A couple of hours with the NeatDesk scanner (Verdict: Not worth the time or trouble)

20-neatdesk.jpg

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.

neatlibrary.jpg

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.

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8 Responses to A couple of hours with the NeatDesk scanner (Verdict: Not worth the time or trouble)

  1. Bruce says:

    FYI, I have the mobile NeatWorks (Neat Receipts) scanner and it scans black and white 8.5×11 pages at 4ppm. There is also a load delay and a delay after the scan button is pushed… which brings the realistic scan rate to 3ppm.

    Color is twice as slow… about 2ppm.

  2. JChoi says:

    Joel,
    I’m an employee of The Neat Company. I’m sorry you had a poor experience with NeatDesk.

    I wanted to clarify that NeatDesk is more than simply a scanner. It’s an auto-document feed scanner that comes bundled with NeatWorks software. The software enables users to digitally organize and manage their receipts, business cards and documents. Users can easily create expense reports, send contact information to Address Book and export data to other applications, such as Quicken. Additionally, every item is searchable through the application or Spotlight and everything is stored as a PDF.

    Intelligent text recognition technology reads data off of receipts and business cards and parses fields accordingly. As you mentioned in your review, the accuracy is not 100%, however, I wanted to inform you that if something is incorrect or misread, the data can be dragged from the image to the field.

    In regards to the hardware, you mentioned that you were unable to scan a stack of papers because the plastic slots are too thin. Could you please email me at jchoi@neatco.com and provide more information on why you were unable to batch scan? I’d like to make sure that you did not have a defective hardware. The paper tray is designed to allow users to insert up to 10 receipts, 10 business cards and 10 documents, and scan them all in a single batch (or the paper tray can be removed to scan up to 50 pages at once).

    Sincerely,
    Jenn

  3. David Rodlund says:

    I have both scanners. I think they are both great and reasonably quick. Also I like the software and am a fan. It doesn’t take too long to figure it out. I don’t really care about the character recognition so much, so that isn’t something I feel either way about. It’s just nice to have clean desk and clean pockets. It’s nice to be able to email documents off to people. The mobile scanner is nice to be able to take anywhere and get work done. It’s nice to look at my neat .pdf’s on my phone if I want to.

  4. zuzu says:

    Previously:

    * How to make your own network scanning rig

    As MEF said, just get a Fujitsu ScanSnap.

  5. mef says:

    As an FYI, I was looking at this one, but heard similar things about the OCR and other aspects of the Mac software — plus, it’s pricer than its major competitor, the Fujitsu Scansnap series. (I’ve had my eye on the new model, the S1500M, for awhile…darn recession.)

  6. RebeccaMS says:

    I purchased a refurbished travel neatco scanner that’s one year older than the current model. I love it. I keep everything…. I have receipts dating back almost 5 years and I have been placing them into this software. I have had very little issues. The scanning ocr isn’t 100% accurate, but no scanner inserting data is. Most have common mistakes such as placing a “0″ instead of an “O” or an “8″ instead of an “S” due to the similarities of the letters and numbers. Personally, I love this product and the software. It isn’t fun scanning one page at a time of all the data, but I couldn’t afford a NeatDesk, but I’m definitely saving up for it.

  7. techdeviant says:

    I have the their mobile scanner, and I kind of like it. Their software is totally crap like you mentioned above. But the scanner I have does a decent enough job, and its super small and doesn’t need an extra power cord to work.

  8. Marv says:

    I find all the comments thought-provoking, and the comments by Joel from Neat clarified some of the other statements. But I would like to hear more from Joel regarding the Fujitsu Scansnap, as my first thought when I encountered the Neat products, esp. NeatDesk, was how the two compared, and why I should be willing to spend more for NeatDesk. The claims for both seem about the same…

    Joel?

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