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Scanner decisions: Phone-Based Scanner Apps vs. Flatbed Scanners

Woman looking confused staring at her cellphone to represent app-based scanners

"Why invest in a flatbed scanner when you can just use your phone?"

Some may be surprised that flatbed scanners are still being added to multifunction print devices. The reason for this surprise is because of the abundance of “scanner” apps available for both Apple and Android phone systems. Using these apps, you can scan any document, picture, or book page, edit it, and save it as a digital document — all from the same device you use to order pizza. With these advances, why haven’t these completely taken the place of dedicated flatbed scanners? In this piece, we’re going to look at the ways that stand-alone scanners still beat their phone-based alternatives when scanning your essentials.

Image Aspect

When you use your phone to scan an image or document, unless your phone and the subject is specifically mounted, there’s no way to make sure the phone is completely parallel with the subject. This lack of consistency is apparent in the document — leaving it looking slightly warped or melted. Attempt to fix it as much as you like later, the digital image will always look a bit “off.” A stand-alone scanner’s specifications for the angle are completely fixed,  removing the possibility for “melted image syndrome.”

Image Focus

Similar to the issue with the image aspect, nailing the focus of the subject is only as good as the phone’s system. In many scanning applications, what looks like a focused image on the phone screen is frequently a filter that alters the contrast. When this same image is viewed on larger screens or printed out as a document, the lack of focus is more apparent. With a stand-one scanner, the focus is locked in place — allowing for a consistently focused scan every time.

Image Glare

Most photographs have a high amount of gloss to their appearance, making them extremely difficult to photograph without also capturing a huge amount of glare. In order to “scan” an image with a phone where glare is minimized, many angles are required. Again, as mentioned before, this variety of angles greatly warps the focus and aspect of the subject. When using a stand-alone scanner, the lighting is perfectly adjusted to remove any glare from the end product.

Speed of Scanning Many Documents or Images

If you’ve ever been in charge of scanning a large number of documents for a company manual or many physical photographs for a slide show, you can attest to how long it can take to scan even one subject. This would process would be an immense headache if hoping to use a phone. Each document page or photograph would require careful tweaking with the phone’s angle and additional editing to crop edges, tilt warped angles, and the like. A standalone scanner, however, can scan documents and images consistently in the amount of time it takes to lay the document or photograph on the scanning bed. Commercial high-volume scanners can even scan 40-80 pages per minute. Are we saying that mobile-device-based scanners don’t have any use? Of course not. Phone-based scanners certainly fit the bill when needing to scan documents or photos when no other scanners are available. However, for those seeking a higher quality scan, a stand-alone scanner always delivers an easier scanning experience as well as a higher quality scan.

Convenience vs. Quality

The difference between these two means of scanning ultimately comes down to convenience versus quality. For those who need a quick albeit a low-quality version of a document, a scanner phone application may suffice in a pinch. For others who value a very high-quality version of an essential document (and it likely wouldn't be scanned if it weren't essential), flatbed scanners will always win out. 

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