Doxie Go review unit came in a box including the scanner, a USB cable, a cloth carrying case, a small utility to help clean it in case of problems, and documentation.


Here’s my experience with the Doxie Go using the list of considerations above.

The Go comes in at $199. To give some context, it looks like similar portable sheetfed scanners at Best Buy range from about $120 to $325, with the majority between $150 and $200. So I’d say it’s a fairly average price for this type of scanner. If this is way out of your budget, check Craigslist -- you may be able to get someone’s old flatbed printer-scanner for cheap. Also, I should mention that Doxie also has a slightly different scanner marketted specifically for students called the Doxie U, and at $119 it’s definitely at the low end of the price range.

The scanner itself is small (10.5“ x 1.7” x 2.2") and has a clean, professional appearance. It’s small enough to tuck away into a number of spaces in my desk and light enough (less than a pound) to carry in my backpack if so desired. It is a single-side, autofeed scanner that takes one sheet at a time. Because the unit itself is less than 11 inches wide, it cannot accept large sheets of paper, and because it does not have an autofeed tray, it only accepts one at a time. If you’re looking to digitize an encyclopedia, you should probably look elsewhere. However, it will accept all the 8.5 x 11 papers or receipts that you want to give it, so if you’re looking to have a way to digitize everyday documents, it works great.

Flatbed vs Autofeed
As I’ve mentioned, it’s an autofeed / sheetfed scanner. When you insert a page, it detects it and starts pulling it through. The advantage here is that it can accept longer-than average documents (like some of my grocery shopping receipts -- sheesh), with the reciprocal disadvantage that it doesn’t always feed smoothly. Documents that are really wrinkled or have unusual shapes don’t always get pulled through smoothly, and you may have to try an extra time or two. That said, a standard sheet it good condition almost always goes through on the first try. One other consideration here is that you won’t be able to scan pages from books in a sheetfed scanner; you’ll still need to use the flatbed scanners at the library for that.

Single vs Double sided
The Doxie Go only scans one side at a time, as do most of the portable scanners I looked at. I’d say that about half of my documents have information on two sides, so I have to do an extra scan for these. Not an issue for me, but something to think about -- if you must have double-sided scanning, you might end up looking more at the non-portable scanners.

Scan Speed
The Go scans at about 8 seconds per page. It’s usually ready for another sheet immediately, but if you scan several in a row it might need a second to “think” before it’s ready for the next. This is actually pretty fast; Doxie has a video so you can see for yourself at here. If you turn on the high quality mode (600 dpi instead of 300, for those interested), it scans a bit slower.

Image Quality
As I mentioned above, the Doxie Go defaults to scanning at 300 dpi, which is more than adequate for dcuments in all cases. The colors have turned out accurate, and I’ve been very pleased with the scans. If you’re scanning images and want even better detail, just hold the power button for a second until it turns orange and you’ll be scanning at 600 dpi, which results in scans with even sharper details.

As I mentioned, I’d never really though about portability as a factor before, but I think it’s worth bringing up. On more than a couple occasions, I’ve had friends and significant others that needed something digitized. Instead of waiting for them to come to me, I can stick the Doxie Go in my bag and take it with me. On another occasion, I wanted the rest of the SMRT team to give some input, so I brought it to our meeting. While it’s not every day that one needs to “BYOS,” it’s nice to have the option. If going for a portable scanner, you should think about things like battery life and image storage. Some portable scanners require a USB connection to a computer, which accomplishes both of these tasks: it provides power and transfers the image. However, this means that your portable scanner is useless unless you also have your computer. Other scanners, like the Go, have onboard battery and storage space. I’m going to tack these on as two more areas you should consider when scanner shopping.

Battery Life
Don’t take lightly the fact that the Go has an onboard battery. The ability to function without a computer is a big deal. I can take it with me to class or leave it on my coffee table and it makes no difference -- it’s ready to go. If it were powered by USB, I’d be having to crank up the ol’ Macbook every time I wanted to scan.  The Go’s battery is fully charged in a bit under 2 hours and claims to have enough capacity for about 100 scans. In my testing, I’d say this is about right. Only once or twice have I gone to use it and found it out of battery. However, this has ended up being a problem, as the Go is unable to scan while it is hooked up via USB. The predicament here is when you’re in a hurry scan something as you’re headed out the door and the battery is dead: you can’t scan while it’s dead, and you can’t scan while it’s charging via USB, so you either charge for a minute, unhook, and scan, or go without scanning for now. One easy way around this is to purchase the Doxie Go travel charger ($10), which includes adapters for virtually any kind of power outlet you’re likely to encounter on your travels, and hooks up to a non-USB port on the scanner, meaning you’re free to scan and charge simultaneously. Considering that I’ve seldom run the unit out of battery and that a workable solution costs only $10, I’m inclined to say this isn’t much of an issue.

Another consideration with portable scanners is storage. Again, many units have to be hooked up to a computer for power, so this doubles as virtually unlimited storage space (at the expense of being tethered). Battery-powered units like the Go have to have some way to store the scans. This is one area that the Go really impressed me -- the Go has built-in storage of unspecified capacity but which holds approximately 600 pages of scans (according to the official Doxie site). I don’t know about you, but that’s more than enough for my day-to-day use. Additionally, the Go has a slot for an SD card and a space to plug in a USB drive directly. The USB drive option would come in really handy when scanning for a friend -- imagine taking it with you to your parents house, you could just bring along a small USB drive, scan the stuff onto it, and leave the USB for them. I’ve been using the SD card option primarily, because my Macbook Pro features an SD slot as well. Using a nifty trick in Apple’s built-in “Image Capture” app, I have my Macbook automatically launch the Doxie app when I plug in that specific SD card. Very handy. Of course if you use the onboard storage, you can hook up via USB to retrieve the images, and if you’re an iOS user, you can even use Apple’s Camera Connection Kit to transfer the scans directly to your iOS device (make sure you get the correct kit for your device, either 30 pin or lightning connector). With regards to storage, one option I haven’t yet tested (but will soon) is WiFi-capable SD cards. That’s right, you can get an SD card that has its own built-in WiFi -- mind = blown. Many people use these in their camera to instantly upload photos, but apparently the Doxie Go can use one to upload files directly to a number of cloud storage services. This is a whole new layer on top of “portability” -- not only is the unit cord-free for power and cord-free from storage, but cord-free for uploading the image as well? Can’t wait to try this out. FYI, the WiFi-enabled card is $30 when purchased through Doxie with the scanner, but available through Amazon for slightly more than that if you decide to upgrade later. Mine is shipping right now, and something I’m considering once it gets here is setting up the Go by my front door, right by the recycling bin (and maybe a shredder), with the travel adapter plugged in for power and the WiFi SD card for transfer. Then my roommate and I will be able to bring in the mail and immediately either toss it in the recycling bin or digitize and then recycle, with the resulting file being automatically uploaded to “the cloud.”

Well, one last feature that I should mention is the Doxie software. Many scanners will have some kind of proprietary software by the manufacturer, and most are clunky. I’ve actually been really impressed with the Doxie software. It’s user-friendly, fast, and it’s been updated at least twice since I’ve had the unit (I consider ongoing development a very good sign). You can use it to directly send the scans to numerous local and remote destinations, including iPhoto, Evernote,, Adobe Acrobat, Photoshop, Google Drive, Dropbox, CloudApp... the list goes on and on, really an impressive set of integrated 3rd party apps. You can set specific preferences for each service on what type of file and what settings you’d like to use, which is really convenient. Perhaps the most spectacular feature is built-in optical character recognition (OCR), which basically means “making words out of pictures.” In other words, you may have seen some .pdf files that are basically just “pictures of words,” where you can’t select or search for text, because it’s effectively just a picture of those words. In other .pdf files, there is an invisible layer of text placed overtop of the picture, making it so you can search, copy, and paste like you might in Microsoft Word or what have you. OCR is a complicated process that uses software to examine a picture and figure out whether there are words, and if so, to embed them into the file. While this used to be an expensive task, only available with programs like Adobe Acrobat (which can run a few hundred dollars), Google can do it for you with some files through Google Drive. Having the feature built-in to the Doxie software, though, is a huge deal. That said, I’m usually not sending my documents to iPhoto, or my pictures to Evernote, so being able to set Doxie to automatically OCR and convert to .pdf anything that I send to Evernote, but not OCR and leave as .jpg anything I send to iPhoto is pretty convenient. Other notable features in the Doxie software include extremely simple tools for rotating pages and “stapling” multi-page documents, as well as automated reminders to delete the images once they’ve been imported.

Well, it’s time to wrap up this review. In short, I think that going paperless is worthwhile. I think things are headed in this direction, and being an “early adopter” of a paperless lifestyle has numerous advantages. Owning your own scanner really helps, and the Doxie Go does a great job providing lots of function without taking up much space. I’d say its biggest advantage is its portability and ability to function completely independent of a computer, and its biggest disadvantage is lacking features usually seen in non-portable scaners like double-sided scanning or a tray to autofeed dozens of sheets at a time. Again, I’ll confess that I’ve also been a bit charmed by the Doxie team’s friendly customer support (check out @doxiescanner on Twitter for a sample), the personality they put in their product, and their generosity in giving me the review unit, so take this into consideration when reading my comments. UNMSOM students: feel free to drop me a line anytime if you’d like to check it out and see for yourself (@n8henrie , by email, or in the comments below). It’s portable, so I could even meet you at the library if you’d like :)

Hope to see you soon,

Nathan Henrie, MSIV
Students in Medicine for Resources in Technology

Quick note from Veazey:
I think the Doxie Scanner is a tool that fills a very cool niche.  Being able to quickly take high quality scans of documents and pictures is impressive out of a small tool. However, there are some shortcomings.  First being the price.  A quick scanner for most of us would be something we could add to our toolbox for maybe around $50-$100.  At the current price point, it is actually comparable to other options but it is still hard to stomach unless you have a very specific need that the scanner will fill.  Also, you still have to feed each page one-by-one into the scanner and it doesn’t do double sided scans.  With my iPhone 5 and the ability to save pictures taken as a PDF, I can’t find a reason for myself to buy the Doxie scanner.  However, If I needed much more clean, high quality scans of text AND pictures, I’d be willing to consider the Doxie.  Nate did a great job describing the product above much better than I could but I have to say that the quality of the scans is really impressive.


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