If there’s one good thing that has come out of dabbling with the NeatDesk scanner, it’s that my desk is now—or at least was for a moment—neat. That’s not because my desk was overflowing with paperwork, receipts, and business cards that are now in digital form, so much as it is that I really like to clean my desk off before I start writing. I use a “box of crap” technique, in which I slop everything off my desk into a box. Works great.
The NeatDesk, though? Not so great. Its first problem is that it’s simply a scanner, and a sheet-fed one at that, with slots for “Documents” (8.5 x 11 inch paper), “Receipts”, and “Cards”. Useful when it works, but you won’t be putting a stack of anything on the NearDesk for unattended scanning; the plastic slots are too thin.
Then there’s the software, the so-called “Neat Library”. It’s not free, for one, although you do get a license code for a copy when you buy the NeatDesk. (Presumably Neat is trying to prevent you from using the software with just any old scanner.) And the latest version, which also supports OS X (the platform on which I tested the NeatDesk), coughed when it came time to calibrate, but seemed to work when I fired up the program itself.
Neat Library is terribly overwrought, though, for something with so little magic. It starts with false sample data in its database, which is confusing, instead of walking you through a scan of your own. (Who would buy a NeatDesk without business cards and receipts of their own ready to be scanned?)
The OCR is spotty, and seems to have very little intelligence. I tried scanning Cory’s new cards, which look like the back of a postcard, but are set in a clean Courier font. Neat Library decided his company was “Puce”, misinterpreting “Place”, while it registered his email domain as “craphound.cor” (emphasis mine). Is it too much to expect a business card scanner to know all valid top-level domains? (Another card from an Intel employee changed the @ symbol to an “ED”.)
All this haphazard scanning means you’ll be spending a lot of time massaging the data, cutting and pasting items into the appropriate fields and doublechecking the card. It would be easier, and less time consuming, to simply punch the cards in by hand. I only scanned a grand total of seven cards, but every single one of them required some manual fixing.
NeatDesk is a good idea, but they need to circle back and think about the problems they’re trying to solve and the workflow that they’re requiring of their users. (Look at the interface to Neat Library above (with personal information occluded); it looks like something Microsoft would have tossed off a decade ago, and it’s about as enjoyable to use.)
Business cards can come in a variety of looks and formats, but it wasn’t like I was trying very hard to stump it. For $450 ($350 street) I expect scan-and-forget—and nothing less.